Most Marketing Trends guests focus on a specific strategy, tactic, or technology. But Geoffrey Miller (LinkedIn | Twitter), Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico, starts with marketing's most fundamental question: Why do people buy things?
On this episode, Geoffrey talks about biology, evolution, and how psychology affects the way consumers respond to marketing. He digs into how people's fundamental wants and needs inform what they buy and who they buy from.
5 Key Takeaways: - Virtue signaling, or the natural instinct to show that we are a good person, is an important behavior exhibited by almost everyone. - "Fundamentally, what matters to people is not material wealth. It's maximizing things like your social status, your attractiveness. and your prestige." - Geoffrey Miller - We have a deep need for story and narrative. Stories are how we learn and how we've entertained ourselves for thousands of years. - "I think innovative brands and psychology-savvy marketers can now add a lot of value to people's lives in totally new ways that might not even require buying the product." - Geoffrey Miller - Consumers rarely know themselves as well as they think they do, and their stated reasons for making purchases are often different from the true motivations.
Bio: Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychologist best known for his books The Mating Mind, Mating Intelligence, Spent, and Mate. He has a B.A. in Biology and Psychology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Stanford University, and is a tenured associate professor at University of New Mexico. He has over 110 academic publications (cited over 14,000 times) addressing sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has also given over 200 talks in 16 countries, reviewed papers for over 50 journals, and also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, and the London School of Economics.
Notes & Quotes: Geoffrey's Background - (2:00) - When Geoffrey was doing post-doctoral work in the UK, he found that marketers were more interested in his research than economists. From then onwards, he became "obsessed" with consumer behavior. - Geoffrey's book, Spent, deals specifically with the unconscious instincts behind American consumer culture.
Virtue Signaling - (4:00) - Virtue signaling is the instinct that humans have to show that they are good people. - There has been little discussion of how this connects to the way people make purchasing decisions. - Virtue signaling is neither good nor bad. It's just a thing humans do. - Want some good examples of effective virtue signaling by brands? Just wander around a Whole Foods.
The Point of Marketing - (11:00) - "Fundamentally, what matters to people is not material wealth. It's maximizing things like your social status, your attractiveness. and your prestige." - Geoffrey Miller - Wealth is just a way to access things like status and prestige. We do this through the things that we buy, and marketing helps determine the messages that we are sending with the things that we buy. - Our need for story and narrative also run very deep. Stories are how we learn and how we've entertained ourselves for thousands of years.
Social Media & Social Capital - (15:00) - What has changed since Geoffrey wrote Spent between 2004 and 2007? An explosion of social media. - This explosion has given people even more opportunities to virtue signal and make public displays about who they are and what they value. - "I think innovative brands and psychology-savvy marketers can now add a lot of value to people's lives in totally new ways that might not even require buying the product." - Geoffrey Miller - "The surprising thing is not that people buy knockoffs, it's that more people don't buy knockoffs." - Geoffrey Miller - People don't always buy knockoffs because they also signal to themselves, and they don't like to feel like a fraud. When people buy a real brand, they're buying self-respect. - People frequently use purchases as an incentive system, and marketers should look into how they can facilitate that.
Common Pitfalls for Marketers - (22:30) - According to Geoffrey, "consumer behavior research is often where ancient social psychology theories go to die." - One example he gives is the Myers Briggs personality inventory, which psychology researchers rarely use. People should be using the big five personality traits instead. - Consumers rarely know themselves as well as they think they do, and their stated reasons for making purchases are often different from the true motivations. - Marketers tend to be more cosmopolitan and politically liberal. They need to make sure that they are humble and take the time to learn about the attitudes and behaviors of people from other walks of life.
Influencer Marketing - (44:30) - "Humans have a propensity to imitate the beliefs, desires, preferences, and purchases of people we respect." - Geoffrey Miller - People trust traditional media channels less than ever, and they're looking for alternatives, especially ones that seem authentic. - Because influencers are less static than media channels, marketers need to put more effort into figuring out who their audience is paying attention to. - Geoffrey's parting words: "Have a respect for your profession in terms of what it adds to people's lives. It's not about selling existing products, it's about connecting the product to people's virtues, passions, interests, and communities in a way that makes the product more valuable to people." - Geoffrey Miller - Find Geoffrey Miller on Twitter, on his blog, on LinkedIn, or buy his books Spent and Virtue Signaling.
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