The psychology of communication

I studied psychology at university, so a question which people often ask me is how it’s related to the work which I do now. Some see an immediate link, whilst others can’t find an obvious connection. The truth is, I didn’t go into marketing because I thought it was related to psychology, but the reasons why I find it so fascinating are very similar. I’m interested in how people think and behave, and in what makes them tick.

Psychologists have long tried to understand the workings of the brain but, in fact, they understand a lot more about human behaviour than about the mechanics of the brain itself. Why is this important for communications and marketing? Well, most marketing is about behaviour change. Whether it’s trying to stop someone from smoking, or convincing them to buy your product when they walk into a shop, what we want is to influence behaviour….and we have a much better chance of doing that if we understand the root causes – why people do what they do.

Of course it’s a vast and complex area, but there are many branches of psychology which can be related very directly to marketing in practice. As just one example, we’re all affected by what psychologists call ‘social norms’. This is where we look to others for guidance on acceptable social behaviour – is it OK to drink in this particular situation? Should I be laughing at this joke? Tellingly, we behave differently in the company of different people, and differently again when we’re on our own. As marketers, understanding these sorts of interpersonal influences can help us to develop better marketing. If we’re trying to stop people from drinking alcohol, for instance, but we recognise that they’re students facing peer-group pressure, we might tackle the problem in a very different way.

That’s just one example of the links between psychology and communication, but there are many more. When you can understand more about how your audiences feel and behave, and what their trigger points are, you’ll create much more effective marketing, which starts to change behaviour.

Lara Samuels
Director, The Communications Hub