Consumer Psychology: Why Do People Want What They Want?

consumer psychology

As a business marketer, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what your customers want. But that’s only part of the job.

You also must figure out why they want what they want.

To understand your audience’s behaviors, motivations, and decision-making processes, you practically have to become an amateur psychologist.

We’re not suggesting you install a couch in your office and coax customers into telling you their deepest marketing desires. We’re simply pointing out that there are reasons people buy the things they buy. And once you know those reasons, it’s a lot easier to tailor your marketing efforts to seal the deal.

Here are a handful of psychological principles you can use to lead your customers right where you want them.

5 Principles of Marketing Psychology


Do you want someone to buy what you’re selling right now? Make them think you’re running out of it.

The scarcity principle works on people’s inherent fear of missing out (FOMO, for the cool kids). Whether it’s purposely leaving a bunch of your most popular product in the storeroom so that the shelves appear nearly empty, sending out “low inventory” emails or showing an ever-dwindling item count on your website, this tactic makes people act sooner rather than later.

Social Proof

We might all claim to be individuals. But there’s no denying that we are heavily influenced by people we like, admire or identify with. If our best friend or favorite social media influencer likes a product or service, chances are good that we will, too.

Social proof uses things such as reviews, user-generated content, retweets, social media likes and comments — even the number of people who follow your blog — to reinforce the notion that your brand is legit.


When it comes to pricing, people tend to latch onto the first number they see. If your favorite pizza place sells a large pepperoni-and-anchovy pizza for $25.99, then $25.99 is your anchor. So when they offer the same pie on special for $14.99, you’re probably eating pizza for dinner, even if you had a perfectly good chicken breast thawing in the fridge.

You can use anchors to increase perceived value, highlight a discount, and even get people to make purchases they wouldn’t have otherwise made. (Psst! If you were to artificially inflate your anchors a bit, we’d never tell.)


In 1974, a sociologist at Brigham Young University sent out 600 handwritten Christmas cards to random strangers. More than 200 of those strangers wrote back … despite having no clue who Phillip Kunz was.

That is the rule of reciprocity — when someone does something for us, we have an ingrained need to do something for them. And it can be extremely useful in your marketing. By giving your customers something for free (even something as low-value as a branded pen or desk calendar), you’re making them more inclined to give you something of a much higher value: their business!

Loss Aversion

Research shows that losing something people perceive as valuable is twice as powerful as gaining that same thing. In short, once someone has something, they really, really want to keep it.

From free trials to “act before the price goes up” emails to showing people what they’d lose by not buying your product or service instead of what they’d gain, there are tons of ways to leverage loss aversion in your marketing strategy.

Are You Ready to Earn Your Psy. D. in Marketing?

People don’t make choices blindly — but they don’t always make them consciously, either. Understanding the psychology behind your audience’s decisions is the first step to building long-lasting relationships that will keep your brand in the spotlight!

At Mischa Communications, we know what makes your audience tick. Let us show you how we can help!