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How to use consumer psychology to grow your small business

How to use consumer psychology to grow your small business

Therapy session between therapist and client

I bet you never thought you’d be a part-time psychologist when you started your business.  Over the last 10 years of owning a digital marketing agency, I’ve come to realize that successful marketers marry the art of design with the science of consumer psychology.

Funny enough, I almost double-majored in psychology because I was fascinated by how people make decisions, and I think that’s what ultimately led me to build my digital marketing agency. In this post, we’ll dive more into the ins and outs of better understanding your prospects and customers, and I’ll show you how to use consumer psychology to grow your small business.

What is consumer psychology anyway?

Consumer psychology is the study of how our previous life experiences, thoughts, beliefs and feelings influence the way we consider and buy products and services. To get a bit more formal, check out this definition from Auburn University:

“Consumer psychology is the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the processes they use to select, secure, use and dispose of products, services, experiences or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society.”

Let’s break that down into everyday terms.

As marketers, we need to start examining our customers through a social and scientific lens, almost like a marketing microscope.


If we want to better understand what makes them choose and use our products and services, then we have to dig deep and ask questions such as:

  • Are there certain experiences they’ve had in life that would make them warm to our brand?
  • Maybe there are lessons they’ve learned along the way that attracts them to our specific products or services?
  • Do they feel specific emotions that would make them want to buy from our business over the competitor down the street or the next website in the search engine results page?

In essence, we need to listen, learn and leverage.

How do I listen, learn and leverage?

Couple in therapy session

Just recently, I was watching an episode of “90 Day Fiancé: The Single Life” with my wonderful wife, Linda. Judge if you must, but it’s my guilty pleasure because of how well they perpetuate the storylines, and we bond over how our relationship is not nearly as bad as some of these trainwrecks.

In one of the episodes, Colt (a polarizing character in the 90-Day universe) and his new girlfriend, Vanessa, attend a couples counseling session because Vanessa simply doesn’t trust him based on his old habits. As I listened to the exchange among the three, I couldn’t help but laugh because it sounded just like the advice I would give to a small business client trying to better understand their customers:

  • Ask questions to determine their headspace.
  • Build trust by being open-minded and honest in your exchanges.
  • Constantly focus on adding value to the relationship.

The entire scene was an overdramatized example of listening, learning and leveraging. Colt needed to anticipate Vanessa’s needs and act in a way that truly demonstrated his love and respect for her as a person. Vanessa, in turn, needed to know that she was good enough for Colt so that his eyes wouldn’t wander to the next woman.

Now. roleplay: You are Colt, and you’re courting a new customer (Vanessa.) The customer has a level of distrust because they know you want to sell them something. They just found you on Google, and they don’t know if you really care about their buying experience.

It’s your responsibility as the business owner to understand what they enjoy, what they can’t stand and what keeps them up at night.


Armed with that information, you make your customer feel more comfortable in the relationship, reassuring them that you truly value them. Your actions need to speak as loud as your words to let them know that they can trust you and their business is appreciated. Bonus points if you can provide such a “wow” experience that they come back for a second date.

Do you see what I did there? I just walked you through your own psychology session. I made you empathize with your customer and find a way to convey to them that they are more than just a dollar sign. Science doesn’t have to be complex or boring. In fact, you’re a scientist, and you don’t even know it.

How does science work into my marketing?

Scientist working with pietri dish

What you may not realize is that every time you publish a social media post or send an email marketing campaign, you’re actually doing a science experiment. Think back to middle school and high school when you learned about the scientific method. It works like this:

  • Question: Will this content make people buy my products or services?
  • Research: Find where your potential buyers congregate (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, email inbox, etc.).
  • Hypothesis: If I publish this content, then more people will visit my website and/or storefront and buy.
  • Experiment: Post, publish and send. Get that content out there!
  • Analyze data: Measure your results with tools like Google Analytics.
  • Communicate results: Review what happened with your team and see what you can do to improve the next time around.

Now, you don’t have to be Bill Nye the Science Guy or Marie Curie, but bear with me. You’ll see how important the understanding of your consumers really is to the success of your business.

Why does consumer psychology matter?

You’re probably saying, “OK, Einstein, why should I take the time to care about this? I have a business to run!” I wouldn’t fault you one bit. I know your time is valuable, and there are only 24 hours in the day.

But I can assure you that if you better understand your customers, you can shave hours, days and even weeks off the time you spend marketing to them and win even more first-time and repeat business.

Consumer psychology in action: FOMO

Have you ever heard of “FOMO” or the fear of missing out? Well, it’s more than just a four-letter word — it’s science! According to a 1991 Princeton study, three psychologists found something quite interesting:

People are more afraid of losing something than they are motivated by gaining something of equal value.


You experience FOMO every day as a consumer, whether it be countdown timers on websites or subject lines stating, “Seats are filling fast” or “While supplies last!” When you’re faced with a sense of urgency or exclusive offer, you focus on — even stress about — the thought of not having that opportunity again, and so often, you end up buying products or services you may not even need. That potential loss is just too much for you to risk.

Maybe you’ve heard of Groupon?

A great example of a business that leveraged FOMO is Groupon. In 2008, Andrew Mason took a small website dedicated to getting people together to accomplish a collective goal and morphed it into Groupon. Groupon was a site dedicated to advertising local businesses by offering deals for a limited time (FOMO!).

Screenshot of first-ever Groupon offer
Photo credit: Groupon

The first-ever Groupon was a deal for Motel Bar, located just downstairs from the Groupon office in Chicago, Illinois. By promoting a significant discount (two-for-one pizzas) and attaching an exploding offer (limited number of vouchers and limited time only) the coupon sold out quickly. The concept caught on, and in just two years, Groupons were powering deals for small businesses in most U.S. cities and all over Europe.

The fear of missing out, as it turns out, is big business.

Empathy is mission-critical to your marketing

An empath is someone who can mentally put themselves in the shoes of someone else.

Empaths are also some of the most successful marketers! That’s because if you can think like your consumers, you can improve the way you market to them, making you more efficient and much more effective.

Knowing the answers to these questions would help you peer into the mind of your customers:

  • What emotions drive them to buy from you?
  • How do environmental variables such as friends, family, media and culture influence their buying decisions — especially in today’s connected world?
  • What motivates them to choose one product over another?
  • How do personal factors and individual differences affect their buying habits?
  • And last, but certainly not least, what can a business owner like you do to effectively reach out, engage with and convert your customers?

How do I tap into the mind of my customers?

By now, you understand consumer psychology better and see how it can save you time and make you money. But how do you tap into the mind of your customer? Let’s talk about building your very first buyer persona.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is the definition of your perfect customer: that person who would either call you, click to your website or walk through your front door and buy right away. No objections, no hard questions — just a simple, seamless purchasing experience. We all dream of that customer and would love to have an influx of them.

How do I create a buyer persona?

The first thing to know is that building a buyer persona is a process. It’s not just a one-time thing. As the world turns, your customer will surely evolve. For example:

  • They may move from the city to the suburbs.
  • They may start working remotely or split time between home and office.
  • They may use a tablet or smartphone while they watch their favorite shows.
  • They may speak to Google instead of typing their search query.

Building a buyer persona is all about asking yourself the right questions again and again.

You’ll need to revisit and redefine your buyer personas on a regular basis.


Knowing the importance of a buyer persona, my team put together a helpful buyer persona quiz to make it super simple for you. Just answer the questions, and you’ll be sent a PDF with your brand-new buyer persona.

What do I do with my buyer persona?

With your buyer persona in hand, there’s plenty you can do. For example, take a look at this example I cooked up:

After taking my own buyer persona quiz with a client, we invented Mary. Mary is a 74-year-old retired engineer who lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She loves gardening, rom-coms and her five grandchildren. She buys online and through catalogs, and we know that she is analytical because she was an engineer. Just these few information points can substantially help me market to Mary.

Once I have the persona, I take it a step further and find a stock photo on Then I put the photo and info together (in a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation) and print it out, so I can always have Mary by my keyboard. This next part may sound silly, but it works.

The next time I brainstorm a promotion or create a social media post or write an email campaign, I’m going to look at Mary and say, “What are you interested in today, Mary? What will get you to click and buy?”

Maybe I will send an email and talk about watching “Bridget Jones’ Diary” with my wife or recount a story about when I brought my kids to the local museum and all the fun we had as a result. I can tie these stories into my message and end with a nice call-to-action, like “Buy Yours Today!”

Do you see where I’m going with this? You can be creative and speak to Mary’s interests, her feelings, her passions. You don’t just have to tell her to buy now, but you can relate to her sensibilities while still making a compelling reason for her to purchase your product or service.

Putting it all together

Yes, you may not be a licensed psychologist, but you now have a better understanding of how to use consumer psychology to grow your small business. By tapping into the minds of your customers and understanding their interests, desires, passions and experiences, you can better relate to them and bolster a profitable relationship with more thoughtful and empathetic marketing messages.

Don’t forget to take a stab at building your own buyer persona, so you can clearly envision your ideal customer the next time you write a blog post, film a video, or create a simple Tweet or Facebook post.

Ultimately, remember that marketing is a marriage of art and science, and it’s your responsibility to keep learning and expanding your skill sets, so you can better serve your audience.

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