Psychology and Marketing: Potent Partners

Customers make decisions based on a large number of factors and although it is impossible to influence them all, successful marketing will try to strike a balance between appealing to the emotional and rational sides to our personality.

We all like to think we’re immune to the power of marketing.  But, observe your own purchase behaviour in your next weekly supermarket shop; are your choices based on rationale or emotional logic? – Give it a go; it’ll be enlightening!

To capture people’s minds you first have to capture their hearts.

People often don’t want the ‘stuff’, what they want is the experience or feeling that the ‘stuff’ will give them – how many of you reading this have an iPhone?  Have you chosen an iPhone purely because of its functionality or because of how it makes you feel?  As it is often cited a person doesn’t buy a drill because they want a drill, what they want is the hole that it provides them with.  People do not want the widget that you are marketing, what they want is the solution that your widget provides to their problem!

Without getting too caught up in the science of it all, in order to make our marketing communications more effective it helps if we look at how the two sides of the brain function:

Left & right brain hemispheres

Left brain                                                  Right brain

Logic                                                            Intuition

Reason                                                         Emotions

Objective                                                       Subjective

Verbal                                                           Visual

Self-orientated                                                Group-orientated

Categorical                                                     Relational

Detail focused                                                Whole picture focused

Mimicry                                                         Creativity

Purposefulness                                               Playfulness

Emotional versus rational decisions

Everyone feels before they think; the non-rational emotional reaction comes before the more rational secondary one and this needs to be processed before we make a decision.

So, although a prospective patient may initially be making an enquiry based on reasoning i.e. you provide dental care and your practice is conveniently located for them etc, it will be with the addition of emotion that they finally make a decision to book an appointment with you - your receptionist was polite to them on the phone and they felt reassured, they liked the ‘look’ of your brand, they connected with the tone of your website and so forth.

Without the role of emotion consumers will be unable to make up their minds about which products to buy.

Successful marketing helps consumers identify with the brand by attaching the values and concerns of the target consumer. Reason compels the consumer to feel the need to buy a product; emotion determines which alternative is bought.

It helps to think about it in terms of what people want and therefore how you can adapt your marketing communications to engage and appeal.  For instance, a patient considering a dental implant does not want to have a titanium post screwed into their jawbone.  What they want perhaps is be rid of the discomfort of dentures or to feel more confident when they smile.


People want to gain

People want to save

People want to be

People want to...



Good parents

Express their personalities




Satisfy their curiosity

Praise from others



Appreciate beauty

Pride of accomplishment



Win others’ affection




Resist domination by others




Emulate the admirable

Improved appearance


‘First’ in things

Acquire or collect things



Sociable, hospitable

Improve themselves generally



Proud of their possessions


Security in old age


Influential over others







Increased enjoyment





Personal prestige






How consumers make up their mind to purchase

Your patients will go through a complex decision-making process before deciding to go ahead and book a course of cosmetic dental treatment with you – it is far more complex than that of buying a pint of milk!

It helps to look at the five stages of consumer behaviour to understand the context in which you’re dealing with:

The five stages of consumer behaviour


Source: Kotler et al, Principles of Marketing, 2005


Through your marketing communications you are looking to influence this decision-making process.  Generally, people are very nervous about dental treatment so you must reassure them at every step, reducing any perceived risk and adding value and building trust along the way – this is why branding is so important.

Remember – take a patient benefit focus rather than merely communicating what you believe to be the best ‘selling’ features - people buy things to either meet their needs or satisfy their wants and desires.  Patients usually don’t come to you because they want to buy treatments, what they want is a healthy, functioning and confident smile.

What factors can influence change in customer’s behaviour?

Two people with the same motivation and in the same situation may act quite differently because they perceive the situation differently.  You must try to understand the mindset of your different patient groups and how these will affect interpretations of your marketing communications and ultimately your persuasions to get them to purchase from you.

The following factors all contribute to an individual’s decision-making:

Cultural factors – comprise the values, attitudes, beliefs, ideas and other symbols in the pattern of life adopted by the people that help them to interpret and communicate as members of society.  Culture is largely a result of learning.  There are then subcultures such as religion and geographical areas which all further influence attitudes, tastes, taboos and lifestyles.

Social factors – these include a person’s reference groups such as family, friends, social organisations and professional organisations.  A buyer chooses products and brands that reflect his/her role and status within each group.

Personal factors – such as age, life-cycle stage, economic circumstances and lifestyle - all impact on an individual’s buying decisions.

Psychological factors – these encompass the following:

Motivation – a need that is sufficiently pressing to direct a person to seek satisfaction of the need.

Perception – the process by which people select, organise and interpret information to form a meaningful ‘picture’.

Learning – changes in an individual’s behaviour arising from experience.

Belief – a descriptive thought that a person holds about something.  It can be based on real knowledge; opinion or faith and may/may not carry an emotional charge.

Attitude – a person’s consistently favourable or unfavourable evaluations, feelings and tendencies towards an object or idea.



Final words

Hopefully this article will encourage you to step back and think about the bigger picture that your patients see, feel and process.  It is all too easy to base all your marketing decisions on what you think/feel is appropriate.  Try to ‘see’ things from your patients’ perspective and you will find you are better able to connect and communicate with your target audience(s).

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