Things Freud Can Teach You About How to Market


Alex Corral

Jul 22, 2019


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In his work on the psychoanalytic theory of personality, father of psychology Sigmund Freud suggested that there were three parts to human behavior. The id, the ego, and the superego interact and form feelings, thoughts, and actions.

The Id is responsible for how we feel about instant gratification. You might have heard of the pleasure principle, where you want things to feel good and avoid pain at all costs. Freud suggested that this was the Id in action.

Meanwhile, the ego acts according to the reality principle. The ego interacts with the world and helps us to interact with the needs of reality.

Finally, the superego is the home of our moral compass - it adds a conscience to our actions and behaviors.

So what might this have to do with how we understand human behavior and apply it to marketing?

Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernay, took the theories of his uncle and applied them as marketing principles. He believed that motivating the three components of human behavior in the right way, could create a powerful motor to drive sales. And so, public relations and marketing were born.

Far from being a flop, Bernay’s theories have gone on to influence everything that we know about successful branding and marketing. It helps us in understanding how these structures play in the real world. From Bernay, we’ve learned that advertising is only half the job - what we show people is secondary to how we communicate desire, values, morality, and message.

How to motivate culture, ego, and desire

One of the most influential aspects of Bernay’s thinking came from understanding how it is that consumers change their focus, attractions, and wants. In a world of sophisticated marketing, the consumer’s Id is still vital. The influence of the ego means that it’s not enough to make customers want something; they need to be able to justify why.

The power of value-aligned brands is increasing. This is driven by the spending power of the millennial market. It means that consumers are looking for more authenticity, more justification, and more satisfaction. What does this look like for marketing?

By understanding all three components of what drives people, it’s possible to create marketing campaigns that don’t just serve existing ideals. The power of marketing is such that it can define these ideals. The superego can validate both the id and the ego in a way that allows brands to build successful campaigns.

When it comes to marketing your products or services, it’s important to remember that simple advertising - such as from the days before Bernay - will no longer cut it. Understanding your ideal customer means that you have to stop to understand the psychology of your brand.

You know what your brand does. You know how it does it. But to make it a successful offering, it’s essential to understand why. Why would the customer care/want to give you their business?

Successful marketing of your brand values is about more than simply what you offer. It’s essential to show how it is that your product or services can allow consumers to access something more. This might include elevating their social status, leading to greater social inclusion, or helping your customers to achieve their goals.

How to make it work for you

Consider Apple. In 2018 it was once again regarded as the world’s most valuable brand. At its core, Apple is simply a technology company. They make computers, phones, and tablets, but the essence of Apple is what has driven its success - without them having to lower their prices. This is because Apple’s marketing is integrated enough to appeal to more than just the customer’s base needs.

Nowhere is this more prominent than when we look at their marketing and social media. While the amount of money that Apple has at its disposal helps in this sense, research has found that big budgets don’t necessarily make for successful social. By focusing on their unique value and contribution to customer’s lifestyle, without the push of blatant, “buy me” advertising, has made Apple a perpetual contender for most innovative marketing.

When looking to apply something similar to your content, it’s worth asking yourself what your customer base could connect with about your brand. Are you informing them, educating them, or entertaining them?

Freud’s theory highlights something about planning your marketing and content creation. It’s essential to go from customer to content and answer their questions of why they should care. Value-led brands are succeeding, and the millennial market continues to increase. Exploring the interplay between the id, ego, and superego will benefit you further in the long run than appealing to the quick sale.

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