A Short Story of the Marketing Psychology Evolution

It’s safe to assume that in order for a marketing officer or company to successfully engage with customers and drive behaviour, the need to understand who the customer is, what they want, and what drives them to make a purchase. While marketers are definitely not psychologists, they do use several psychologically-based observations about human behavior to communicate effectively with potential customers and increase conversions on a daily basis.


Actually, the first experiment which gave a chain reaction into animal behaviour, conditioning and learning experiences came by Charles Darwin in 1881, when he and his children were out in the garden doing experiments on Worms. He was fascinated by their ability to bring soil to the surface, and bury other things, which is why stones sink. He concluded they display a basic degree of intelligence, and that conclusion would kick of a serial of studies in the field.


Here is a quick introduction to important studies of conditioning, learning methodologies, and behavioural strategies used by Marketing Professionals.


In 1898, the researcher Edward Thorndike would start the study of animal behaviour of Cats, and asked "how clever is your cat?". He made a Puzzle-box experiment, were he would place a hungry cat. The cat could only reach the food by operating open mechanisms. At first, the cats would try to squeeze through any opening, or to claw their way out. They didn't pay much attention to the food, as much as they just wanted to escape the box. However, when the cat was put back in the box, it became more efficient in its escape. Thorndike observed that the cats took the learning with them when introduced to more complex boxes.


An interesting fact was that the cats wasn't able to imitate other cats escape. They had to go through the very same learning. Even when Thorndike gave them help, by putting their paws on the lever, they were clueless their next attempt. Thorndike concluded that there was no evidence that animals could use reason or memory to learn.


in the late 1901, the Russian Ivan Pavlov was the leading figure in the exploration of digestive process. He often used dogs as his subjects and, among his many observations, he noticed that when their food was delivered by his white-coated assistant, all the dogs would start to drool or salivate. This also happened when the assistant entered without food. This got him thinking if he could condition this behaviour to an object. Like a bell - which is were the phrase "does the name ring a bell?" comes from. He then introduced the sound of the bell every time the assistance came with food. By the end of the experiment, the dogs would salivate by the sound of the bell. He succeeded with this project and came to a conclusion which would become a field of research long after. Conditioning can create powerful responses to otherwise neutral stimuli.


About 20 years later, the researchers John Watson and Rosalie Rayner would take this field of study to human babies. Watson hypothesized that a babys fear of loud noises is, like a dog's salivation, a reflex response. Little Albert, the experiment subject, a baby would be exposed to loud noises when presented animals like dogs and rats. At first, he seemed positive to animals. In the sequence, they added a loud noise just before touching the animal, which scared Little Albert. By the end of the experiment, Little Albert would whimper when he saw the dog alone, without any noises. Watson concluded that all individual differences in behaviour are due to different experiences of learning and conditioning. Little Albert died in 1987, about 67 years after the experiment - his niece said he had always disliked dogs.


Later, in 1938. The researcher Burrhus Frederic Skinner observed that humans appear to learn from the consequences of their actions and repeat actions that are rewarded, and asked "How do Animals Learn?". The answer is interesting as did a similar experiment as Thorndike puzzle boxes, but with rates and modifications as automatic recording devices which gave him insight when a rat pressed a lever without having to sit there with a notebook. To begin with the rat just ran around in circles in the box, but when by chance it pressed the lever it noticed the arrival of food. Quite soon the rat learned the positive effect of pushing the lever and started to push it five times a minute. This is known as positive reinforcement. Skinner called this process operant conditioning because the rat learned not from any stimulus, but from its own actions. Furthermore, Skinner observed that rats could learn to perform complex sequence of actions as long as they learned them one at a time. He even experimented with unpleasant stimuli, but concluded that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment in shaping behaviour.


What these studies have learned these Marketing Professionals is in short words to include stimulus in their marketing efforts and reward explorations and actions by the customers which benefits the company to retain, gain loyalty and make positive actions occurs as often as possible.

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