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May 18, 2010

What Social Marketers, Sigmund Freud & Icebergs Have In Common

If you’ve ever attended a focus group session and listened to people try to explain why they make the decisions they do, you may have had this same thought run through your mind:  Boy, if Dr. Freud were only in this room with me, he’d have a field day. That’s because people say the darnedest things.

When asked to explain why they litter, they say it’s because they’re lazy, or they’re not conscious of doing it, or better yet, their taxes pay for someone to pick it up.  Or when parents explain why they haven’t talked to their teenage child about the importance of delaying sexual activity — even after stating they want the very best for the child — the conversation gets, dare we say, even crazier:  “They already know how I feel.”  “They’re not ready.”  Or “I know what they’re up to, 24/7.”

Really?  And these are responsible caring adults!

Sometimes, there just seems to be a disconnect between people’s actual behaviors and their explanations.  One is too often left thinking and asking, That can’t be all! Is that really the reason? But then so many human behaviors are motivated by a deeply rooted, complex web of experiences and needs, not all of them obvious.

Freud had said it, himself: “The mind is like an iceberg; it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.”

And that’s where the subconscious comes in. As social marketers, it’s really useful to know what’s going on with the other 6/7ths of the “iceberg” to steer it in the right direction. We have to get beyond the rational explanations that are top of mind and easy for people to verbalize.

So social marketing efforts benefit by taking the patient to the psychologist’s couch.  Whenever possible, Noral integrates a psychological approach that applies theories of motivation, persuasion, and conflict resolution to dig deep under the surface of behavior.  It makes sense when you think about what we are seeking to accomplish. Psychology is the premiere discipline devoted to the study of human behavior and behavioral interventions.  By incorporating the same techniques often used in clinical counseling, we can further probe the unconscious, emotional needs that underlie behavior. It’s like peeling an onion, so to speak (or, in Freud’s case, doing some deep sea diving) to arrive at the critical psychic benefit of behavior change for our audience.

Yes, maybe it does sound a bit… well, weird. Trust us when we tell you that many of the major corporate marketing programs use the same consumer psychology. There’s a lot to learn from what lies beneath the surface.  And when you’re trying to save lives and create a better place to live, we think it’s definitely worth the probe.

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