Psychology helps people primarily understand their subjects and then tailor their message accordingly. It studies human behaviour, sensory capabilities, perception, thoughts, feelings, attitudes and intentions. Although not a behavioural science, PR operates on similar principles. In the early 1920s, Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was the first to find a link between PR and psychology.
A white paper by PR firm SPRD discussed the strategic link between PR and psychology. It delves into how PR not only gets influenced by the on-going trends, but also, how it acts as the influencer when it comes to trend-setting. Psychology plays a prominent role in understanding how consumer behaviour, crisis management, storytelling and ethical communication impacts the PR industry.
When it comes to understanding human nature and consumer behaviour, PR professionals have to acknowledge major aspects of human behaviour: Consumers invest their most intimate traits of desires, beliefs, perceptions and emotions into building their social & economic welfare.
These factors must be taken into account when studying ‘Consumer Behaviour’, and further evaluated for understanding and formulating the right PR communication strategy. Consumer behaviour is constantly evolving. For brands to keep up with the changing needs of audiences, they need to research and understand communications theories such as Abraham Maslow’s Motivation-Need Theory, especially when developing PR campaigns. Although the theory dates to 1943, it has created a ripple effect in the entire psychological community and is used extensively today by PR professionals when creating a communication plan.
The Motivation-Needs Theory states that people make decisions based on fulfilling their needs in an order of importance: Physiological (survival), safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. For example, when a brand highlights a food product by telling a story about how it is made and its nutritional value, they are actually speaking to the physiological needs of the consumer which include food, one of most basic necessities of human survival. Only after physiological needs are met will consumers consider fulfilling their other needs.
In PR, brands can benefit by identifying consumer needs that can be met and matching their messaging and campaigns accordingly. Since consumers will be on different levels of the hierarchy at any given time, PR professionals need to be acutely aware of their target audience. An integrated public relations campaign with significant marketing initiatives and engagement improves the overall impact of a brand’s marketing strategy! PR strategies depend upon a brand’s approach to communicating with its various stakeholders.
Their campaigns can involve different strategies depending upon the strata of consumer that they are communicating to- right from the corporate communication heads to the local masses. Thus, what matters most is to analyze the socio-cognitive behaviour of the target audience and strategize accordingly. In this way, PR campaigns can either be influenced by consumer behaviour and psychology, or it can counter the preconceived notions that are established in the consumer psyche, by evaluating the inherent traits of desires, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, their socio-cultural behaviour, economic influence, and individual personality.