Article

Daniela Naydenova
Daniela Naydenova 31 March 2016

Big Businesses Must Think in Terms of ‘People’, Not ‘Consumers’

What tends to be ignored is the psychology behind this mass take-up and the psychological impact of the widespread use of these types of digital products and services.

The growth of mobile and wearables - including the explosion of health and fitness trackers - has been well documented.

What tends to be ignored is the psychology behind this mass take-up and the psychological impact of the widespread use of these types of digital products and services.

Web psychologist Nathalie Nahaï, author of Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, urges businesses to think about this. She argues that we need to ‘humanise’ the web.

And certainly as consumers turn in their droves to ad blocking software, the need for a change in tack is becoming all the more acute.

We also need to educate users, who leave in their wake an ever-greater trail of data, yet frequently complain when companies are seen to use it. This won’t be easy.

That said, it will be easier when big businesses think in terms of people rather than consumers. And these people have psychological needs.

The addictive effect of social media has been recognised. There’s an endorphin rush, a dopamine hit when people see that others are engaging with them positively online - where, increasingly our whole lives are playing out.

Pete Trainor, who runs Nexus, described as a human-centred design company, has delivered a number of thought-provoking TED sessions outlining why businesses ought to use a psychological approach to trigger positive behaviour and to use their digital strategies as a force for good. He points out how our brains react and change according to the digital stimuli we engage with.

What’s more, with the mass storage of hyper-personal information, public pressure to address data privacy keeps growing - especially after last year’s hacks of the databases of Ashley Madison and TalkTalk, which made it very clear that such information is relatively easy to access by unauthorised parties.

Yet, despite all warnings, articles and data-leaking scandals, people often forget about this side of data-sharing and focus solely on the benefits coming from handing it over. In exchange for access to a game, a calorie counter or a group of people with similar interests, internet users will tell the provider pretty much everything, often without hesitation.

The reason behind that is simple: users are… happier! Happy with the possibility of swiping through thousands of carefully edited pictures, happy to share with their friends. Every swipe, every new like, every share triggers physical changes in our brains, changes that make us feel happier.

But the big question is: how can companies use the data bonanza they have without distressing customers?

In short, businesses need to see them as people. We need to use the data to improve the customer experience, to help our customers more easily achieve their goals – and not just our own.

It’s the mechanics of happiness we should be shift our attention to, as opposed to maintaining a short-term focus on specific campaigns, since as long as users find certain things pleasurable, they will keep coming back.

Trainor points out that the hippocampus - the part of our brain directly linked to happiness and wellbeing - wants us to have fun and to connect with other people. Seeking this sense of belonging is a basic human condition.

He argues that these same apps and services which release hormones in us ought to be used as a therapeutic tool to make people smarter and happier. We need to think about how these things affect us morally and biologically, he says.

To do this, businesses must move away from quick-win strategies and allow word of mouth and ‘social proof’ to become their main marketing tools. We must think in terms of people, and not just sales. In this way, everyone can be happy. 

Tug is a full service digital media agency headquartered in London and with branches of operation in Toronto and Sydney.

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