Media Psychology: What It Is and Why It Matters to Your Brand

What is media psychology?

It’s a question I get asked a lot from potential clients, friends and industry professionals when I share what it is I do. While brand strategy is essential for any company looking to make their mark in the world, incorporating psychological theories and principles allows you to better understand your ideal target market, create greater brand awareness and loyalty, as well as stand-out from competitors - especially when companies or competitors are using the same marketing strategies to gain attention in an ever-crowded market.

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I’ve had the opportunity to study media psychology in-depth, earning my MA in Media Psychology and being mentored by some of the finest media psychologists in practice. My mentors have worked with companies such as Hearst, Fox and other high-profile corporations who are looking to reach and grow their audiences beyond traditional marketing methods. Along those same lines I’ve been fortunate enough to work with clients in the start-up and tech industries, enhancing their brand voice, offerings and stories with psychology-driven strategies. That being said, it is a newly emerging field and is rapidly growing in response to both consumer and company needs.

What Media Psychology Is

Media psychology is understanding human behavior in relation to contemporary media consumption and usage. Beyond ‘mass media’ - which is the default association when anyone mentions media in the 21st century - the context media psychologists strive for in understanding the term is ever-expanding in a fast-paced technological world. It’s the apps on your smartphone, the social media platforms you frequent, the virtual games you play, and the interactive campaigns so many companies now create.

What media psychology is not is talk therapy, Freudian-esque clinical work and expertise that relies on a diagnosis to determine the next course of action. Media psychology has a diverse representation in sociology, anthropology, communications, journalism, marketing, psychology, and technology fields.

So while it’s not the traditional psychology or media that you may associate it with, it does incorporate many of the psychology theories (e.g. consumer psychology, social and identity psychology) into marketing and media campaigns, strategies and funnels.

The Three Primary Factors of Media Psychology

1 | Emotion

Humans are emotional beings. While many old-school marketing methods had us believing that selling features, highlighting special attributes and frequency of messaging were the key to consumer buying habits, what recent research has uncovered is that we humans are making buying decisions from a subconscious and emotional center first, from a logical standpoint second.

Where once a company would place an advertisement in front of a potential customer X amount of times, with static ad copy that didn’t engage them emotionally, that same company now understands that by providing value and meaning through engaged storytelling is central to a potential sale.

Recommended Read: Brand Storytelling on Instagram

2 | Identity Formation

Consumer psychology suggests that consumers construct their identities and present themselves to others through the brands they choose. The best-loved brands are often those that mimic our personal likes, dislikes, journeys, or experiences. Brand archetypes, or identity branding, is just one way in which personality psychology influences brand formation and consumer engagement. By understanding a customer’s need to associate themselves with a product, company or service, marketers have a better chance of attracting their ideal target market.

3 | Social Identity

A key factor in human motivation is community. Psychologists know this through their studies of social and personal psychology theories, which emphasize the role other people have on a person’s motivations, actions and sense of self-worth. Brand adoption occurs when a potential customer uses the product or service in order to associate with other users or the company’s core message.

 
 

Why Media Psychology Matters To You & Your Brand

So why psychology-driven brand strategies in your business?

Not only does it give you a leg-up on the traditional way of doing things, it also places you - and your brand - in a unique position to stand-out in a sea of sameness. Here’s just a few ways media psychology can benefit you and your brand:

1 | The Rapidly Changing Pace of Technology

With so much going on, how do you keep up? New social platforms, apps and software make marketing a complicated piece of the brand puzzle. Which social media channel should you focus on? Is there a right or wrong way to share your articles, events and industry news? What’s the best way to get your information consumed?

All these questions (and more!) can be answered when we apply psychology to technology. By understanding what drives humans to act in certain ways (e.g. like, share or retweet), we can determine the best course of action for your particular business or industry.

2 | In-Depth Understanding of Wants, Needs & Actions

Humans are diverse, complicated beings. Ask us what we want and we may think we know (the conscious part of our brain at work) but we really have no idea (the subconscious). The processes by which we make decisions are not surface-level but instead deep-rooted in parts of brains that are just now being explored.

Knowing this we can start to assess why we buy, how we relate to brands (and their stories), as well as determine the best way to reach ideal customers.

3 | Holding Companies Accountable

Integrity is key in an ever-moving consumer market. No longer can companies blast email newsletters or direct mail at their potential customers in hopes of a sale. Brand loyalty and alignment come from a shared value system, one that the customer actively seeks.

Gone also are the days when customers were passive players, allowing messages to reach them without a second thought. Today, consumers are researching, evaluating and holding accountable companies for what they say, do and stand by.

4 | Build Better Brands

Humans are meaning-making machines. Humans are also your customers. Sometimes companies forget this crucial aspect! So when creating a brand that stands-out and is successful, creating meaning for the customer is the most crucial factor.

Media psychology helps brands develop their core story, archetype and implement marketing strategies that align with the values it sets forth. 

5 | Ease Consumer Fears

We’ve all become weary of the messages we receive. Whether it’s the local news or an online article, being bombarded with so many messages each day makes it hard to discern what’s credible and what’s not. By implementing psychology-driven strategies and research into your company’s marketing plan, you’re reassuring your (potential) customers what you offer is not only of value but made with them in mind too.

A customer will always wonder why they should trust you, of all people, to give them what they need. Smart copy and design may get them in the door, but will they stay?

In what ways could using media psychology influence your business or brand?