Psychology & Consumer Behavior’s Relationship with PR

Psychology & Consumer Behavior’s Relationship with PR


While studying communications as an undergraduate, I was never exposed to the research and methodologies that could go into this field to make for more effective communication plans. That was in 1988 and things have evolved tremendously. In the book Strategic Communications Planning by Laurie Wilson and Joseph Ogden, I was able to understand that if my communication decisions are based on research then I can project to make sound decisions.  I have always employed this discipline because I am a marketer but understanding how it effects your communication plans makes a difference.

As Marketing and PR professionals our job by definition is to persuasively disseminate information, persuade opinion change, and motivate behavior.  “Since behavior is based on values, beliefs, and attitudes, it is imperative we understand how to influence those cognitive elements, (Ogden, & Wilson, 2008, p. 32).” Thus a PR professional will benefit from the knowledge gained through an understanding of Psychology and Consumer Behavior to better communicate with key publics.


“Psychology involves studying the mind and behavior of human beings. Tapping into the complexities of human behavior can be part of the practice of public relations, (Nnolim, 2010).” This is a very important practice since PR professionals are tasked with creating mutual understanding between key publics and industries. Thus utilizing disciplines to enhance the effectiveness of messaging.

Psychology is the researched study of attitudes, beliefs, and lifestyles. This will allow a communicator to formulate information in a persuasive yet informative way specifically designed to reach publics targeted for the campaign. This is one of the most effective ways to communicate directly with the consumer.

Although this is a basic principal of communicating, sometimes even PR professionals get it wrong. Just a few weeks ago, Justine Sacco, tweeted her way out of her job. At the time, she was the head of corporate communications for IAC, a media company.  As she departed for a work-trip to South Africa, she posted a tweet which read: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The question for this discussion is who exactly was Sacco speaking to?  Although this wasn’t part of a formal communication strategy, you can still see how knowing the attitudes, lifestyles, beliefs or psychographics of her “followers” could have changed her messaging as well as mitigated the outcome.

Sacco apologized but was relieved of her duties and IAC distanced themselves from the situation by saying, “The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question. There is no excuse for the hateful statements, (Stelter, 2013).”  Another example is, when I was a DJ on the radio in the Florida Keys at WFKZ Sun 103, my boss KC Stuart explained to me the dynamics of our listener.

I had just left my job in radio in Greensboro, NC and was ready for the sunshine of Florida but I took the old messaging along with me. I did talk about the tide report, but also about looking forward to the weekend.  KC pulled me aside and said in no uncertain terms who the Sun 103 listener was. They were affluent people who lived on the water. The day of the week didn’t effect them. Saturday was no different than Tuesday. They didn’t work. I was talking to the blue collared workers in North Carolina not the fisherman and sailors of Islamorada.  I quickly made the adjustment.


“Consumer behavior is the psychology of marketing, (Shanahan, 2013).” It can be defined as “the process and activities people engage in when searching for, selecting, purchasing, using, evaluating, and disposing of products and services so as to satisfy their needs and desires, (Belch, & Belch, 2012, p. 110). Knowing this information is another key factor in building an effective PR campaign.

“When a company knows how their customers utilize their products and the impact those products have on those individuals and society, they can more easily build relationships with those customers, (Shanahan, 2013).”  Knowing this dynamic will direct your campaign in a way to reach the key publics.  If you are reaching an elderly group with information, it may not be necessary to have a twitter or facebook account unless in someway you have built a CRM database with their caregivers.

The cross-discplinary study of Psychology and Consumer Behavior can provide valuable insight in reaching key publics. These disciplines will allow PR professional to better understand how to reach  and how to communicate with their key publics.


Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A.  (2012).
Perspectives on consumer behavior. Advertising & Promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective (9th ed.) (p. 110) New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nnolim, N. (2010, February 4). Psychology’s role in public relations. Suite Retrieved January 12, 2013, from psychology-has-a-place-in- public-relations-a197958

Ogden, J. D., & Wilson, L. J. (2008) Public information and persuasive communication.  Strategic Communications Planning (5th ed). Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

Shanahan, K. (2013, March 26) Anthropogy, consumer behavior and public relations. Retrieved January 13, 2013, anthropology-consumers- behavior-and-public-relations/

Stelter, B. (2013, December 22) Ex-PR exec apologizes for AIDS tweet. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from world/sacco-offensive-tweet/ index.html


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