Sean Cheng

Marketing Is More Than Posting On Social Media

April 21, 2021 - 5 min read

Most people are aware of the different types of marketing channels (i.e. Billboards, organic SEO, paid social, social media posts, etc). These are obvious because we encounter them every day.

But few people understand the psychological strategy of marketers. People who think they’re doing marketing for their event, club, or organization, settle for posting on Instagram and Facebook and calling it a day.

At its core, marketing is the understanding of human psychology and behavior. Like a sniper, master marketers laser in on your needs, insecurities, and wants, then shoot their solution at you right when you need it.

I’ve spent the past 6 months working with top growth marketers at some of the fastest-growing startups in Silicon Valley. Here are three psychological frameworks I’ve learned on how you can take your marketing efforts to the next level.

Target Desires, Soothe Fears, and Locate/Time Your Audience.

Target Desires

Savvy marketers tap into base human desires like power, wealth, success, etc. when promoting their product.

The writers behind the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings understood this. In news, the prime ways to generate revenue include attention (more attention —> charging more for ads) and quality information (quality information —> people willing to pay for it). To obtain both, U.S. News followed a simple four-step process:

  1. They recognized humans love prestige and recognition. So, they put a bunch of prominent schools on a no-name “Best Universities” list and generated hype around it.
  2. These universities and their students begin sharing how highly their schools are ranking on this no-name list, leading to more social proof, credibility, attention, and perceived quality of the information.
  3. This cycle continues for several years until eventually, the no-name “Best Universities” list has become the ubiquitous resource for high school seniors researching schools.
  4. U.S. News and World Report cashes in on this attention through advertisements, books on choosing colleges, and other resources.

Marketing at its finest (U.S. News example adapted from Jeremy Giffon’s tweet here). This strategy has been replicated many times with other rankings like the Midas List and Forbes 30u30. Other products, like self-help books, market themselves by promising you a more productive and happier life after reading them. The specifics of the situation might change, but the underlying principle remains the same— most people possess the same few innate desires.

Keep basic human tendencies in mind when you think about product positioning. It’ll help you generate both demand and attention for your marketing campaigns.

Soothe Fears

Humans are loss averse. Behavioral economists have long observed in experiments that the psychological pain of losing something is greater than the pleasure of gaining the same thing. In other words, losing $100 will cause a greater decrease in satisfaction versus the gain in satisfaction of winning $100.

Marketers combat the fear of loss by offering free trials and including customer testimonials with their products. Because a major psychological barrier to making a purchase is the fear of wasting ones’ money, marketers seek to create a sense of psychological safety for their customers.

When Allbirds started, they implemented a 30-day return policy even if you had worn their shoes extensively outside. A generous return policy like that was previously unheard of, but it paid off in the long run for the company. It helped them establish a highly loyal customer base and acquire their first customers even when they were an obscure brand. Now, their shoes are considered an essential part of the Silicon Valley tech company uniform.

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Locate and Time Your Audience

Effective marketing relies heavily on two variables: audience location and timing. If you can accurately identify where your target customer audience is, you can position your product where they’ll see it. And if you can time your product to show up right when they need it, there’s a higher chance they’ll convert into a paying customer.

One great story about this comes from when I was working at Papaya (a bill payments app startup, allowing you to pay your bills by taking a picture of it with your phone). When the founders were starting, they would walk up and down the street for hours looking for unpaid parking tickets on car windshields. They would then place a small flyer on top of the parking tickets pitching their bill payments app as a quick and easy way to pay it off. People loved this and subsequently, their app usage skyrocketed.

Textbook job of locating and timing their audience.

When launching marketing campaigns consider what creative channels are available to reach your audience and how you can time your campaigns to coincide with when your customers experience a pain point.

High Leverage

Marketing is sales at scale. Rather than the lone salesperson whose efforts can only reach a limited number of people, marketers can drive exponential revenue growth and demand generation through their work.

Whether you’re hosting an event for your organization or starting your own business, Targeting Desires, Soothing Fears, and Locating/Timing Your Audience will make your efforts far more successful.

Remember, marketing is more than creating flyers and making online posts. With a bit more thought and intentionality, you’ll begin connecting to the deep-felt needs of your audience and effectively positioning your solution as the antidote to their problems.

Try these strategies and you might find marketing becoming a skill you’re known for.


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