Why are startups keen to study your emotions and behaviour?

Why are startups keen to study your emotions and behaviour?

Thursday February 19, 2015,

5 min Read

Love is in the air. Not because Valentine’s Day just passed, but because brands are taking a step further to understand the psyche and emotions of customers, and trying to figure out how to make the customer “fall in love” with the brand.

One does not have to be a Harvard or IIM graduate to know the old saying, “Customer is king,” but building a bond with consumers by studying consumer psychology is what is trending now.


“Consumer psychology employs theoretical psychological approaches to understanding consumers,” according to the Society for Consumer Psychology. This field is often considered a sub-specialty of industrial-organizational psychology and is also known as the psychology of consumer behaviour or the psychology of marketing.

The study usually helps examine the preferences, customs, and habits of various consumer groups; their research on consumer attitudes is often used to help design advertising campaigns and to formulate new products.

Results from these studies lets companies decide on what actions can help in "narrowing the psychological distance" between the buyer and the product. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology revealed that making a consumer fall in love with a brand depended on this psychological distance.

Actions can vary from a simple “Thank You” note to a more ongoing, feedback collection, proactive support and so on.

“Startups can also entice and enhance the relationships with their customers by creating content that serves their needs, solves their challenges and tells an interesting story,” Brian Honigman, New York City-based marketing consultant, told YourStory in an e-mail chat. Brian writes about best practices for marketing and social media.

He also added that by creating content that addresses the interests of the audiences is an effective way to build a relationship with the audience, without it feeling like traditional marketing.

Bitium, a Santa Monica-based software operating system company providing app management and analytics for cloud-based apps, can tell when users are having trouble logging in and proactively reach out to help.

Demystifying consumer psychology

Meanwhile, across the globe, Indian startups are also following the lead. Their focus is now on demystifying their consumers’ psychologies, rather than depend on plain old stats or census-style of surveys.

In 2012, when Kaushik Mukherjee started FAB BAG, a subscription-based startup that sends consumers sample beauty products in a pretty bag every month, he had not thought much about the psychology behind the idea and how it will help evolve the idea, but now he has a different take altogether.

“Beauty is an emotional category, and addictive too,” says Mukherjee. “Over the last few years, I’ve seen a shift in how beauty is perceived. It now comes more under wellness and grooming, and is no longer just vanity. This meant that we had something more to understand about our customers.”

Consumer psychology can help companies understand answers to questions like:

  • What are the thought processes and emotions behind consumer decisions?
  • How are variables such as friends, family, media and culture influencing buying decisions?
  • What motivates people to choose one product over another?
  • How personal factors and individual differences affect people's buying choices?

FAB BAG performed multiple studies on a group of 2,000 customers and used the findings to tweak the product offering further.

For example, the results pointed that sending a bag containing three or four high quality, branded products one month, raised the bar higher for the following month and leads to lower excitement levels.

“We start out thought process with ‘what will excite our customers this month?’ If we know that the previous month’s bag had a good set of products, we try and make the following month’s bag extra attractive, so they aren’t disappointed,” adds Mukherjee.

Keeping your customer

The Accel Partners India report on the growth of e-commerce in India also sheds some light on why the fight to win customers over may have become so cutthroat.

The report says that there will be 40 million online shoppers in India by 2016, while online shopping of physical goods will grow to $8.5 billion in 2016 from $2 billion in 2013.

“Customer obsession is one of our core values and defines most of what we do, and why we do it. Right from product design to delivery and installation, each one of us thinks about the customer first, and how we can make their home beautiful and offer a hassle free shopping experience,” says Rajiv Srivatsa, COO and Co-founder of Urban Ladder, an online furniture store.

On the other hand, Zivame.com, an Indian e-commerce company that sells lingerie online, has to care more about the emotions of consumers than other e-commerce websites that sell fashion apparel or home furniture. Lingerie is still a sensitive subject to discuss or shop.

“Women in India are not very well versed about lingerie practices. We also have our fit experts (customer care) who talk to women one-on-one to understand them better. We offer a mix of content and consultation for women through phone and Skype calls to help them buy the right product,” shares Richa Kar, Founder and CEO of Zivame.com.

The company said that for one ‘babydoll’ (nightwear) sold in the top 10 metro cities, one ‘babydoll’ is sold across the rest of India. That is stats. Whereas, their television advertisement with a policewoman confidently wanting ‘red thongs’ is a not-so-subtle hint that it is not taboo for women to want to look attractive.

“With companies like Flipkart offering such good services, all other companies need to step up their games,” says Mukherjee of FAB BAG, who even admitted to recently ordering the book on product psychology called, ‘Hooked: How to build habit forming products’, by Nir Eyal. “I guess that is a start to understanding consumer psychology,” he adds.