A little psychology can go a long way in marketing.  Decoded explores five core psychological insights that will make your marketing better

  • Sell by Association.  Move beyond rational persuasion and argument, and use the power of association to sell.  We know that most thinking is done on ‘autopilot’ – we use our intuition, made up of mental associations (‘what fires together wires together’).and simple rules of thumb to guide our behaviour (this implicit ‘System 1’ is contrasted with the deliberate, careful and logical thinking of the explicit ‘System 2’). The secret to smart marketing is to sell by association, is to sell to the autopilot, and to do that sell by association .


Selling lightness by association (light things rise)
Selling lightness by association (light things rise)
  • Signal Rewards. Consumer behaviour might be patterned by the logic of  explicit value maximisation – getting the biggest bang for our buck (in the context of achieving some goal), but implicit (subconscious) values drive choice too. Explicitly, we may opt for the rational choice, but implicitly we may be drawn to a reward, or the promise of pain avoidance.   Smart marketing is about signalling implicit rewards.
Selling Relief
Selling Relief
Selling Escape
Selling Escape
  • Target Peripheral Vision.  The eye is not an HD camera, it has a very narrow range of explicit HD focus – we focus in on faces and what we want to see at a particular moment in time; the rest is a peripheral blur of peripheral vision – and probably where your brand lies.  The key to smart branding is to communicate through peripheral blur, using distinctive design cues – associated with positive thoughts and personal relevance/significance – in a consistent manner in order to bring your brand into focus.
Communicating through blurred vision
Communicating through blurred vision
  • Use Reward Cues.  When our minds are in automatic autopilot mode, three simple reward cues focus attention and drive desire; promising a reward that is a) tangible, b) immediate and c) certain.  Smart marketing is about embedding these reward cues in products, POS and advertising.
  • Appeal to Goals.  Goals (motivations) are the fundamental building block of marketing because people are intentional – we are goal-focused; we do stuff to get stuff done – and choose the brand that most helps us get it done (subjective brand value is based on expected goal achievement). Even our attention is goal-focused – we notice things that will help us get what we want to do, done. So understanding goals is mission critical for marketing – brand relevance is all about aligning with, associating with and serving people’s goals (goal-based value propositions). Whilst explicit (conscious) goals vary by situation, they all fall into one of two camps (approach goals (wanting something) or avoidance goals (avoiding something) – branding should line up accordingly. Moreover, we all share three basic psychological goals that underpin much behaviour – without us being aware of them – across situations; security (being cared for, and avoiding fear), autonomy (power, control, mastery), and excitement (stimulation, relief from boredom). Smart marketing focuses on delivering against these implicit motivations of security, autonomy and excitement.

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The BG Take

Decoded offers a cogent, psychologically-informed and practical approach to making your marketing more psychologically smart.  Rather than detracting from its appeal, the fact that Phil Barden is a seasoned marketer – with his own agency (Decode Marketing) – rather than a psychologist, helps.  It’s low on psychobabble and heavy on example; and this will appeal to marketers.

We share the book’s overarching view that marketing – and innovation – should be based around consumer goals (implicit and explicit motivation).  And we like the idea that smart branding is primarily about signalling value through associations with goal achievement.  If there’s a niggle, it’s the niggle that psychology hasn’t fully decoded human motivation, yet. We’ve made a start, but we’re not there yet – and there are various schools of thought – and it’s certainly not done and dusted.  For example, are ‘the big three’ implicit motivations/goals really security, autonomy and excitement? Many psychologists would cite ‘autonomy, power and affiliation (or in self-determination theory (SDT) terms – autonomy, competence and relatedness).  But overall, one of the best books around to help marketers profit from psychological insight.



  1. Andrew Christophers Reply

    Or how about the ‘big three’ psychological drivers being Sex, Status & Survival?

  2. Paul – many thanks for your review. I’m delighted that you liked ‘Decoded’. To answer your and Andrew’s points/question, the ‘big 3’ drivers come from many sources that link neuroscience (neurotransmitters and hormones) and social psychology. Survival is the highest aggregate goal for the human race. I didn’t include it as it’s not granular enough for brand management. Sex is indeed a driver but captured more precisely within either the Excitement field or Security field depending on the motivation for sex. Status is one of the goals within the Autonomy field. Each of the six fields in our model contains goals and the name of the field is a short-hand aggregation; so, Autonomy contains goals such as superiority, status, power, achievement, recognition, as well as autonomy itself. Security contains affiliation, belonging, warmth, care for self, care for others, closeness as well as security.
    The key to effective brand management is to understand the unique combination of these goals. We use an implicit quant method to measure the association between goals and categories/brands and this is, in my experience, the best way to understand why brands are bought, and how to develop brand strategy and position them for growth. The same model and method can then be used to test whether execution fits the strategy.
    Hope that helps! Thanks again for your review.

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