Tatiana Yevtushok

Business psychologist. Gestalt psychotherapist. Coach. Trainer

The Psychology of Selling and the Aesthetics of Atmospheres

If you ever wonder, how to promote your services or goods, in order to build wider audience of clients, to whom the results of your work could be useful, you will most likely be interested in getting to know something about the psychology of the selling and the principles on which it is based. I have no intention to teach you what to do and how you should act in order to inveigle clients, because I do not like manipulation. Though if you are interested in what psychological mechanisms are employed in selling and buying processes and what their roles are in the price formation, this article is for you.

What is selling except for being the activity of making goods and services available for people to buy or of exchanging goods and services for money?

Selling is a seduction process. There are two kinds of seduction: seduction with the perspective of satisfying client’s direct need with orientation to ‘to have’ and seduction with the perspective of satisfying client’s aesthetic need with orientation to ‘to be’. The first case deals with understanding the need of another person (client) and the possibility of a seller to satisfy it, for example, to sell bread to a hungry person. The second case is supposed to be the story of a devoted person who does his or her work with passion and deep interest in the subject what makes another person (client) feel this energy of passion, admire, and thus, get seduced. In this way we visit the concerts, for instance. Is it necessary to say that the combination of these two types of seduction increases chances of successful selling several times? The success of Apple, for instance, was built on the need of the buyers as well as on the personal history of Steve Jobs – a man who was totally and passionately devoted to the subject and process of his professional activity.

An extremely important aspect of selling is its aesthetic function. Modern tendency of aestheticization of economics succeeds in this a lot as it creates atmosphere.

Atmosphere is a kind of perceiving the whole. Gestalt psychologists described the whole as something that exists before the differentiation of its parts and is not the sum of these parts in the same way as melody is not the sum of its sounds or the sequence of the notes because it is perceived as the whole and interpreted inside us after the sensory data was received from outside. We can assume that atmosphere, except for its parts, contains Freud’s ‘unconscious’.

In his book“The Aesthetics of Atmospheres (Ambiances, Atmospheres and Sensory Experiences of Spaces)” German philosopher Gernot Böhme defines atmosphere as “emotionally charged space”. Atmosphere is created by forms, colors, odors, sounds, design, the way the space is organized and the objects are placed and situated regarding perspective concept and so on. This all makes us perceive the aesthetics of shops, for example. The need in attachment to the aesthetics of this atmosphere and the experiences that we get in it motivate us to do shopping. Warm and cozy atmosphere can make us buy things for home while scaring and threatening one can push us to pay for security objects and so on. Specific atmosphere evokes specific emotions that hint at appropriate needs. They say that the highest good people may experience is cognition, including cognition with sounds, tastes, odors, visual signs and of course words. Such cognition attaches us to specific atmosphere what creates the process of touch touching something and gives birth to sensations and emotions that lead us to actions and possibility of co-creation of something new together with the world. Aesthetic tool is the ability to experience the contact with the environment with the help of emotions and sensations that mobilize the energy for need appearance. In this case purchase serves to be that liberating sensation which was called catharsis by Aristotle. Strange as it may seem (because we got used to treat catharsis concept from the point of view of some piece of art influence) but we cannot deny the fact that the aesthetics of spaces (theatre, shop, site or application) grasps us making us feel and experience atmospheric emotions similar to metaphorical images on the paintings of Salvador Dali breaking into space as though from nowhere. Because of the fact that emotions are always charged with energy (e-motion means energy in motion), which creates motion, we surrender in front of this energy and act. We cannot deny as well that this action can be some kind of deflection but not necessarily. That is why it’s important to be aware of such process and of the influence of atmosphere upon us. This awareness may result endurance of the emotional experiencing here and now in order to get a possibility to reorganize the experience relying on meeting our real needs.

Regarding research in perception and social relations in groups, German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin argues that the field and human behavior are organized by underlying forces or in other word – needs. That is why, while investigating the field of our activity in which we stay together with our clients and partners, it is important to determine what needs organize this field. Professional activity and business as well as selling and promotion are built on these needs. If one wants to employ this method of promotion and selling in his or her own professional activity or business, he or she may address hierarchy of needs by Abraham Maslow, in order to explore what needs could have his or her potential clients. Design thinking is extremely popular nowadays. User experience (UX) design investigates the needs of users and helps companies to define clients’ feelings about goods or services in order to improve their quality as well as to sell and promote them more successfully.

To raise the awareness, I’ll give you an example of one existing method of selling based on the seven deadly sins. I am sure that you met it very often without suspecting its origin. Do not hurry to get scared, I’ll decode them with the help of Gestalt theory later. Employing this method means that we take every item from the list and relying on it we think up the advertising message for goods or services. Each item is directed towards specific category of potential clients.

Pride – ‘These goods (services) are only for the best people who worth it… Those who value and choose the best get the best…’– The most important here is the need of attachment to something grandiose, what we treat as narcissistic demonstration. This is for ambitious clients who want to possess the best things.

Greed – ‘Buy it until there is such a possibility… We can accept only 10 participants… The first buyers get discount… There is only one item available…’– In this message there is some kind of deficit created.

Envy – ‘You have the possibility to recommend it to your friends otherwise they will recommend it to you…’– This message is typical for network marketing. The emphasis is made to exclusiveness for those who want to be better than others. Very often this kind of selling involves famous people for apparent or hidden advertising to make clients feel the other side of envy, which is called admiration.

Wrath – emphasizes antistress, relaxation and the need to direct the aggressive energy.

Lust – emphasizes excitement, new acquaintanceship and everything that may raise excitement.

Laziness – emphasizes easiness that simplifies some processes, for instance, of purchase or order without any difficulty.

Gluttony – emphasizes deliciousness, evokes anticipation of taste and hedonistic expectations.

Very often the advertising message in the process of selling includes maximum quantity of items listed above.

In reality, here we don’t speak about sins because in Gestalt therapeutic theory we call them mechanisms of adaptation or modalities of contact. For example, the sin of gluttony is called deflection or retroflection and reveals how a person gets rid of mobilized emotional tension with the help of food instead of directing this energy to the real need. As we see here we deal with needs. Speaking of gluttony we understand that we will always want to eat; of laziness – we will always tend to save energy for some other more important things; of pride – we will always want something best for growth and evolution (as Oscar Wilde used to say ‘I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best’); of greed – we always want to manage to get what we need; of envy as of some tool to recognize what we need; of wrath as of the need to manage our own aggression which is perceived as energy on the contact boundary in order to direct it into good form by acting; of lust as of some kind of passion which drives us and similarly to aggression is to be invested into creative process of actualization in contact with others (we can find this in Plato’s dialogue Symposium).

Concerning the psychology of selling and promotion based on human needs, the psychology of price formation is also of huge interest. In 1957 American psychologist Leon Festinger introduces his cognitive dissonance theory where he argues that a person tends to decrease the psychological tension when there are two contradictory beliefs, ideas or values. It was widely employed for price formation. For example, if a good is of great value for a client because it satisfies his or her important need, but the price is low, a person does not evaluate its importance (if the price is low, the outcome is low estimated). Instead, if a good or service is not very important from the point of view of need satisfaction, but the price is too high, the outcome of such purchase is highly estimated by a client. The price formation of many goods and services is built on this psychological phenomenon.

Now, let’s proceed to practice and actual questions…

What problem of your clients or partners do you solve?

From this perspective for effective promotion and selling it’s important to determine next:

Who are you? What your qualities and characteristics could you project into your professional activity or business? What are your needs in relation to money and self-realization?

Who is your client or partner? (It’s possible even to create avatar in order to describe in details your client’s qualities and needs that you can satisfy with your goods or services. In this case we address Personality function).

How are your qualities and needs meet?

What are your sensations and emotions in this meeting and contact? (We address also Id function.)

What more needs could be revealed in these sensations and emotions?

Next, we address Ego function – What could be done for…?

The most important is what we give to others during the process of professional activity with the help of services and goods, what clients’ emotional state we create and evoke, what their needs we satisfy, and what our outcome is. The more our level of awareness is, the greater is our potentiality to make the best decisions and choices, and to act.

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