By Peter Shallard Commit Action CEO | The Shrink for Entrepreneurs

Confession: I won the lottery. 

I started out my career as an entrepreneur, by going deep into psychology. 

All I wanted was to build a psychotherapy practice. 

And for the longest time, I thought that if I could only perfect my practice of psychology enough… flocks of customers would magically discover my superior skills. And magically find their way to me. 

That didn’t happen. 

I’m sure you’re not surprised. 

I learned the hard, painful way that sales and marketing are the lifeblood of every small business. 

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth – because I naively saw myself as “above” such distasteful things – I finally got to work. I took myself back to square one. I made it my mission to master marketing, from scratch. Just like I had mastered psychology. 

I even went as far as getting a part-time sales job to learn in the trenches. 

I won the lottery because I realized – years and countless learnings later – that when you put marketing or sales together with psychology, something incredible happens. 

I realized that in the nineteenth and twentieth century, it wasn’t just Freud and Jung  who figured out the human condition. 

Sales and marketing wizards like Claude Hopkins and David Ogilvy were also peering into the human soul. These people understood – better than anyone – what drives people to do the things they do. 

Evolutionary Marketing Psychology

Most importantly, these godfathers of marketing understood the psychology of why people buy, when they buy. 

(And… why they don’t buy when they seem to have every reason to.)

Once it clicked for me that psychology could be integrated into marketing tactics and strategies, it was like I saw outside of The Matrix for the first time. This was the lightbulb moment that defined my career. It was an epiphany that literally generated millions of dollars in revenue for me.

Putting marketing and psychology together transformed my life: 

  • It won me more customers than I ever dreamed possible.
  • it maxed out my original therapy practice with clients. 
  • It raised my rates to several multiples higher than ivy-league educated doctors of psychiatry are able to charge. 
  • It catapulted my role as an entrepreneur advisor to the bleeding edge of venture-capital backed, fast-growth startups. 
  • It built another business that scaled, in just a few short years, eclipsing every other thing I had done in terms of impact and earning potential.

(You’re reading this on the blog of that other business, in case you were wondering!)

I won the lottery precisely because – through the accident of my personal passion – my lifelong obsession with psychology was exactly what I needed to plug into the reluctant adult-education efforts I was making to figure out marketing.

I’m so, SO incredibly grateful. 

I didn’t have to – as a desperate business owner – figure out sales, marketing AND psychology from scratch. 

You don’t need to start from scratch either. 

You don’t need to wade through giant psychology textbooks like I did. You don’t need to seek out mentors from the academic fringes of the human potential movement, either. Skip the hundreds of hours of weird workshops and encounter trainings. 

Psychology – like everything else – can be applied to marketing with the 80/20 pareto principle.  

We just have to ask one simple question: 

What is the number one principle of psychology that – when implemented – will magnetically attract hordes of qualified, salivating-to-buy customers to your business? 

I answered this question the hard way. Through years of self-education trial and error. 

The answer is a oft-misunderstood department of psychology called…

Evolutionary Psychology

Here’s the minimum you need to know to get maximum marketing bang-for-your-buck: 

Evolution Psychology posits that all human behavior is motivated by darwinian instincts to survive-and-thrive. 

Basically, we do the things we do because we want to pass on our genes and equip ourselves and our children with the best possible advantages. This is why Freud was “right”… it really is ALL about sex. 

Right away you can see some holes in this theory. But, you’d be surprised how completely Evolutionary Psych can explain all sorts of human behavior and situations that don’t initially appear to be totally (or in any way) about sex drive and reproduction. 

It does this by translating our animal drive – to reproduce and see our progeny survive/thrive – into our need for status. 

Status is everything to humans, because humans are social, political primates

There’s a 1.2% genetic difference between you and these guys.

Status determines our place in the hierarchies of fitness, competence and wealth in our tribe. Our position in these hierarchies determines our mate choices. And as Freud said – paraphrasing here – everything is about sex! 

For older people (e.g. who’ve chosen mates and perhaps raised children) these hierarchies are still important, because they grant the status/power to maintain beneficial relationships. This amounts to being supported by our tribe. Other monkeys do more favors for higher status peers. That kind of tribal support has historically ensured optimal outcomes for our ancestors descendants. 

In other words, evolutionary psychology says that the desire for status is one of the fundamental human motivational forces. 

Your business is a status tool for your customers 

Seen through the lens of evolutionary psychology, almost everything people buy is about status. 

Or, it should be. 

You need to understand your business – and especially your marketing – as a method of reinforcing or improving your customer’s status. 

Failing to do so – failing to “grok” this status thing – will cost you everything: Your marketing won’t “pop”. You’ll constantly feel like you’re wading through molasses, struggling to get people to buy your thing. 

Status is too big to ignore. 

When humans wake up in the morning, they basically get out of bed to work on things that increase their status across one of many different hierarchies they participate in. 

Increasing our status… is kinda what humans do. 

When we go out and buy things, we buy products or services that are useful to us because they help us increase or reinforce that status. 

This is painfully obvious for luxury products, like Ferraris and Louis Vuitton handbags. Or swanky services, like ordering bottle-service at a night club. 

Evolutionary Psychology is all about status
Those sparklers aren’t for you, they’re for other people to NOTICE you. And for you to feel noticed.

These are all literal status-signaling badges, designed to broadcast to the other monkeys that you’ve done well for yourself and risen to the top of some meaningful hierarchy of competence, power or wealth. 

Status is often more subtle, too.  

Even the most simple utility purchase can be understood through the status-seeking lens. 

Here’s two good, stereotypical examples:

When a handyman husband buys the latest model power-drill, he’s investing in a psychological narrative of himself as a self reliant fixer-of-the-home who can be depended upon to keep up the roof above his families heads. 

This sends strong signals to his spouse to stick with him, to uphold her side of the spousal bargain. Doing so will ensure they raise successful children, in evolutionary terms. Darwin approves. 

That example is too easy though. Here’s some nuance: 

Imagine a similar handyman husband, who does not buy that latest and greatest power-drill specifically because he believes all those new-fangled bell and whistle features are totally unnecessary. 

What story is this ^^^ person telling himself and others about his status?

His decision NOT to buy the new-fangled drill is all about reinforcing the competence he aspires to. He’s not the kinda guy who needs those extra features. He can do things the old fashioned way. With elbow-grease and the same tools his grandfather used. 

The way to sell this second guy a drill… is to market it as a product of such astutely designed reliable simplicity that he’ll be able to pass it on to his grandson. 

THAT reinforces the status story he’s telling himself. Cha-ching!

Now consider a work-from-home owner of a digital marketing agency:

She signs up the latest, greatest email marketing automation software. What on earth has this got to do with status and evolutionary psychology? 

If you look at the marketing for all the email automation companies – at least, those who are good at it – you’ll see that they speak directly to the success outcomes that users of email automation desire. 

Grow your list.

Increase your conversions.

Automate your business. 

Kick back by the pool.

Or, take your business to the MOON!

Smart software tools for business owners position themselves as tools to explicitly improve the status of the purchaser. They say “Buy this. Get more of what you want. Show the world who you’ve always wanted to be.” 

Heh… while writing this article I checked Hubspot’s homepage. I swear I wrote this whole piece before I saw this. There she is… a freakin’ astronaut!

Evolutionary Psychology in Action

Status – in this sense – is the “Greater Why” that every entrepreneur needs their product or service to speak to. 

Successful B2B sales pitches will increase inter-office status for the decision maker. Buying the product or hiring the vendor will make that executive look good to her boss or shareholders. 

Breakaway B2C products will help people see themselves – and broadcast to others – that they’re better parents, healthier amateur-athletes, more tasteful connoisseurs of the good life.

Successful businesses are successful because they reinforce or improve the status of their customers. They help customers see themselves as better. They help their customers be seen as “better” by the people who matter to them, too. 

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