what is psychoanalytics?

Psychoanalytics begins where traditional qualitative research ends.

Any time we begin to think that we are highly developed creatures of logic and rationality, we should think about some of the paradoxes in everyday life. Here are a few:

  • Why do the Toronto Maple Leafs, the most losing team in hockey history, have such strong fan support?
  • Why do people vote for politicians who have been shown, over and over again, to be untrustworthy?
  • Why do people who invest in the stock market tend to sell the winners and hold onto the losers?
  • Why will people work so hard and spend so much in order to earn a free reward from a frequent user program?
  • And for a society that is so obsessed with being thin, why can’t we stop eating?

The fact is, we are not rational creatures at all. This is not to say that there is no logic in these phenomena; but it is a logic of emotion and not rationality. In order to understand a logic that seems totally irrational, you have to understand how people think. That’s where psychoanalytics comes in. The approach is a powerful addition to the more traditional in-depth probing used in qualitative interviews.

A brand’s call-to-action is essentially emotional, and great brands also provide logical arguments to rationalize and reinforce the emotional drivers. This is true for both consumer and pharma brands. Even when you are dealing with rational people like physicians and buyers of large corporations, you have to keep in mind that they are human too, subject to the same search for meaning as everyone else. It would be a mistake to assume that your brand is bought strictly on the basis of price, convenience, or quality. But if there are other emotional factors at play, then how can you know what consumers really want from your brand?

Psychoanalytics answers the question, “What are people buying when they buy your product?” Psychoanalytics uses a different approach that helps us to understand what motivates people and triggers reactions (ie what are the emotional drivers and the logical rationales that must be used). Psychoanalytics investigates these emotions and motivations at each level of the psyche: from the conscious pragmatic level, the repressed Ego level, the Cultural level where norms and values reside, all the way to the Archetypal level that provides the deep meaning for consumers.

Naturally, exploring the unconscious minds of consumers requires a different type of methodology than traditional research, for the simple reason that you cannot ask people to tell you something they are not aware of. However, even though people may not be able to tell you the deep-seated reasons they do something, they are still able to project this unconscious dimension onto things they create and in the way they speak about their experience. Not what they say, but how they think about it. Pictures, drawings, objects, patient journey booklets and stories are used, in addition to a discourse analysis that reveals how people think – the foundation on which their belief system lies. This data is what psychoanalytics uses, like a Rorschach test for your brand. Once the unconscious program has been identified, a mental model is developed of the decision-making process and the forces that drive behavior. When this mental model is used for marketing initiatives, consumer reactions become highly predictable, allowing for more sophisticated marketing messages that have a higher probability of being heard and accepted.

When you have uncovered the belief system that is the basis of how people think, then even questions about seemingly irrational consumer choices can be understood.