Crack the Code on Consumer Psychology: Valuable Insights by Michael Solomon


Solomon has the mind of a scientist and the writing flair of a journalist.” — Philip Kotler (Marketing guru)

Do you know why most of the startups fail?

It’s mainly because organizations fail to crack the code on why consumers buy their products and services.

The most pressing issue for the businesses is having a vision to create products and services that will resonate with ever changing audiences.

Michael Solomon has established himself as a thought leader in modern marketing and advertising. He is considered an authority when it comes to revealing cutting-edge trends in marketing, advertising, consumer behavior, branding, and social media.

Note – This article is written by Michael Solomon himself and it’s a must read for entrepreneurs and marketing managers. It will help them to crack the code of consumer psychology and succeed as a business.

Have you ever attended a keynote or a presentation by Michael?

You’ll be spellbound by the visual excursion he creates into the minds of consumers in terms of the factors that influence them to buy.

His audiences become his fans when he starts unveiling the insights during his seminars and keynotes.

He helps managers understand their customers so they can design their products and services to meet their deepest needs.

Michael’s e-mail signature includes a quote from the renowned German social psychologist Kurt Lewin: “There is nothing as practical as a good theory.”

This deceptively simple adage expresses at least two important takeaways for businesspeople:

  1. A conceptual framework isn’t just “ivory tower” babble, because it prevents us from reinventing the lightbulb every morning; and
  2. “Everyday” events often are more complicated than they appear, so we need to appreciate their underlying causes and connections to other events.

As a consumer psychologist Michael follows Lewin’s words of wisdom by firmly planting one foot in academia and the other in the “real world” of marketing.

Michael Solomon Leading Authorities July 2016 Speech Full

As he’s worked with clients such as DuPont, Intel, Levi Strauss and many others to help them understand their customers, heacquired many insights about consumer behavior including these:

  1. Managers often “make up” their target customer.

Michael was working with a large New York advertising agency on behalf of a major personal care products company. The brand was (and is today) a big player in the cosmetics industry.  As he spoke to managers about their target customer, a rosy picture emerged of a young, cosmopolitan woman who spent her days racing from one glamorous venue to another – always looking her best.  A blend of Carrie from Sex and the City and Kim Kardashian, perhaps!

Then he dug into the actual data on the modal buyers of the brand.  A psychographic analysis revealed a different picture.  It turns out the most likely user was a woman in her 50s who lived alone, accompanied by several cats. It turns out the brand managers had painted an idealistic picture of the customer they wanted, not the one they had.  Messaging today is a bit more realistic, and the brand has prospered as a result.

The moral: Don’t just assume you understand your customer – verify that you are not just projecting your own aspirations onto your target!

  1. We don’t buy things because of what they do. We buy them because of what they mean.

As a consultant to Levi Strauss, Michael worked with the apparel company’s iconic 501’s jeans brand.  During this engagement, he had the opportunity to explore an archive of letters people had written to the company over the last 150 years.  Many of these echoed the common theme that a humble pair of bluejeans played an important role in their lives.

Some customers wore the pants for 20-30 years or more, and when they were too tattered to adequately cover their bodies, they made them into quilts to pass on to their grandchildren.  And, more than one person neatly boxed up a severely beaten-up pair and sent them to HQ in San Francisco, with the instruction to give them a proper burial at their “home.”  Clearly there is something going on here that transcends a simple utilitarian relationship between a customer and a relatively inexpensive product.

Michael also found that the “deep meanings” of the jeans were fluid.  In particular, the symbolic significance of the pants changed, depending upon the other items with which they were paired.

For example, consumers related a pair of 501’s worn with a black leather jacket to a specific social type (“biker”), while the same pair worn with a blue sportcoat evoked a very different type (“yuppie”).

In later work he developed the construct of a “product constellation,” which refers to a set of symbolically related products that transcend product categories but is collectively emblematic of a social identity.

Why is this idea of a product constellation important to managers?  Many warriors in the marketing trenches by necessity are myopic; they worry a lot about their immediate competitors within an industry vertical, but they don’t think a lot about what’s going on in other verticals.

Consumers in contrast often have multiple verticals in mind when they choose what to buy.  To use a simple example, think about a couple that sets out to furnish a room. They don’t just buy a chair, lamp, couch, etc. in isolation.

Instead they methodically curate an ensemble of disparate items that together signifies a total “look” they desire – whether this “look” is Danish Modern or Shabby Chic.

The moral:  We buy things to express deep symbolic meanings, and these meanings don’t occur in isolation.  Market the forest, not the trees.

  1. Go to the gemba (or, fish where the fish are).

Many analysts who study consumer satisfaction, or those who design new products or services to increase it, recognize that it is crucial to understand how people actually interact with their environment in order to identify potential problems or new product development opportunities.

To do so, they typically conduct focus groups, in which consumers are brought to a place to try a new product while employees observe their behavior through a secret camera.

That’s a good start, but often not nearly enough to fully appreciate the product in use.  To gather more insight, it’s best to go the gemba, which tothe Japanese means “the one true source of information.”

Michael learned the value of the gemba(the one true source of information) first-hand during a project he conducted for a very large tool and household product company. He studied a cleaning product that included a rotating brush to remove mildew from shower stalls and other bathroom surfaces.

The consumer sprayed a cleaning fluid from a dispenser bottle onto an area and then used the device to scrub it. The engineers who developed the gadget tested it in laboratory settings, but not in real homes.

When Michael’s team followed housewives around as they used the contraption, they saw that they struggled to carry both the refill bottle and the scrubber.

Some of them even improvised a bottle holder they wore around their waists in order to keep one hand free.Aha, a pain point waiting to be addressed!  Michael recommended one modification to the engineers:

Equip the device with a built-in reservoir that holds an ample supply of the cleaning fluid, along with a spritzer to apply the fluid directly from the device.  Problem solved – a problem the company didn’t know it had until it went to the gemba.

The moral:  Engineers, come out from your labs and mix with your customers.  They may teach you a thing or two about product design.

We teach our students, “Marketers do it to satisfy needs.”  However, discovering just what those needs are is a trickier process than it seems.  The everyday world of consumption is fascinating and often perplexing.  But figuring out why we buy and what things really mean is more than an academic exercise.

Marketers ignore these complicated relationships at their peril.  But for those at Apple, Nike, BMW and other companies with a zealous customer following who figure out that what they sell can play a key role in who we are, the path to success is clear.  We really ARE what we buy.

Meet Michael Solomon

Michael has done some amazing work on understanding consumers, which makes him an authority on the subject.

Student community from around the world has been benefiting from his numerous books (estimated to be more than 30). His bestsellers include Consumer Behavior:  Buying, Having and Being— the most popular book on “buying behavior” worldwide.

Michael is widely respected as a keynote speaker. His opinion is highly regarded by executives, when it comes to establishing deeper connection with customers.

Michael’s global clients

Here is a list of some of his global clients, who seek his advice on marketing strategy and consumer behavior.

  • Calvin Klein
  • BMW
  • DuPont
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Levi Strauss
  • Armour
  • United Airlines
  • eBay
  • Progressive
  • Under Timberland
  • Campbell’s
  • H&M
  • CrossFit
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • CPG
  • PP&G

TV & Media

Michael is the darling of audiences on the television and he regularly appears on shows such as Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CNN.

He is frequently mentioned in The New York Times,Time, AdweekandUSA Today.

He also writes for Forbes.

Latest Books

Michael’s latest book is already available on Amazon: Marketers, Tear Down These Walls:  Liberating the Postmodern Consumer.

Michael works as a Professor of Marketing at the Haub School of Business, in Philadelphia. He is also a noted consultant, who fuses theory taught in the text books with real-world scenarios.  He helps managers understand how customers think so they can meet their deepest and most pressing needs.

Visit for more details.

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