This post is co-authored by John Corcoran, creator of SmartBusinessRevolution.com.
Steve Jobs famously said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Of course, Jobs was famous for introducing the world to consumer electronics that invented whole new product categories, such as the iPod and iPad. As a result, it was understandable why Jobs didn’t trust consumer behavior.
For most companies, consumer psychology is less of a guessing game. But that doesn’t mean selling to consumers is any easier. Far from it.
Enter Michael Fishman. Michael is a New York-based expert in consumer behavior and consumer psychology who has been helping companies to understand consumer behavior for 30 years.
Fishman says businesses struggle with understanding consumer psychology because many consumers do not behave in rational ways. “Most people can’t answer the simple question of why they want the things they want,” says Fishman. “That’s because our brain drives our decision-making process in ways that we’re not really aware of.”
Many people, if asked about a specific product or service, can report on whether they want it or not, says Fishman. But there are subconscious drivers that also motivate consumers’ decision-making.
“Consumer psychology is all about getting into that unconscious territory where people are being directed to make purchases for reasons they are not clear about,” says Fishman. When businesses labor to understand their own customers’ psychology, business and marketing becomes “way more predictable and more compassionate in a way.”
Fishman’s passion for helping businesses to understand consumer psychology was one motive behind his decision to team with bestselling author Ramit Sethi to create BehaviorCon, a first-time conference later this month focused on consumer behavior and consumer psychology.
Fishman says that BehaviorCon, which will run August 23rd-24th in Stamford, Connecticut, was motivated, in part, on the recent popularity of non-fiction books on the topic.
“There have been so many bestselling books on consumer psychology and consumer behavior in the last four to five years and yet, no conference outside of the academic world,” says Fishman. “[Ramit and I] decided to create the conference we would love to go to if there was one.”
Sethi was the perfect partner. The author of the bestselling book I Will Teach You to Be Rich and popular blog of the same name, Sethi teaches others how to use psychology in the fields of personal finance, career and entrepreneurship.
Fishman and Sethi invited both academics and entrepreneurs to share the stage. One of the entrepreneurs who will be speaking is Marie Forleo, a former fitness DVD host turned business strategist, bestselling author, and marketing expert who will be talking about community building.
“We’re going to be looking at some of the grittier pieces of social science and behaviorial economics – things like why we do what we do, why do we make decisions, and applying that to marketing and entrepreneurship,” says Forleo.
The creator of an online training program focused on female entrepreneurs, Forleo says there’s “no secret ninja trick” to connecting with customers and, in turn, growing a business.
“We often get disappointed by our experiences out in the world, whether it’s a yoga class or a restaurant, or a hardware shop. But if people go over and beyond to really take care of you, those are the kinds of experiences people go out of the way to tell their friends about.”
Forleo will be joined be Derek Halpern, an expert on how consumer psychology applies to online marketing. Halpern says the trick to building a passionate customer base is about cultivating a narrow segment of “fans” that love what you do.
“You can’t make everyone happy,” says Halpern, the creator of the popular blog Social Triggers. “The goal is you want to make a small group of people happy. I’m not scared to go out there and say what I believe and not care about the consequences.”
Halpern says consumers are more attracted today to companies and businesses that take a stand. “I know if I say what I believe there might be 10 people who love it, and 10 people who hate it. If I’m going to get the 10 people who love it to be a reader of mine, they’re going to be a raving fan.”
For his part, Fishman says he hopes the conference will help business owners learn to use consumer psychology to serve their customers in a more useful way.
“This is not about taking advantage of people,” says Fishman. “This is about bringing products and activities to people’s attention in a way that’s helpful. It’s kind of like in the James Bond movies. You can either use this stuff for good or for evil. We’re committed to using this stuff for good.”
John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer and the creator of SmartBusinessRevolution.com. You can download his free ebook 10 Ways to Use Secret Political Strategies and Tactics to Grow Your Business.
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on August 20, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.