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How Aristotle Can Help you be a Better Marketer in 2019

The 7 Causes of Human Action


While methods of selling, buying, and consuming behaviors have changed over the past century, few in the know could hardly argue that fundamental human desire and motivations have not. There are a few reasons why “wasting time” reading philosophy and psychology books over the years have made me a better brand builder.


I say “wasting time”, as more than a few colleagues and acquaintances have put it. Most of my other friends just think I’m a nerd. But deep at the heart of reading and learning, is my love of people and what makes humanity tick. It’s as much a personal journey of discovery as it is a customer journey of buying. I’ll more wax philosophically later…back to business.


CUSTOMERS build brands, not companies. This axiom is old, but still true nonetheless. I would go as far to say it’s even truer in today’s instant response, always on always, connected culture. A good experience with your product or service will have the socialsphere buzzing far and wide. A bad one, and the boo birds of Twitterland will have you trending alright…for all the wrong reasons. The other old adage of “any press is good press as long as you spell my name right” is as dead as PR itself. Just kidding PR friends, wanted to make sure you were paying attention. All this works for you too, you know.

Human psychology and how it affects customer behavior is the foundation of brand building. These same questions have to be answered no matter what your product or service is. Who are they, What do they think? What do they really want? Do they really want those features or do they just think they do? What drives them to actually take action to try and/or buy, once a real or perceived need is identified? and the biggie, what problem do I solve?


Unlocking the hidden doors of the mind is why good brand marketers paid attention in their psychology and philosophy classes. Some of you may have even asked a few questions. Why? because the really good ones know intellectually and through experience, that Aristotle’s Seven Causes of Human Action can be directly applied to customer behavior and brand marketing today. You will never really “get” marketing if you don’t “get” the psychology of needs and the philosophy of actions.


You might not be that familiar with Aristotle’s Seven Causes of Human Action unless you’re a philosophy geek, like me, so let's take a look at the seven principles, and see how they relate to today's marketing efforts.


The Lyceum (Ancient Greek: Λύκειον, Lykeion) or Lycaeum was a temple dedicated to Apollo. It was best known for the Peripatetic school of philosophy founded there by Aristotle in 334 / 335 BCE.

Truth Never Goes Out of Style

Assuming you have completed a customer buying journey mapping (If not, email us and we'll send you one), you should be concerning yourself with your content development for each stage, as well as your Lead Magnets and Calls-to-Actions (CTA). One of the most important aspects of any marketing program is of course a strong call to action. Aligning your CTA with one of the seven causes of human action defined by Aristotle could just get you the kinds of results you’ve been looking for. Who says old dogs can’t teach pups new tricks?


This doesn’t exclude AB testing obviously, it just helps to ensure that you are hitting your marks right out of the gate.


According to Aristotle, the seven causes of human action are:

1. Chance

Leave nothing to chance. Don’t just hope that the customers or lead understands what you want them to do. Hope, as my former CEO wisely would say all the time, is not a strategy. Make it clear, with no room for confusion. Too many CTAs in one communication is confusing, and if you do not have or do not know what value your product or service have. Then you’ve lost before you’ve started. You may be thinking “well of course. Duh.” However, you should have research to back up your assumptions, including voice of the customer or some other primary or even secondary research. If you don’t and you’re getting your information straight from the product team with no data, then you’re probably just guessing. This is problematic for a lot of tech and services companies. Confusion is the number one killer of brands.


2. Nature

Human and environmental nature play important roles in motivating customers to take action. Make sure the actions you tell them to take align with their natures. For example. If you are trying to reach an audience that doesn’t use social media (God forbid I know), then it’s probably not a good idea to drive action through channels or vehicles they aren’t likely to use. Here, modern philosophers like Ad giant David Ogilvy’s “you don’t have to be everywhere, just everywhere your customers are” is right on point.


3. Compulsion

We live in a world of instant gratification, and compulsion causes a significant amount of human actions simply because things are so quick and easy. This applies as much to B2B as it does B2C. Make it easy to take action and act on their impulses. Compelling lead magnets and instant give-to-get rewards will ensure your marketing results will improve. Here, I’ll couple Aristotle with Steve Krug’s book title “Don’t make me think”. Sure he meant it for UI/UX web and app design. But like I said at the outset, people are people.


4. Habit

Human beings are creatures of habit whether they admit it or not. In fact, much of our habitual nature is subconscious, but it plays a direct role in how and when we take action. The three drivers of brand-building—consistency, persistency, and ontology, play directly to the habitual nature of human beings. Get out your dictionary kids, philosophy loves big words.

Setting and consistently meeting your customer’s expectations for your brand is critical to developing trust, which leads to action. At this layer brand marketers may have to venture into the scary underbelly of product development. Asking all sorts of nasty questions about claims the product is said to do. Our one defensible question is and has always been “does it do what we say it does on the box?"


Ask, and if you cannot get a straight answer and the answer is no, then you have no product much less a brand.


5. Reason

Reason can be rational or irrational. The former applies to the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs while the latter applies to the higher levels of needs. These higher level needs require marketers to develop real, not perceived reasons for customers to take action. Appealing to emotion is still the most effective way to develop triggers for need in consumers’ minds. However, I want to challenge perception is reality in this case. No, reality is reality. Either there is a real need for your product or service or there is not. You may convince someone to try something they don’t need. But as soon as they get it and the reality of non-value sets in. Pure emotion won’t save your brand. In fact, the very next action you motivate maybe for them to let everyone know what they think of your product or service via the world wide bully pulpit.


6. Passion

Passion also relates to emotions. What is the emotional trigger for each customer that will motivate him or her to take action? When that key message is communicated and that passionate emotion is triggered, it will be nearly impossible for a consumer not to take action.


7. Desire

Creating desire in a consumer is all about understanding the target audience’s wants and needs and massaging consumer perceptions so they desire what you’re selling. It’s not about a product or service. Desire is about a feeling — a lifestyle, a personal benefit, or some other intangible (and often subconscious) goal or want. Listen to your audience and communicate with messages and brand experiences that position your products and services as what consumers want so they can fulfill their desires.


The Bottom Lesson for Marketers

Whether you remember one iota of the hours spent in college learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Aristotle’s Seven Causes for Human Action or you’re just reading about it for the first time. What matters is that you understand human behavior is guided by needs and actions, which haven’t changed much over time. Consumers might change the way they like to do things, make purchases, gather information, and spend their time, but their basic psychological needs and philosophical causes of action are the constants that marketers can always count on.