Psychology and marketing are tied together. For decades, psychology has played an integral role in marketing strategies, allowing marketers to build strong relationships between brands and their audiences. Psychology-aided marketing helps brands relate to their customers, appeal to their emotions and senses, and capture and hold their audiences’ attention. Using psychology in marketing is nothing new, throw in Bhuddist philosophy, however, and you might just have the perfect combination.
Enter Maverick Foo. A marketing veteran, Maverick has marketing running through his veins. An ardent advocate of modern marketing with a dash of old-school common sense, Maverick is a leading marketing strategist and digital influencer. Join us in this issue of the Marketing Expert Series as we explore the fascinating life of a unique marketer and the power of psychology, Buddhism and marketing.
Hello, Maverick! I’m very excited to have you join us for this issue of the Marketing Expert Series! I’ll throw a softball question first to get us warmed up. You’ve had a pretty special journey to get to where you are now, can you tell us a bit about who you are and how you got to where you are now?
If you cut my wrist, chances are the blood that squirts out will try to market you something. (Disclaimer, it’s not something I’m looking to verify). I’ve been in marketing for the last 18 years, from mediums such as newspaper ads, billboards and fax machines, to social media, video and multi-step funnels.
I’ve always been interested in psychology, but I remember my mom saying that it may not be a favourable degree to have (ie. if accountants work with accounts and musicians work with music, then psychologists work with psychos?)
So I ended up taking an engineering degree, which I dropped out of 3 months prior to graduating. During those 4 years, I was actually spending more time at the psychology and human resources section of the library than the engineering one.
In hindsight, I figure that was my mom’s grand plan all along. If she had allowed me to take on psychology, would I have been as passionate?
As it turns out, even though I’ve never worked as an engineer, the systems and structural thinking I picked up is useful for design work-around and growth strategies.
What drew you to this line of work? Was it inevitable or something that crept up on you a little bit at a time?
Many years ago when I first started, I went to a sales presentation for one of the largest insurance companies in Malaysia. I fumbled a little, and the prospect actually said I was the worst sales person she had ever met. She even dropped an email to my boss to say that.
Since that day, I decided that because marketing comes before sales, and if the former is done well, the latter would be easier, or maybe even unnecessary!
The irony? That insurance company is currently one of our clients for the third year running. 🙂
If we consult LinkedIn at the moment, right now you’re a Marketing Strategist & New Profits Consultant at the Authority Institute, among several other things – like Marketing Strategist and Program Developer at High Income Trainer (HIT). You’re also doing some high end training for companies like Great Eastern. Let me just say it: you’re a busy, busy man! What is it that keeps you motivated and enthusiastic about the work you do?
I’m a naturally curious person, especially when it comes to psychology and technology, or a combination of that, being Mar-Tech.
My Mom, a teacher all her life, had a big influence on me as well. I enjoy taking complicated processes, distilling them into frameworks, and teaching them.
I guess you can say I’m one of the lucky people who happens to like what I do for a living, and my favourite pastime is tinkering – testing out new apps, finding ways to simplify complex marketing messaging, producing content etc.
It’s funny that I try to finish my weekday work as fast as I can, just so I can do more of them over weekends.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: You’re a former Buddhist Monk and now you’re a leader in the marketing community, how does that happen?
Well, I was a novice Buddhist Monk for 2 weeks when I was 13, 14 and 15, mainly because my Mom was a staunch Buddhist, and wanted to see her son be part of the temple. The first year took some coaxing, since being a monk meant a strict schedule and no forms of entertainment at all. Being a 13 year old and told not to be able to play video games or listen to Backstreet Boys?
The experience was really good, though, and I went back for the 2 subsequent years.
I credit a lot of my current success (and the ability to overcome the failures), to my time at the temple. Powerful principles on relationships help me understand customers and partners better, and the profound wisdom of elders has helped me understand myself better as well. It has also helped me find peace even in the eye of the storm (constant reminders still needed, trust me, I still have a long way to go).
You see, if you can understand the thought process of others, you will be able to elicit their behaviour, and also appreciate the emotions they project. Turn that around, and you can use the same wisdom for a better state of control. I’ve always believed that the external wars are won by winning the internal battles.
Has it influenced how you tackle your marketing strategies?
Because Buddhism talks a lot about the state of human existence, ie. life is suffering, it has given me much insight into human nature. Coupled with my interest in psychology, they are a potent mix of knowledge that can be used in predicting consumer behaviour, improving copywriting and even closing sales.
At the end of the day, as long as we’re selling to another fellow human being, we have to acknowledge their psychological states, mental models and emotional triggers. The best part is that this knowledge is not new. As a matter of fact, it has become very predictable.
FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) drives us to check our phones every few minutes. Guilt allows working parents to justify spending more money on their kids, as they assume that money buys happiness. Anger lets voters pick the opposition party, and frustrated housewives to go “revenge” shopping using their husbands credit cards.
How we express our emotions has changed over the centuries. Before, having a body covered with gold ornaments was a show of status, and now, it’s the ability to appear happy and successful all the time on our social media feeds.
Technology will come and go, but psychology will stay.
The first time I met you, back in 2019 at a Masterclass in Kuala Lumpur, I remember you saying that your ‘age’ meant you had an advantage over the younger marketers that had spoken before you. Tell us, what advantages does an ‘OG’ marketer have over the younger generations?
Experience over different marketing channels, really. As some platforms become less effective, we don’t use them as often. Flyers, newspapers and buntings, for example, are now being replaced by newsfeeds, in-stream video ads and podcast advertising.
However, there are lessons to learn from putting USD2000 on a newspaper ad. Lessons such as copywriting refinement, big-picture thinking and prudent spending, because compared to paid ads of today, that was a huge amount to test the market. Now, with countless technologies on A/B testing, retargeting pixels and remarketing, the risk has reduced significantly. When the pressure is less, we tend to omit important learning points.
Another advantage of age is also network and connections. There are 3 sources of traffic when it comes to marketing:
Free takes time, and paid takes money. Partnerships, if properly executed, can cut short go-to-marketing timing, and cost a fraction. However, to be able to execute successful partnerships, some experience is needed. Lucky for most, experience comes with age.
Having said that, sometimes age comes alone too 🙂
One of the things that those of us who follow you like about your communication is your down-to-earth, honest style. You have no fear – what’s that all about?
I do have fear, actually! I still feel nervous before going to stage, or even a Zoom call.
But if you’re referring to fear of being judged for what I have to say, then yes, I do admit I can be loose of tongue, I point out the elephant in the room, and state the obvious. Perhaps it’s one way to demonstrate a level of authenticity.
On that note, I personally think that if a market leader or public figure cannot make up his or her mind and speak boldly about what they believe, the younger, modern markets may not resonate with them. As the world progresses, I notice edgier brands with personalities stand out. Apple, Crossfit, Porsche, Nike, Tesla are a few brands that are not afraid to stand up for what they believe. They have a message, even if it means alienating a portion of the market. It’s about identifying your most profitable markets, and getting them to be your advocates. The thing about every fan? There will be a few haters too.
I like to think that’s how a brand knows if they are successful. If no one hates your guts, you’re probably doing it wrong.
And now, because it’s practically obligatory for me to ask – has COVID-19 impacted your work and the strategies you’ve had to employ? Do you see any lasting trends that we should take into account?
Yes, COVID-19 has a tremendous impact on how we conduct our businesses, because it has a tremendous impact on what we’ve spoken about earlier – psychology. The consumers’ perception and experience has changed during 2020, and companies will have to accommodate that in order to stay relevant.
For example, marketing messages have to reflect that the brand cares about the well-being of their target audiences. They also need to be seen as a necessity instead of a luxury.
Lastly, COVID-19 has also broken down the borders as consumers are getting more and more comfortable buying things online, even from countries they previously shunt. With the increased choices now made available, local brands have to double down on their brand story to retain the loyalty of their fleeting customers.
What about when, finally, this pandemic is over – any big plans for you?
Travel! I used to travel 90 days a year, and 2020 saw that number down to 20 🙁
Any advice you’d give to young and aspiring marketers or entrepreneurs?
You can choose to invest in marketing dollars, and it’ll be an ongoing expense. Instead, take the time to understand the buyer’s insights, because once you’ve understood them once, they hardly change.
For example, in a state of crisis, most people will become short-sighted. Selling long terms benefits will not work as well, as customers will be looking for short-term wins.
Lastly, with an understanding of psychology, try to improve the copywriting, particularly story telling skills, because the better the copy is, the more relatable is. And in a sea of similar products and services, the story is something that can draw customers to.
Thanks for taking part in this Series, Maverick, and for sharing your experiences with us! How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?
Cool! They can connect with me at LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/maverickfoo). Also, if they are interested to know more about the psychological shifts of consumers during their crisis, and if you’re ok to share, here’s a quick training video that I did for a client, which I made available to the public.