Marketers vs Consumers

Six common mistakes marketers do in their effort to understand consumers behavior

I am very passionate with neuroscience and the power that the human brain has. Recently, I read a very interesting book that helped me to understand a bit more about how the consumers’ brain mechanism works. That is why I inspired to write the following article and share some points with you. Hope you will enjoy the read.

In accordance to the Marketing Science Institute, 4/5 of new products that launched fail to be profitable and even survive at a market. It causes not only financial issues, but also customer dissatisfaction. One of the reasons of this failure is that marketers do not unnderstand how customers make their decisions. They do not go in depth into their world, instead they stand in the surface.

Fortunately, in the recent decades Psychology and Neuroscience have made a huge progress in the exploration of human brain. The decision making process of buying behavior is influenced by a great variety of factors: body, brain and society in general.

Therefore, I would like to investigate 6 of the most common mistakes, made by marketers in their intent to understand consumer behaviour:

Myth no1: Consumers think in linear and well-reasoned ways when they form an opinion about a product or service

Fact is, that they do not. While “meeting” a product for the first time, customers don’t assess all attributes and advantages of this certain product. Often emotions (like desire of happiness and status quo) play a crucial role in a decision making process, so rationality is not always the key. For example, a choice of a car can be driven not only by valuable technical characteristics, like volume of engine, but mostly by “how cool the car is”.

Myth no2: Consumers can rationally explain their thinking and behavior of why they make a decision

Speaking with numbers — on average 95% of all thoughts prior to making a decision happen unconsciously. They often can rationally explain, why a product was bought, afterwards, but this explanation would be “fake”. By “fake” I mean, that the explanation might be extremely rational, but there is an emotional intuition that can not express. So, do not ask people to give you a rational answer of why they make a certain decision, but try to understand, what the unconscious motivation to make the decisions is. Try to figure out and search what the unconscious part of the mind hides. A classic example is $10 / $9.99 price dilemma. The difference is not big, but it’s crucial in customers’ choice. Majority of customers prefer the $9.99 price, because it seems to be lower and looks like a relevant bargain.

Myth no3: The brain, the body and the surrounding of consumers should be studied separately

It’s quite opposite — all these elements influence each other and have to be considered together. For example different cultures feel the pain differently. Also, the immune system is an extension of the brain and reacts a lot of times to psychological stress for instance with health problems. Hormones like testosterone make people to become more competitive and self-focused as well as adrenaline make people stressed and energized. People with different religious beliefs react in a different way in problems. For example it is more possible someone to start a diet with the motivation that will be a good Christian, other than with the motivation of doctors advice because of high cholesterol and high risk of heart diseases in the future. Still believe that the above elements should be studied separately?

Myth no4: Consumers’ memory is a mirror to consumers’ experience

“Memory” is a skill to keep and exploit an obtained knowledge or information. “Consumer experience” is a perception, that a consumer obtains after their usage of a product. Our memory often is not that “clear” and is influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. For instance, in a survey for recalling an experience, the memory can be influenced by factors such as the order of the questions or the colors that are dominated in the paper. Another example that confirms the actual difference between consumers memory and experience and that the decisions made based on memory and not on experience is the one that used from psychologist Daniel Kahneman in a TED conference.

If you have a patient who has had two colonoscopies with two different surgeons and is deciding which of them to choose, then the one that chooses is the one that has the memory that is less bad, and that’s the surgeon that will be chosen. The experiencing self has no voice in this choice. We actually don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories.

Myth no5: Consumers mainly think in words

Researches have shown that only small parts of brains neural activity emerges in languages. There are several ways of thinking (and making decisions) — words are usually a way to express and share thoughts. It of course influences a decision making process, but it is not the only factor. People “think” with colours, time, feelings, sensations — all this variety of factors has to be kept in mind, while analysing a customer behaviour. To understand better, imagine a deaf person before learning a language, of course this person has millions of thoughts that cannot express them in words, but the thoughts are in their minds.

Myth no6: Consumers receive and interpret a company’s messages in the way, that company wants

People analyse and interpret everything based on their experience. One really interesting example is the anti smoking campaigns which show and point out the harmful results that smoking causes. Actually these kind of campaigns can be characterized as unsuccessful, for the simple reason that the message they want to pass on to the consumers, be interpreted in a wrong way. They put images black lungs or rotten teeth or wrinkled skin, they have not predict that this kind of photos bring the feeling of “disgust” to peoples’ mind. When people feel “disgust”, automatically and unconsciously their reaction is to look away, therefore they cannot receive the message let alone interpret it. That is why the anti smoking campaigns failed to convince people to decrease the amount of smoking by putting such photos in the majority of the cigarette packages.

Marketers need to talk and analyse their customers behaviour — not only, what they say, but how they make decisions, use a product, what they think about etc. You have to communicate more with your customers’ brain and behavior. The goal is the customer-centricity and will be mutual beneficial; for marketers because they are going to develop more effective strategies and for consumers because the more they will discover the value that the product offers them the more willing will be to buy. The traditional market research over based on conscious, BUT do not forget that 95% of the decision-making process happens below the conscious level.

If you find the above article interesting and want to know more about the unconscious world, I highly recommend you to read “How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market” by Gerald Zaltman.

If you have any comments, let’s discuss it! ☺

Maria Kokkoli, Marketing @ EasySize