When trying to understand consumers, it sometimes feels like you need a crystal ball. They say they want one thing, but then end up choosing something totally different. Or they demand a new product with a ton of features, and yet the sleek minimalist competitor flies off the shelf.
When trying to decipher the complex and sometimes contradictory whims of your target market, it’s important to consider that they are only human and – like all of us – are driven by needs and wants that have been shaped by evolutionary forces rather than modern consumption.
That’s why one of the strongest weapons in your modern marketing playbook is a fundamental understanding of human behavior.
By leaning on scientific disciplines such as neuroscience and psychology, we can better understand consumers’ very human needs and help brands deliver what consumers want on a conscious and subconscious level.
Our brains are tricky, in that they are constantly making guesses about what decisions we should make based on shortcuts, past experiences, and generalizations.
We falsely feel that our deliberate and logical conscious thoughts provide total control over less-conscious, less-evolved gut reactions – failing to realize that our perception of being logicians is just that – perception.
Every thought and decision must pass through a series of cognitive filters that contribute to our ultimate decisions and actions.
When brands want to understand what really makes consumers tick, it’s important to measure implicit needs. To tap into consumer needs, rapid tasks help brands identify what needs brands satisfy by measuring the speed of decision making.
The speed at which consumers connect a brand and a concept represents how closely associated those ideas are in the consumers’ minds. One interesting application of this approach compared consumers explicit and implicit perceptions toward the purchase of environmentally-friendly products.
Consumers explicitly rated the green products equally favorably, but consumers who actually opted to purchase green products were significantly quicker to associate the brands with positive attributes.
Given the potential confounds of social desirability, overstatement and failures in affective forecasting, implicit measures can help uncover subtle differences that hold major implications for brand strategy.
Emotions are rapid reactions to our environment that, in evolutionary times, helped guide survival in fight or flight situations. Though the stakes are much lower in our daily lives, emotions still influence our decisions.
While most of us understand emotional valence (positive or negative), emotions also induce physiological arousal, such as increased heart rate.
Arousal helps inform the level of action needed to respond to a situation. Intense, high arousal negative emotions, such as fear, need to be addressed emotion immediately, while lower arousal negative emotions like sadness reflect a less imminent threat.
We see this reflected in consumer behavior, as consumers are more likely to take action and share or recommend content if they feel they evoke higher levels of arousal.
For brands, this means that precisely identifying emotions along the consumer journey or experience is important to understand when they feel good, bad, and compelled to act.
For example, in beauty, we learned that different products evoke distinct emotions, unlocking a key to differentiating and better connecting consumers to the variety offered by the category.
The distinct emotions conveyed by lipstick, eyeshadow and foundation led to optimizing packaging, messaging, and experiences to build emotional resonance with the products.
Identity is comprised of the features that make up our sense of self, including where you’re from, your hobbies, and even your favorite brands. When consumers include brands in their identity, they borrow the favorable qualities of the brands they love as ways to communicate to others who they are.
Apple fans are cutting-edge, smart, and popular. Disney fans are loving, playful, and nostalgic. Harley Davidson fans are tough, independent, and strong. By ensuring your brand stands for something, you empower consumers who share those values to incorporate your brand into their lives.
Being part of consumers sense of self offers brands incredible protections. Consumers with high brand identity are beyond loyalists – they protect the brands as they would protect themselves.
High identity consumers will defend you against bad press or market-missteps and will be the first to follow you into new categories and resist purchasing the competition.
By tapping into brand identification, you can profile consumers that connect the most with your brand and track how your strategies are impacting your most dedicated base.
Habits are automatic mental shortcuts that our brains use to help free up our valuable thinking power for more important work.
Habits are formed when frequent behaviors include: a consistent behavioral context (e.g. eating popcorn at the movies), a cue that initiates the behavior (the smell of popcorn as you enter the theater) and a reinforcer that encourages repetition (a delicious snack that enhances your movie-going experience).
Habits present opportunities for brands to shape and predict consumer behaviors. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, understanding habits has been critical to making informed decisions about which changes are most likely to stick around long-term.
Our habit research has revealed that health and self-care are strong contributors to lasting behavior, even in categories with little connection to healthcare or nutrition. These cues will likely persist long-term if paired with strong reinforcers and consumers buy-in.
Habits allow us to identify not only the features and strength of each behavior, but we also leverage these findings to shape our messages and product offerings to modify and strengthen the behaviors.
While the less-conscious can feel mysterious and intangible, leveraging some basic concepts from neuroscience and psychology can help brands measure and harness deeper insights needed to connect with the needs of consumer.
Lauren Murphy conducts research, leads concept development and oversees tool deployment and maintenance. She is a key member of LRW’s Pragmatic Brain Science Institute®, which offers clients a holistic understanding of human cognition, emotion, motivation and behavior. She also supports and consults with project teams to add a psychological perspective to LRW’s comprehensive market research insights.
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