Opinions

How Consumers Really Think

Posted by Jason Burnham on February 13th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Imagine if you could understand how individuals think, how they see themselves, the world, and others, and how they really prefer to be addressed. Imagine the advantages this would give you: you would have insight into how best to relate to and approach people, and beyond that, how to fruitfully maintain your ongoing relationship with them. You would be able to analyze people’s actions and attitudes and correlate them with the way they actually think. And because individuals’ thinking styles correspond to different ways of doing things, you could reasonably and accurately predict how they will respond to different information and types of communication.

According to MindTime science, humans have evolved the ability to imagine future possibilities and outcomes (Future Thinking – Pursuit of Possibilities), to recall past experiences and learn from them (Past Thinking – Pursuit of Certainty), or to come up with strategies for managing things in the present (Present Thinking – Pursuit of Probability). These are the three most fundamental thoughts humans can conceive of. It is the unique and various blends of these three primary forces of thinking that determine our individual thinking styles.

Some people tend to be Future thinkers: they look at a product or service and imagine the possibilities it opens up, how it might impact their life moving forward. Some people are Past thinkers: they want verification, they place a high value on customer testimonials, a proven track record, credentials, or the research that went into creating something. Other people are Present thinkers: they’re interested in how a product or service can help them solve or manage a problem they’re dealing with now. Each of these different types of thinkers are affected by various types of marketing communications in a variety of ways and all of them perceive, react, and convert equally as different.

Note: There are millions of variations for how people leverage these three primary forces of thinking and social, cultural, environmental, and educational influences, all contribute to how we engage with the world.

Current marketing optimization models are designed to focus in on a small group of consumers to capture those currently in market for a particular product or service, ostracizing a large segment of the population that include a significant percentage of potential customers. Current marketing strategies are moving away from cultivating consumer relationships to help navigate them through the consideration funnel and focus only on the low hanging fruit.

In actuality, companies are damaging the long term growth trajectory of their business. For most products and services a longer consideration cycle is required and how someone is communicated to throughout this process is essential to converting prospects into customers and advocates. Marketers concentrate their efforts on the “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, without understanding the motivating behaviors that actually convert consumers. This limits marketers to some immediate short term gains from one campaign to the next. Marketers need to start thinking about business growth, rather than being distracted by certain campaign metrics that may not be indicative of marketing performance at all.

Let’s remember that “behavior is a series of decisions”. Therefore, if we are targeting people behaviorally based on past actions, we are messaging to people in a post-decision state-of-mind. Think about that. We’re trying to sell cars to people that just purchased a car. We’re trying to sell pharmaceuticals to people who just got a prescription. We get so focused on the 1-10% increase in one particular campaign’s performance that we don’t even think about the other 90-99% of the people we are marketing to; simply because tracking is limited.

By understanding “how” and “why” someone converted, marketers can begin to build segmented communication strategies that navigate consumers from awareness, to consideration, to purchase without having to narrow the potential pool of prospects, yielding a larger customer base and a much greater return on marketing investment. Understanding people's individual thinking styles is the key to accurately anticipating consumer response to your products, services, and messages.

When people share similar thinking styles, their minds are proven to work in similar ways and use predictable strategies. People who think in the same way, use the same mental tools, approach the world in the same way, judge themselves upon the same yardstick, and will tend to prefer similar goods and services. This approach makes it possible, for the first time, to answer the basic questions about why people behave the way they do with far greater certainty and predictability. By overlaying thinking styles with behavioral data, you can start to isolate the key variables that drive specific consumer actions. This is important since each thinking style will react differently to the same message and value proposition.

The marketing world, as is true in general of our highly specialized world, has contrived a complex set of graphics (i.e. demographics, psychographics) with which to understand its audience; the consumer. All of these are being used to develop personas; fictitious representations of people and their buying habits. Hundreds of data points are data mined and aggregated in an attempt to serve the audience or even individuals with just the right product ad, or marketing message, to get them to take action. However, one hundred data points a person do not make.

People no longer need announce themselves as customers for marketers to pitch them based on the kinds of information generally required to connect them with personalized selections of goods and services. When you walk into a store to buy a new outfit, the good sales person will size you up and ask questions to direct you to particular items—how formal is the occasion, will you wear this again, what is your budget? . . . if you are larger what clothes are slimming, if angular which will help give you shape? . . . what are you wearing now, do you seem excited or skeptical of new fashions?

Whereas once the consumer initiated this relationship, and consciously shared personal information or chose not to, digital marketing enables advertisers to presume this relationship on the part of me, the individual Internet user, without my prior consent. This presumption, coupled with the power of marketing companies to reach me wherever I navigate online, is the real source of friction between marketers and consumers. Yet as consumers we are often frustrated when our online experience is disrupted by the intrusion of advertising for goods and services that have no relevance to our lives.

There is a redefinition of the social contract between advertisers and consumers happening in these advancements—it is occurring at the intersection of sea changes in the way the Internet is seen as a medium that erases rather than protects anonymity; and in the economics, cultural mores and basic standards for the generation and distribution of content, goods and services. As the Internet matures—indeed in order for it to mature—the economics of the marketer/consumer relationship need to be stabilized. The Internet costs money to run, and it also provides jobs, enables commerce, and democratizes the possibility for people to improve their quality of life however they define it. But in order for that to happen, the social contract needs to become sustainable as well—and that requires consumers to become more active participants in the relationship. There are two fundamental questions in the field of marketing and advertising:

1) What are people interested in, or open to, seeing right now?
2) How can they be messaged to in the best way possible?

Empowering consumers to make their own entry into the marketing and advertising world—to introduce themselves and state their intentions—will ultimately gain them a degree of control over how they are perceived by marketers while improving the ability of marketers to connect consumers with the things that are best for them. Once the consumer becomes an active participant in directing what topics they are interested in pursuing that support their media consumption—once I announce what the conversation is about for me—connecting at the cognitive level becomes a positive force for consumers because it enables marketers to communicate the information consumers want in the way they want to get it. Marketers can actively pay attention to the cognitive needs of the consumer, and those are the needs that ultimately determine the nature of all relationships.

Marketing to people’s cognitive needs alone cannot address the issue of whether to display an ad for shoes or a credit card, or if it is a credit card ad (say, on a bank’s site) which is the best product to show them. Marketers use their graphics and follow actions to make these determinations (whether by fact or inference). But once a person is identified, for example, as a small business owner, a cognitive understanding of that graphic instantly enables better messaging to them—not just what claims will motivate them, what kinds of stories will speak to them, and what will be convincing to them, but also about practical issues of delivery such as the frequency of contact they will need, and how to structure the order in which different ads should be displayed.

The human qualities this approach addresses are the very same ones that bright and observant advertisers and marketers, not to mention psychologists and social scientists, have over time come to recognize as the most important drivers of our decision making process, our dominant motivations, and even the way we develop and defend our sense of self-value. Among these are vision, security, efficiency, opportunity, skepticism, fitting in, authenticity, results, innovation, facts, imagination . . . By fostering collaboration between consumers and marketers, a people-driven communications platform based in cognitive marketing methods can generate vibrancy in the marketplace based on a sustainable consumer/marketer relationship . . . while providing a valuable service to every member of this economic cycle. This can ultimately be applied to all steps in the process of connecting goods and services with the people who will benefit from them most—from design and branding of products, to communicating brand identity, to attracting the desired market, to messaging effectively to both the mainstream and cultural outliers in any graphic group, to identifying which products and services will appeal most to which members of any existing graphic, to redefining the marketing and advertising of products that are useful across wide ranges of graphics . . . and beyond.

Once you understand how people think, you can answer the “why” and the “how” about what drives consumer behavior, motivation, choices and needs. Harnessing this knowledge provides the basis for true persona development leading to more impactful marketing communications and customer relationship building.

One Response to “How Consumers Really Think”

  1. john durham says:

    this is the best stuff and Jason nails it!

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