The Science Behind Consumer Thinking

Posted by on January 13, 2015

I recently spent a few years working with a group of neuroscientists, psychiatrists and psychologists examining not only how we think from a physiological standpoint, but then as a result, how that understanding can help us connect with others. The science of consumer thinking, attention and engagement is very real, and something that most marketers are just starting to understand and still trying to implement.

The Neuroscience behind Consumer Engagement

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is only about 4-5% of the human brain. But the PFC is where we analyze things as far as relevance and worth, based on our very personal and totally unique perspective. The PFC acts as the gatekeeper for the rest of our thinking. Our perspective, made up of individual bias and life experience, shapes our evaluation, opinions and resulting actions. It is as unique as our DNA. No two people are alike. However, the process for how we think is identical; it’s how we are hard-wired.

There has been a lot written regarding brand experience and consumer engagement and the many ways that we wrestle with these in our daily marketing efforts. But the new science of marketing revolves around creating insights. If we can get people to have their own insight as to how a product or service might work for them, we have a greater chance of loyal, long-term and high-value customers.

Creating Insights

Our brains are wired to solve problems and take ownership of our decisions. We want to make decisions for ourselves; we crave a certain level of autonomy. If we make a decision to do something on our own, we quickly justify that decision, and can usually leap over small objections or obstacles that get in our way. If we make a decision to do something based on a personal insight, to go back on that decision is to admit a mistake or to admit we were wrong. Our brains do not like that, especially when we made the decision based on a personal insight, and we now own it. Our brains try to justify the decision and rationalize the temporary problem or bump in the road to make it work, or help us work through it.

In contrast, if we are led to make a decision based on pressure, coercion or a “great deal,” we are less personally invested in that decision and we don’t really own it. And if any part of the resulting experience turns negative, we are more likely to turn against the decision and the associated brand. We are much more likely to then have a negative bias in our brain and be less likely to choose that brand again.

Creating a positive brand experience that leads to a personal insight based on relevance, value, or worth, will drive your customers to deeper levels of engagement and embed your product or service deep in their subconscious.

My Dad used to say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I think if we rephrased that for today, it might read something like: “You can lead a horse to water, but he’ll be ticked if he’s not thirsty.” or “You can lead a horse to water, but your energy might be better spent asking him what he likes to drink.”


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