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Understanding How Gut Reactions Influence Consumer Behavior

Posted On  September 30, 2019
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You’re in your office 8 hours a day (or perhaps 10), focused on how to get customers to buy more of your products or services. In LRW’s case, we’re in our offices 8 hours a day (or 10) focused on how to get customers to buy more of your products or services. We all obsess over target customers, the equity of brands, creating emotionally compelling messaging, designing packaging that excites people. We conduct competitive analyses, size and segment the market, and so on. Your products and services take center stage day in and day out.

Even with all the creative brand strategy in the world, once your product is out there, your consumers are the ones who decide what it means and how it fits within their lives. While strategizing about how to influence purchase and consumption behavior, it’s important that we stop periodically to perform a gut check. Do we really understand our customers on their terms, what drives their behavior and choices?

Sure, you agonized over each rip, tear and stone washed hue, but when your customers put on your jeans, did they consider these design elements? Did they consciously think, “I am choosing these jeans today because, (in correlation with your messaging), I want to show people I am confident and independent?” Or, was it simply the pair they felt best in that moment?

Millions upon millions of advertising dollars create a multitude of brand impressions, leaving an imprint on consumers’ brains. Were they really thinking of your positioning the last time they picked up your juice out of the cold case? Was it because it’s locally sourced and made them feel connected to their community? Was it your product’s anti-oxidants or its shiny packaging that caused the consumer to grab your shampoo?  Did your detergent’s cleaning power win them over? Or does your vintage-inspired label remind them of their childhood?

We can ask consumers direct questions and we do, but honestly, sometimes they don’t know the answers. Brain and psychological science show that that most consumer decision-making happens instantaneously, with very little conscious thought. Consumers see your product or your ad and a cascade of signals and processes set in. Under these conditions, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to rationally explain the array of emotional and less-conscious signals contributing to their decision.

If we want to understand how and why consumers are making choices, we need to understand both the conscious and non-conscious factors impacting decision making. Then we need tools that match those processes, tools that allow marketers to dig deep.

Back to our obsessing…over every detail of the marketing plan, product features and competitive environment. We should do it. It matters. But we should do so knowing that our customers are making decisions at a gut level. And consequently, we need to do a gut check – on them.

To learn more about your consumers’ fundamental needs, download this white paper, Consumer Behavior: Understanding Motivation.

Written by Lauren Murphy
Senior Research Scientist, Pragmatic Brain Science Institute®
Lauren develops creative approaches to help understand consumer behavior and why people sometimes say one thing but do another. She draws on her expertise in emotion processing, decision making, and behavior to produce meaningful insights and novel research approaches. Lauren joined LRW in February 2018 and received a B.S. in Anthropology from Florida State University and a PhD in Psychology from Emory University.

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