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Intuitive Marketing

August 23, 2014 2 Comments

the-fault-dear-brutus-pageLately I’ve come to the realization that neuromarketing isn’t enough.

As I’ve argued before in this blog, neuromarketing hasn’t achieved the uptake many of us expected in the early days, when we were sure our radical new measurement techniques would sweep away the old world of consumer surveys and self-reports, and usher in a new era of deep understanding of the real needs, motivations, and decision processes of consumers. Recently, I think I finally figured out what went wrong, and the result of that realization is a new direction in my research, which I call Intuitive Marketing.

I publicly introduced the idea of intuitive marketing at Lenny Murphy’s IIeX North America conference in Atlanta this June. Lenny recently released a video of my talk (along with dozens of others from the show, which are all available on the IIeX NA 2014 site here). Unfortunately, there was a lag in the audio in Lenny’s version, so the video has that “slightly off” feel that accompanies badly dubbed Japanese monster movies, so I took the liberty of adjusting it and re-posting it here.

If you’re a little too impatient to sit through 20 minutes of me talking at you, here’s a brief summary of my main points:

I started by noting a puzzle. In preparation for every IIeX conference, Lenny asks his GreenBook Blog readers to share with him their biggest unmet research needs that can be addressed in the upcoming conference. And before every conference (every conference!) a top unmet need is:

“More and deeper understanding of nonconscious drivers of behavior”

There are lots of vendors out there selling nonconscious measurement technologies. Why does this continue to be a problem? What is it that marketers aren’t getting? Are the vendors just doing a bad job marketing their products and services? I thought that was too easy an answer, so I presented an alternative explanation:

If marketers really want to understand the nonconscious drivers of behavior, they must be prepared to change not just how they MEASURE marketing, but how they DO marketing.

Most marketing today is based on a model of the consumer that is very different from the model that is emerging from research in the brain sciences – neuroscience, social psychology, and behavioral economics. Today, we know many things about the intuitive consumer (a name we invented in Neuromarketing for Dummies) that seem very counter-intuitive from the perspective of traditional marketing:

  1. Consumers don’t think a lot about what they buy.
  2. Consumers don’t pay attention to advertising and marketing.
  3. Consumers have weak and fragile preferences.
  4. Consumers don’t accurately remember our marketing messages.
  5. Consumers don’t have conscious access to their own mental states.

not-the-consumers-pageAs Obi Wan Kenobi might have said to traditional marketers in Star Wars, Episode 4: “these are not the consumers you’re looking for.”

But traditional marketing, which is basically persuasive marketing, as I argue in my talk, continues to operate on assumptions and practices that ignore every one of these new findings:

  1. Consumers don’t think a lot about what they buy — but marketers focus on providing information, and making sure their messages are understood.
  2. Consumers don’t pay attention to advertising and marketing — but marketers try to attract attention at any cost, even if it means disrupting and annoying every consumer in ear shot.
  3. Consumers have weak and fragile preferences — but marketers believe they must rely on heavy-handed persuasive tactics to change those preferences.
  4. Consumers don’t accurately remember marketing messages — but marketers are obsessed with measuring recall.
  5. Consumers don’t have conscious access to their own mental states — but marketers continue to ask them questions to find out what they’re “really” thinking.

Out of this mismatch between traditional marketing and brain science findings came a revelation.

We can use neuromarketing all we want to measure consumers’ nonconscious responses, but if we use those new measures only to answer the same old questions, we’re not really going to make our marketing any better. If we want to make brain science more practical for marketing, we’re going to have to make marketing more compatible with brain science.

digging-in-the-wrong-place-pageNaturally, I thought of that great scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like the bad guys in the movie, traditional marketing has been digging in the wrong place!

Intuitive marketing is simply marketing that is more compatible with brain science. It is digging in the right place, with a better shovel. If you want to get better answers, you have ask better questions. Intuitive marketing is basically how marketers should communicate to intuitive consumers. It is marketing that understands and speaks to both the conscious and nonconscious processes in consumers’ brain, and recognizes that they interact in intricate ways to produce our responses, choices, and behaviors as consumers.

Since I promised to say something practical in my talk, I included seven practical tips for marketers that can be derived from intuitive marketing principles. They are:

  1. Learn how and when to modulate attention – sometimes you want to wake it up and sometimes you want to let it sleep.
  2. Recognize that novelty is a liability – we’re naturally curious and drawn to it, but we don’t quite trust it.
  3. Appreciate the power of processing fluency – easy processing is often mistaken for familiarity, liking, beauty, truth and low risk.
  4. Don’t rely on people’s stated preferences – for the most part, we don’t know what we’re going to do until after we’ve done it.
  5. Don’t forget that much consumer behavior is determined by fast, automatic, and inaccessible “approach-avoidance” emotional responses.
  6. Accept that overt persuasion is not the best way to change behavior or improve business results.
  7. Recognize that nonconscious contextual cues are usually more important than deliberative cost-benefit calculations in driving consumer choice.

On the last point, diligent viewers will notice that I managed to totally mangle Dan Ariely’s classic example of the decoy effect (ah, the pleasures of being recorded). Luckily, the visuals on my slide were smarter than I was, so it’s possible to reconstruct the point I was trying to make.

Here is something I didn’t say in my presentation, but is worth adding here. It is about what intuitive marketing is not. It is not marketing exclusively to the nonconscious. It is not “sneaky” marketing or “stealth” marketing. It is not “subliminal marketing.” It is marketing that acknowledges and addresses the full brain of the consumer, including both conscious and nonconscious processing systems. It is marketing that is grounded in the science of consumer behavior.

If you’re interested in the slides that accompanied this talk, they are available for download here.

I am now furiously digging deeper into this idea of intuitive marketing, and I hope my investigations will culminate in further insights, which I will continue to report here.

About the Author:

Steve is a pioneer in the field of neuromarketing. He founded one of the first neuromarketing research firms in 2006 and published the first comprehensive overview of the field, Neuromarketing for Dummies, in 2013. He established Intuitive Consumer Insights in 2012 to help clients, vendors, and industry associations navigate the opportunities and challenges neuromarketing presents to the marketing and market research communities.

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  1. Hi Steve, A great column and a great speech! Let’s hope, also for customers sake, that more marketers adopt your concept of intuitive marketing! It is great! I think it will help if we ourselves as neuromarketers think and speak more as marketeers. We need to speak their language and use their vocabulary to understand eachother better in order to cooperate better en deliver the results we want! We can only succeed if we help them to ask different questions than the ones they used to. We cannot sit back an wait. Since habit is a prime aspect of behavior, we cannot expect them to change those habbits that they have devloped over years by themselves! let’s do it! Good luck! Best regards, Sergio.

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