Marketing is Social…Science

The Great Marketer

A marketer is a persuader…of people. People are social-psychological beings. Discoveries about human behavior are growing at a rate that rivals Moore’s Law. The greatest finding from modern science is that people aren’t persuaded primarily by rational arguments. Yet we often assume rationality with marketing.

David Ogilvy said, “Consumers don’t think how they feel, say what they think or do what they say.”

Some marketers believe they can apply the latest 4-8 square segmentation matrix or “wheel” to marketing and be successful. Or maybe just hire good writers, have social media and production talent. But communicating to humans depends entirely on the subtlety of how the human mind responds to any media content.

Brand Choice is Psychological

“Our brand’s success is driven by competitive price and functional features,” a global marketer told me recently. “That’s how we’ll gain penetration and market share.” Translation: customers make their choices logically. Reality check: nearly every contemporary social scientist would disagree.

Humans are only partially rational, mostly irrational. Brand choice is made emotionally, with powerful unconscious influences.

Marketers want customers to choose their brand over others. Marketing communication depends on how the mind works, versus the logic we think should cause customer choice.

Fast Decisions

When a customer chooses to buy your product, the decision is triggered by a myriad of automatic stimulants that are out of their awareness. At 268 miles per hour, the brain connects to 100 trillion synapses. hidden from awareness, the brain is computing multiple subtle pain and pleasure signals influencing the choice, all faster than the conscious mind can possibly register!

Big Brain vs. Little Brain

Using computer metrics, scientists measure the unconscious mind capacity at 11 million bits of broadband data per second. That’s a big brain with amazing processing power. There’s a little brain too. That’s the conscious mind with much lower processing power. It trickles at 40 bits per second. That’s 275,000 times more processing power from the big brain. The little 40 bit brain is overwhelmed by modern information overload, with no biological way to increase its capacity.






Simple Messages for the Little Brain

Our little 40 bit brains are incredibly overwhelmed. Too many messages, too much complexity. We can only think about 4 things at a time +/- 2 (see Customer Attention). The little brain likes things easy. If you conclude the little brain is lazy, you’d be right!

Messages to the little brain suffer from cognitive overload. Direct communication must lower the load and be easily absorbed by the small conscious brain. Many marketers have mastered communication to the little brain with simple, catchy messages repeated over and over.

Big Brain…Big Buying Power

The Big Brain’s important feature is that it’s automatic when customers make choices. And it’s unconscious. Think of a skill you developed over years that now takes little effort. Like learning to drive: when you first started, your conscious, little brain just could not keep up with all the decisions. It was hard and awkward. You may even have wanted to quit and go do something else. But now those complex choices are run by the big brain automatically – unconsciously – with ease.

The Big Brain works automatically when customers buy products. While the little brain is busy working away consciously at the purchase decision, the background Big Brain has already chosen. It’s automatic, just like driving to a friend’s house.

Market Differently to Big Brain

The big brain has all this automatic easy power and loves to exercise it (while the customer – and many marketers are only aware of the little brain). Big Brain looks for different things. A marketer needs to know what they are. It thrives on:

  • Language, sound and visual subtlety
  • Indirect, understated messages
  • Metaphor
  • Context narrative
  • Authenticity
  • Social currency
  • Identity story
  • Sensory language matching context
  • Implicit vs. explicit visuals and language

Big Brain processes all this outside of awareness then proceeds to create buyer bias (favoritism) dominating product and brand choice.

Three Options for Marketers

There are three ways to do marketing: instinct, social science and fake science. Market research is the tool for those who go beyond instinct. But will it be good social science or its fake counterfeit so common in research?

One big tell expresses fake marketing research. The researcher believes what the customer says in research and acts upon that “finding” as if it were true. Examples are New Coke, Pepsi Kendall Jenner TV spot, Dove body positive packaging and Tropicana Orange Juice packaging. It’s certain market research was conducted. But the results demonstrate why it was fake social science. Customers said one thing and did something different.

The big brain (with the greatest influence) is unconscious. How therefore can we ask respondents what they think and expect reliable answers? And yet we do. It seems we have no other choice. How else are we to find what will persuade the human mind?

Instinct, Social Science or Fake Science

How To Find the Real vs. Fake

Reliable human research has to include the Big Brain. The Big Brain is most impressionable when it experiences surprise in the form of pain or pleasure.  These surprising pain/reward events are called imprints. They “stick” to the Big Brain and drive behavior. Good marketing research identifies these sticky imprints in order to understand their influence on Big Brain favoritism for a brand.

The mind traps imprint learning into unconscious habits that create a bias (favoritism) for or against your messages!

Sticky Imprints are active for life’s experiences about shopping, consuming, and choosing brands. Sticky Imprints create unconscious, Big Brain favoritism for one brand over another. Once we identify the imprints, we reveal the unconscious Big Brain at work. This gives us true market research, not the fake findings from what the customer says.

Finding Imprints for Marketers

Today’s overly busy marketers tend to focus on tactics: packaging, promotions, campaigns, segmentation. This is where the perceived action is. But to get true customer motivators, marketers need tactics reflecting life’s imprint experiences. For example, if you are marketing a crispy snack such as Lays chips, don’t overlook the Big Brain’s automatic favoritism driven by imprints for the category, context and brand. Your tactical communication (language, sounds and visuals) will only persuade if it reflects the Big Brain imprints for snacking, chips and the brand.

Who Can Find Buying Imprints

If you want the benefit of Big Brain on your side, your market researcher must have social science skill to identify authentic imprints. A moderator who writes penetrating questions and follow-up probes isn’t the answer. Someone who gets people talking and laughing a lot during research isn’t the answer either.

Researchers with the right skills can identify and reveal Sticky Imprints. Big Brain imprints bring to light the type of marketing communication that will trigger positive bias for the brand and its messaging. This type of research will expose game-changer findings for brands.

Marketing is a social science. Treat it that way and you’ll discover how congruent your creative, content and marketing can be.

Clevenger Associates reveals the Whole Mind of the Consumer.