emotional brain and buying behaviourLogical consumer & current buying behaviour school of thought...selling us short?
The current textbook approach to consumer purchasing behaviour and the corresponding purchasing process may be providing an inaccurate picture.

Researchers have been deploying functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with interview elicitation techniques to: monitor, visually represent and match brain activity to how humans manage decisions. These decisions are framed in the short & long term and these have been shown to be tied to conscious and unconscious thinking...to arrive at a purchasing decision.

buying seen as cold and calculating process

Distinction of conscious & unconscious thinking within the buying process...minus the philosophy
Thinking about buying a new car while directing attention at potential candidates and their attributes is said to constitute conscious thought.

Take the same scenario, but this time Thinking about buying a new car while your attention may be engaged during various intervals at other things or activities has been cited to be unconscious thought.

[Ap Dijksterhuis, 2006]

Experiments & Quantitative research: demonstrates a significant relationship between the conscious and unconscious

Research experiments with students demonstrated that within certain products conscious thinking was the dominating mode for some, while for other products it was unconscious.

Products where conscious thinking dominated in the experiments...
conscious thinking as the most dominating mode of thinking when it came to buying:

  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo
  • a CD
  • Shoes
Products where subconscious thinking dominated int he experiments...
Unconscious thinking as the most dominating mode of thinking when it came to buying:
  • Airline Ticket
  • Camera
  • Hotel room
  • Car
Influence of short term gain Vs long term...enter neuroeconomics
Neuro research is examining the symbiosis between our rational & irrational behaviour by linking in "time" into the buying & decision making process and highlighting how "time makes us behave inconsistently"...due to the perceived risks, rewards and our in-built loss-aversion.

Our hard-wired fear of loss and personality adds the complexity of emotion and personality-type to the mix...

Researchers set up experiments where scenarios of loss could be created, such as winning & losing money. Rsearchers discovered that the subjective, negative feeling of loss was much more
intense for people than the buzz gained by winning. Other researdch andstudies suggest that losses may have twice the psychological impact of equivalent gains (Schwartz, 2004). Add to this mix, the personality element (satisficer - happy with what you can get, and maximizer, a perfectionist who only wants the best). Therefore the fear of loss as a result of a wrong decision may be abhored and felt more my maximizers than satisficers....hence the term "loss aversion."
[Barry Schwartz is the Author of "The Paradox of Choice - Why more is less - Winner of BusinessWeek's top ten book of the Year ]

According to Harvard University's David Laibson, Professor of Economics, we can be trapped by our primitive brain when it comes to the issue of consumption or to delay its gratification (an appeal to the hedonic part of our makeup?). We therefore tend to behave primitively...like a chimp after his banana. Laibson coined "quasi-hyperbolic discounting" to describe the behavior. The link intervention and between our Dr. Jeckel & Mr. Hyde part of our brains in terms of primitive (linked to instinct, survival and primordial needs), conscious-logical and the resulting behaviour in an economic setting (resulting in a choice & corresponding decision) is being examined and explored by what has been coined as "Neuroeconomics".

Smart companies are engineering "emotion" eliciting & engaging products & services
Donald Norman, Cognitive Science professor at the University of California, and author of the books "The Psychology of Design", and "Emotional Design", has examined our tribal and historical relationship with objects & artifacts throughout our millennia. By bringing the elements of beauty, aesthetics and design into products companies are tapping into the subconscious and emotional part of the brain. Thus they are able to move gravitate away from the commoditization of goods (in a hyper-competitive market space). Products have become "experiential" through sleek contours and functional tactile materials that evoke thoughts and emotions. The Japanese have been doing it for years in the car market, by going down to the level of the sound a car-door makes when closing, to how the headlights & grill should be interpreted as an abstract character: smiling, friendly, etc...And this has been extended from the high end to the "affordable elements of products"...the engineered "cuteness" embedded into these lower-cost products (that appeal to our emotions). These are known as "Cutensils" (Time article: The redesigning of America)...also check out this article on cute plastic objects.

By engineering characteristics into products and services that bring a smile to our face on top of the expected level of quality & functionality, we are able to deliver greater experiences to our prospective customers...thus turning customer wow's into customer wows!

...but eliciting the subconscious perceptions a customer has about an existing product or services in order to map these and hence build an engaging and persuasive purchasing experience is a challenge which current market research techniques fall short on!

Useful reading & references
How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market (Hardcover)
by Gerald Zaltman (amazon associates - TinyURL)

Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things (Paperback)
by Donald A. Norman
(amazon associates - TinyURL)

The Design of Everyday Things (Paperback) by Donald A. Norman
(amazon associates - TinyURL)

Emotion and Adaptation (Paperback) by Richard S. Lazarus
"Emotions play a central role in the significant events of out lives ..."
(amazon associates - TinyURL)

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (Paperback) by Barry Schwartz
(amazon associates - TinyURL)

Why Logic Often Takes A Backseat
The study of neuroeconomics may topple the notion of rational decision-making

Mind Reading
The new science of decision making. It's not as rational as you think

Neuroeconomics: How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics


The Hidden Economy of Esteem
On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect
Ap Dijksterhuis, et al. Science 311, 1005 (2006); DOI: 10.1126/science.1121629
(multiple product choice illustration based on this article)

Neuro-science primer

FMri Primer for congnitive neuroscientists



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