The Stories We Tell to Justify Our Consumer Behaviors
The secret of understanding how your customers behave is to understand how they misbehave. Of course, they don’t know they are misbehaving. Whenever they don’t buy the product you think they should buy, when they don’t recycle the packaging you invested money to make recyclable, or when they stick to old habits instead of upgrading to your new improved product or service, consumers are being irrational. In other words, they are misbehaving.
Everyone has a good excuse for their misbehavior and we all tell stories to justify what we do. Consumer narratives are always changing. But what is not changing is the deeply emotional or subconscious drivers to these purchasing behaviors. Here, we explore what these narratives are and why everyone lives in a fantasy world when thinking about their own actions.
Rational Thinking and Subconscious Thinking Behaviors
In the past, businesses were drawn to a more traditional outlook of consumer behavior and purchase decisions that centered around a more rational thinking behavioral framework. Looking from a logic-driven/rational perspective, those studying consumer behaviors were under the impression that customers’ decisions were driven by consistent and transparent motivations. For example, when someone bought an iPhone, this older ideology of rational consumer behavior would have assumed the user selected the brand out of preference or because they were influenced to think it was the ‘best’ mobile device product available. However, discoveries in neuroscience and buyer psychology reveal that the decision-making process is much more emotional, complex, and largely directed by subconscious or irrational thinking behaviors.
If this could be true, a brand that could tap into the consumer's mind at a more base level could manipulate messages to use these subconscious stories to their benefit. The goal may translate into creating less overt messages soliciting the purchase of a product or brand, and instead, cause a brand to focus more heavily on emotional opportunistic connections of their brand to positive emotions. This less direct, but possibly more effective marketing approach could capitalize on letting consumers' brains take the emotional shortcuts to make overarchingly positive connections to brands, products, and services.
In this understanding, a brand like Apple may choose to rely more heavily on advertising which taps into positive emotions surrounding the use of their product rather than a straightforward and logical assessment of product features and benefits. This vintage iPod mash-up delivers on the emotional connections that effectively drove buying behavior for over a decade.
But in this new era of awareness of the power of the subconscious mind, some users have become more aware of these marketing strategies and feel more cautious about their buying decisions. Apple, now in 2021, delivers an interesting blend of features and benefits with the same emotional lifestyle advertising. For the first time, business strategies built on studied/predicted consumer behaviors are challenged and even proven obsolete against today’s misbehaving consumers. This adds a layer of complexity to brands still looking to understand consumer behavior, path to purchase, and subconscious narratives that drive actual buying behavior.
Preferred Decisions and Consumer Misbehavior
Consumers "misbehave" when their decisions go against a brand’s preferred action-outcome chain of events and typically refers to consumers making the unwanted purchase decision. An iPhone buyer looking at new laptops may begin at the Apple Store. If they left that store and went to another appliance store and purchased a Windows laptop instead of an Apple laptop, from the Apple brand POV, the consumer misbehavior is the user buying a windows laptop. It is noteworthy that consumers are unaware that they "misbehave". Consumers think that they are simply making their preferred decision. It is the perspective of the company behind the product or service that labels this decision as misbehavior.
No matter what the consumer product or service purchased, the short explanation is that the heart wants what the heart wants. The more elaborate explanation is that consumer behaviors are often motivated by the fictional constructs that exist inside their conscious minds and those constructs are created and bolstered by powerful narratives of past experience and projected possible outcomes. The motivation to consumer behaviors or even misbehaviors is the individualistic justification or built-in reasoning and perception of items or brands every consumer has developed through their experiences and day-to-day information and marketing message intake. If a brand’s traditional marketing messages are not leaving a strong enough impact to gain consumer justification, they most likely will not see the preferred consumer behaviors. Again, looking back at the Apple example, the brand would do well to explore the barriers preventing this "misbehavior". Something deeper is going on when the consumer considers Apple the "top" brand of digital appliances and yet chooses another option for purchase. Brands must look deeper into the more complex story that is driving actual behavior in order to reverse engineer this experience to their benefit.
Rational and Irrational Decision-making Shortcuts
The human mind constantly engages in a plethora of irrational decision-making shortcuts. The human brain is seeking to efficiently manage the deluge of stimuli making 95% of our decisions through subconscious shortcuts, therefore, our decisions are based heavily on unconscious impressions and deeply internal perceptions. The irony of this truth is that consumers actually believe and will self-report that their decisions are largely conscious and rational in nature.
With new technologies and all this information in mind, is it time for companies to go back to the drawing board to re-strategize and work harder to connect with their target audience in new subconscious tapping tactics? Absolutely. With consumers evolving and changing the way they make decisions – how can companies unravel "misbehavior" and uncover how humans decide to buy?
Suggestive Selling and Behavioral Science
By conducting continuous consumer and market research to develop powerful emotional selling strategies, companies can tap into the minds of consumers to understand and govern new consumer thinking. Brands need to instill the justification of the product or service, not only to a general target audience but to each and every one of their consumers.
But with a growing diversity of experience, how can this be made significant at scale? While previous strategies have worked to tap into the consumer subconscious decision-making process through marketing messages, what is missing is the means to connect with individual consumers to target their specific needs, experiences, and identities. Better questions could include:
- Why are Apple computer products "must-have" items for remote workers?
- Why are iPhones the safest and most compatible smartphone for teenagers as viewed by parents?
It is imperative to redefine the consumer behavioral framework to one that has a deeper understanding of consumer subconscious decision-making processes specific to the identities of said brand’s consumers.
The Tools for a New Approach to Emotional Selling Strategies
For brands to succeed in this new market of diverse, highly-informed, potentially skeptical, but still emotionally-driven buyers, they must understand the tools available for effective market research:
Storyhearing: Get to know your consumers through the stories they share! Using behavioral research methods, discover how your consumers see the world - find out what their values are, who they interact with, what events they celebrate, and more information to find the ways your brand can connect itself to the positive connotation of these memories in consumers’ subconscious minds.
Storytelling: After listening to the stories your consumers share, look to integrate elements of these shared experiences into your brand’s marketing messages and strategies. Look for how your brand can elicit the emotional responses in its marketing messages to build the justification needed for consumers to make the preferred purchase decision and to better predict consumer behavior.
Suggestive Selling: With new hesitancy towards online spending, companies need new tactics to encourage easy, stress-free e-commerce purchase decisions. The suggestive selling tactic provides additional items or service options at the final purchase step, using previous consumer research and data collection to encourage other consumer purchases by appealing to our brain's 'irrational' decision-making process.
The way humans make decisions is changing in incredibly personalized and nuanced ways. Market research methodologies and approaches that fail to incorporate these truths will eventually become inadequate to arm brands with the right data for key business-impact decisions. It is time for businesses to adapt to new strategies focused on personalizing their messaging to better understand consumer behavior and motivations.