How can you change consumer behavior?
This is one of the biggest questions corporations face. But it’s also much more than that. It speaks to political campaigns, social movements, and anything else that requires winning over proverbial “hearts and minds.”
So, how do you change consumers’ behavior? It’s not simply via digital, TV advertising, promotions, or other traditional methods. It’s something deeper. You need to influence the place where instinctive, automatic decisions are made.
Reaching the subconscious
Today’s buyers are busy, and don’t have the time or energy to weigh the merits of one item over another in a store or online. They grab or click a favorite, and move on. An estimated 90%of purchasing decisions are made instinctively.
To get consumers to choose your brand, you need to build a positive impression that reaches them on a subconscious level. This means discovering the images and stories that build positive associations with your brand in their minds -- the subconscious drivers. The moment people look at your brand, what thoughts, images, experiences and feelings pop into their minds?
The false allure of ‘emotional marketing’
Many brands try to reach consumers on this level through emotional marketing, partly in response to research by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman that showed most decision-making is “irrational” and driven by subconscious shortcuts. But in a great many cases, these emotional marketing efforts have failed.
Just taking a buyer on an emotional journey through an ad that makes them laugh or cry is often irrelevant to the brand or business. Emotional benefits only work if they’re rooted in your product experience. So it’s little surprise that many Super Bowl ads don’t lead to the kind of sales spike you might expect.
The key is for consumers to feel a positive connection with a brand, not for brands to communicate emotions. Emotion is the outcome -- the feeling a consumer experiences, not the message itself. And emotional connection comes from tapping into positive, familiar ideas in consumers’ memories.
A successful example of this is a Super Bowl spot for M&M’s that was rightfully declared the “most engaging ad.” By creating the image of Danny Devito blissfully lolling about in a pool of melted chocolate, M&M’s tapped into an ideal stored memory of superior chocolate – liquid, rich, enveloping. This elevated the consumers’ impression of M&M’s and connected that sense of joy to the brand itself.
Another piece of this puzzle is sending the message to consumers that your brand is the ultimate expert in its category.
One brand I’ve worked with, a household name, was facing sagging sales. When I dug deep into this problem with consumers, and determined their associations with the brand, I discovered why. People did not see the brand as authentic. They saw it as having no genuine expertise in its category.
The brand’s marketing extolled virtues of the product, but didn’t explain to consumers why it was based on superior knowledge. When the company changed its marketing to focus on this, sales immediately spiked. The new campaign gave buyers positive codes and cues (including language, imagery, and even music) to perceive the product on a subconscious level as being a true expert in its category. That delivered credibility.
Focus on what makes buyers alike
Discovering subconscious barriers and drivers can help you change consumers’ behavior no matter where they fall in any demographic breakdown.
Unfortunately, companies are wasting time and money these days over-segmenting their audiences based on the belief that a more personalized marketing campaign will be more effective. Marketers should be asking how consumers are alike, not how they’re different. People are much more similar than we think.
Virtually all buyers, no matter their demographics or attitudes, have similar associations about brands. They respond positively to the same remedies for enhancing perceptions. Particular codes and cues bypass the conscious, skeptical brain and build positive brand associations at a subconscious level. This is what’s really happening when people say they have a good “gut feeling” about something.
Plus, when you have limited resources, putting them behind one universal message is much more likely to yield a high return.
The same approach applies not just to selling products, but also to building support for social causes or political campaigns. Entrenched beliefs such as racism, gender bias and anti-Semitism are based on an instinctive response that occurs at the subconscious level. To mount a successful campaign to counteract such responses, you have to address bias in the same deep-rooted spot where it originates.
So if you’re looking to change people’s behavior, don’t fall prey to accepted marketing beliefs. Ignore the hype. Focus on triggering positive associations, and watch success follow.