"Consumers are statistics. Customers are people."
Quick Links

Social Media

Join Our Mailing List
Turkey head
Don't be a turkey.
"Automaticity" trumps rational
thought in most buying decisions.

When it comes to making well-informed buying
decisions, we're about as rational as a turkey hen.

Ridiculous? Not if you factor in "automaticity", the pre-programmed behavioral responses and patterns shared by animals and people. So says Psychologist Robert Cialdini, who introduced marketers to the unconscious catalysts of consumer behavior in his 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Cialdini relays an experiment in which a mother turkey hen whose natural tendency is to cuddle, warm and care for any nearby baby chick when she hears its chirping, becomes agitated and confused when that innate protection trigger is exploited.

To study the phenomenon, scientists equipped an inanimate stuffed polecat, the turkey's natural enemy, with recorded sounds of a chirping turkey chick. In bizarre Jekyll-and-Hyde fashion, the mother would huddle and tend to the polecat when the chirping sounds were emitted, but when the sounds were turned off she would violently attack the stuffed animal. The chirping sound alone, the essential feature needed to trigger
the mothering response, was enough to override all other sensory input, making the turkey hen "blind" to its own enemy.

So, can we humans be pre-programmed in a similar way? Some argue we already are. Take for example how easily groups of people align and create strong bonds around a product, such as camping out all night to be the first to buy a new iPhone at the Apple store. How about the "predator avoidance" tendencies of modern cave men and women who blog in order to warn their digital tribe members of the deceptive dangers of unscrupulous marketers? A "survival of the hippest", if you will.

It's Automatic
As it turns out, we humans have automaticity, too, derived from both nurture and nature: that is, involuntary tendencies and learned social norms in response to environmental stimuli that occur without the awareness and effort of consciousness. The busier we are and the more complex our lives become, the more likely we are to blindly obey stereotypes and "rules of thumb" that make our decisions easier. 

Have a Coke and a smile
Just ask the folks at Coca-Cola. They spend billions each year to remind people that everyone loves Coke. As unfocused as this brand strategy may appear on the surface, it actually taps into a deeply ingrained herd mentality that tells us: "when in doubt, do what everyone else is doing." Cialdini calls this "social proof", the tendency to follow the lead of others, which has been reinforced and refined over thousands of years of evolution within our hunter-gatherer societies. It's also why the Toyota Camry continues to be the best-selling passenger car in America. It may not be the flashiest automobile on the market, but it's owned by more people than Hondas and Acuras combined. Even with recent recalls and other safety concerns, the Camry is still considered the safe bet for many consumers who don't want to or can't spend the time to do detailed research and benefits comparisons. So instead they ask their neighbors, family and friends what they drive and make a decision that's trust-based rather than empirical.
Mental Shortcuts
Most people not only rely on the majority view to make decisions, but on time-worn bromides like "If it's expensive, it must be superior" and "you get what you pay for." It's a mental heuristic, a convenient short hand of accepted "truths" that save time and the need for robust thinking. This heuristic can make us pay as much as 85% more for a heavily advertised brand-name drug rather than the generic, even though the FDA requires the generic drug to have the exact same quality and performance. You have only to compare the two packages' ingredients to know this is true. Yet we still feel better buying the imported beer instead of Budweiser, or the Vera Wang little black dress instead of the nearly identical outfit at Target. Rational? Hardly.

Our mental shortcuts may save time and help us navigate our increasingly complex lives, but following the herd can backfire, like the turkey hen who cuddles with her mortal enemy or the consumer who chooses the wrong product, ideology or soul-mate.

Next month we'll explore how one of the most potent human compliance triggers is exploited by marketers, often to our detriment. 

Mental Notes is Evolving
In the coming months, dear reader, you and I will
explore the psychology and neuroscience of branding, both personal and professional.
As a result, Mental Notes
will continue to evolve to complement my role as a national brand consultant, speaker and coach. I welcome your comments and questions along the way.
Buckle up for an exhilarating ride!