What Every Marketer Should Know About the Nonconscious: Key Points + Takeaways

Yesterday, we hosted our live webinar on What Marketers Should Know About the Nonconscious. Below is a brief overview of some things you may have missed as well as access to the presentation. A recording of the webinar as well as a blog post devoted to questions and answers around the topic will be posted later this week.

Decisions are made in the pursuit of goals and motivations, and most decisions happen outside of our awareness through nonconscious processes. Our brain is designed to keep this information from us, providing instead plausible and socially acceptable responses about our decision-making when prompted. This is the result of a psychological mechanism known as the Confabulator, and as a result of this, explicit reports cannot be trusted. Leveraging psychological traits offers a new way to access these nonconscious processes and identity the true motivations of why we do what we do. Read on for the key points and takeaways from our webinar, "What Every Marketer Should Know About the Nonconscious," with Dan Cudgma, Kyle Thomas and guest Geoffrey Miller.

Kyle Thomas, Vice President of Research at TipTap Lab, started off the webinar with some key points:


People have unconscious motivations and goals that drive unconscious decision-making.


These motivations are carried around and switched on in different ways and contexts in which they guide things like consumer decisions and behavior.


People have no conscious access to most of this, but they have a weird psychological system that will confidently report stories as though they knew exactly why they did what they did.

Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at NYU's Stern Business School and UNM and acclaimed author of Spent, addressed the six central traits that humans are likely to be particularly motivated to show off to others: General Intelligence and the Big Five Personality Traits. All of these traits are ancient across species, genetically heritable, stable across the life span, universal across cultures, judged accurately and quickly, and attractive to mates, friends, and kin. Consumers are not consciously aware of how trait-signaling drives many of their product choices, and that's why we as marketers need to understand personality traits and how trait signaling operates.


People's consumer decisions can reflect their relative IQ, and so people often use products to advertise their IQ to others. People with high IQ tend to be better educated, have better jobs, and earn more money, so simply being able to afford big ticket items can be one signal for high IQ. In addition, one can also show off high IQ through the particular things they buy; for example, buying products labeled "smart" like Smartfood, Smart Water, smart phones, that can signal to others that one might be on the upper end of the IQ bell curve. 


The personality trait of openness is associated with things like high interest in novelty, exploratory tendendencies, and curiousity about other cultures and aesthetics. If you're on the high end, you may attend a contemporary art fair or be attracted to innovative design. If you're on the low end, you may be politically conservative and hang out at gun fairs. Clearly such a trait can be signaled through product purchases, and the highly open also tend to be the innovators and the early adopters. Those on the low end are typically the last to adpot to a new product.


Do you plan ahead? Are you reliable? Are you ambitious and hard-working? People high on conscientiousness tend to have good credit scores and can afford to get good loans. They save for their pension funds rather than spending all their money; they pay more attention to value than fashion or apparent coolness. People on the low end do more impulse buying and one-click shopping on Amazon. Conscientiousness can be advertised through good value products, high end elegant products (which require solid finances to afford), and high precision products.


Agreeableness is a measure of kindness, empathy, and concern for others. Those high on agreeableness tend to give people gifts and splurge on hosting social events, grooming pets and buying luxury things for their kids. People low on agreeableness tend to have favorite movies like "American Psycho," listen to death metal.


Emotional stability is a measure of exactly what it sounds like, how stable one's emotions tend to be. People high on emotional stability tend to be attracted to products like McDonalds' Happy Meals and activities like skydiving, because they tend to be emotionally resilient and can therefore handle stress. People low on emotional stability tend listen to emo music and read self-help books.


How socially outgoing and ambitious are you? Individuals high on Extraversion participate in team sports, go to live events, care about Facebook and tweeting, and like to show off their vast social networks. People who are more introverted, tend to be more comfortable socializing through the Internet rather than in person, and celebrate being nerdy rather than being a team sport player.

Assessing traits to understand motivations involves measuring consumers at an optimal psychological level which is possible through psychological traits. Kyle Thomas further explained a new way of conceptualizing traits. 

The traditional definition of psychological traits conceptualizes them as patterns of thinking and behaving that are stable across the lifespan and across different situations, and that differ across individuals. Kyle points out that this is a passive, descriptive conceptualization of what traits are, akin to an adjective or noun, that simply describes who people are and what they are like. However, traits can be conceptualized in a more active way that breaks out of this circle, as something like “chronic motivations” that drive goal-directed behavior. That is, personality traits are like motivations that people carry around with them, and different motivations are turned on in different circumstances to achieve different goals. People that are high on a trait like extraversion are that way because they are frequently motivated to pursue goals that require them to be social.

Notice this is an active conceptualization of traits, a view that emphasizes how traits can explain why people do what they do. Indeed it is this active aspect of traits that gives rise to the descriptive aspects captured by the traditional definition.

Before concluding the webinar, Kyle provided a number of additional benefits to measuring consumers at this optimal level:

    • Clear concrete insights into messaging - if you know why people are into a product, this insight can help inform how to best communicate with existing customers and reach out to new ones.

    • Help inform decisions about brand image, packaging design, product features, and distribution channels. Imagine doing an A/B test not only knowing what people tend to gravitate toward, but also who each version appeals to and why!

    • Create better market segments - people buy things to fulfill certain goals based on specific motivations, and he suggests that segments could be built out of these motivations directly by using traits.

Psychology and Consumer Research Webinar

Consumer Behavior Nonconscious Motivations Research Traits and Scales Psychology and Marketing Brand Personality Purchasing Behavior

Posted by Angela Bray on Apr 18, 2013

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