Market research is typically designed to help marketers understand the key drivers and perceptions of consumers and is often focused on the benefits of a brand. For example, how much importance does a consumer place on factors such as price, convenience, service and selection? But preferences and importance of brand benefits are really only the beginning of understanding human decision-making and true motivation.
It is certainly critical for us as marketers to know if someone is price-driven, as this enables us to promote the right product benefits. But the more interesting question is why is someone price-driven? What is the underlying rationale and decision-making process that a good price fulfills? Understanding both what is important and why it is important will give us a complete view of the decision process on both a rational and nonrational level.
There are many prominent scientific principles in understanding human decision-making. In his book "Thinking Fast and Slow," Daniel Kahneman writes about something called dual process theory. This scientific principle states that our brains have two systems, System 1 and System 2. System 1 is automatic and instinctive; System 2 is rational and process-oriented. In making decisions, we use both systems together, meaning we use both conscious and subconscious thought.
Furthermore, scientists will tell you that most decision-making is instinctive. Things such as habituation and memory clearly show this to be true. This is critical for marketers to understand. If we solely focus on brand benefits (such as price), then we may address the cognitive side of consumer decision-making, but we fail to address the subconscious and nonrational side.
Dr. Carmen Simon, a cognitive psychologist specializing in neuroscience, says all decisions are driven by seeking rewards or avoiding punishment. We make decisions based on reflexes, habits or goals. Reflexes are automatic; habits are conscious at first, then become automatic with time; and goals are strategic and require cognitive energy. The brain is constantly looking to conserve energy, which is why a habit-driven decision is often preferred to a strategic one.
Consider the following:
- Personal values: The idea of intrinsic personal values, such as having financial security, or peace of mind or being a wise steward of family resources, are concepts or beliefs that pertain to desirable end states, transcend specific situations and guide decision-making.
- Pleasure and pain: Humans approach pleasure and avoid pain. This principle applies to decision-making as our decisions are either promotion- or prevention-focused—meaning we either play to win or we play not to lose.
- Value gaps: Understanding the distance between the current and complete embodiment of a personal value is another key concept. For example, a busy senior executive with a family may place high importance on the value of being a good parent, but feel guilty about falling short in execution. In this case, where the value importance is high and the value gap is large, a marketing promotion that aligns the product positioning with the value driver of "helping to be a better parent" would resonate.
Regardless of the actual theory or principle, one thing remains clear: Understanding true consumer motivations is much deeper than simply asking about preference and attitude. Typical market research methodology takes the importance scores regarding attributes and benefits of a brand or category and conducts analysis to understand the key themes. However, human decision-making is deeper than that.
In order to truly maximize marketing effectiveness, we must create rewards for consumers by delivering on optimal relevance of the brand—and the brand experience—to each individual. Getting this right, in turn, requires understanding the motivational differences among consumers that drive consideration and purchase. Stated succinctly, achieving your business goal requires intelligently marketing to the motivational differences of consumers.
About the Author
Ron Park and his team focus on utilizing data, analytics and technology to develop and execute on marketing strategies that aid marketing organizations in understanding their customers and monetizing relationships through personalized experiences. Previously, Ron headed Merkle's Retail Practice and Analytic Practice, leading more than 180 dedicated analytic professionals who serve over 50 world-class clients, driving fact-based decision-making with analytic methodologies.
About Merkle Inc.
Merkle is a global data-driven, technology-enabled performance marketing agency and the largest independent agency in the U.S. for CRM, digital and search. For more than 25 years, Fortune 1,000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios. The agency's heritage in data, technology and analytics forms the foundation for its skills in understanding consumer insights. When combined with its strength in performance media, Merkle creates customer experiences that drive improved marketing performance and shareholder value.