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Original Column on MediaPost Email Insider:   David Baker

Did you know that the unconscious mind controls 95% of human behavior? Imagine how many times you were driving to work and you arrived and didn’t remember the last few miles of the trip. How many times you bought that vanilla latte and handed over your credit card and didn’t even think about the $3.78 you just spent. There is a great book called “Habit” by Neale Martin that is a must-read for the budding marketer or savvy marketing veteran. It explores what we think is true — and then puts a spin on it! We think, “The customer is aware of what they are doing and they know why they do what they do.” If you believe this, you’ve been classically trained in marketing and have likely spent a lot doing research and behavioral modeling. But do consumers really know what they are doing? Consciously?

Today, as marketers, we have amazing methods to track, monitor, research and listen to the consumer, yet we market to the executive mind, and most of our decisions are made unconsciously. Recent research an ISP did on the consumer and email use found that many consumers managed email in an unconscious way. Some knew very little about what they really did with email, from deleting bulk email, scanning to sale items to reporting spam — and could only remember a few brands, even though they had hundreds of emails a day. While consumers’ purchasing habits are shifting, the channels habits are shifting as well. The shift in email use, mobile use, search engines, comparison sites, brand sites, and social sites all tie into consumers’ formation of habits.

Think about your last car purchase. You may have researched and had a Car Fax with you, but when at the car dealer, you were unconsciously thinking about getting the best deal, watching body movement, worried about not getting sold the extra warranty. This is the unconscious mind at work.

Now shift to something you frequently buy that isn’t a high -priced item. How about lunch or coffee? To create loyalty, marketers must create habits. Do rewards bring loyalty? Are habits a derivative of rewards and incentives? Are rewards and incentives part of the unconscious mind or executive mind? Early in a lifecycle pricing may be very much a part of a decision. This is where rules-based habits are formed.

A great example of a monster we created in the online space is “FREE SHIPPING.” It is no longer a reward, it is an unconscious buying criterion that has less value when received, but enters the executive mind when taken away. These habits rely on mental rules we’ve developed as consumers over the years, most of which are unconscious.

Think of all the unconscious rules marketers have imposed on the consumer through direct marketing and shift in strategy. When you send that email for 50% off or Buy One, Get One Free, are you thinking about the long-term effects of continually perpetuating a buying experience/habit and expectation that can take years to change? Or are you thinking about revenue by Friday? Are you thinking about multichannel messaging and how this really impacts consumer habits, or are you reinventing every year and quarter?

If we believe that our world is going to become dimensionally more difficult as marketers, shouldn’t we reevaluate what we do that can help consumers rationalize their executive mind but react unconsciously? I realize this is pretty “far-out” thinking, yet fundamental in other ways.

The key to habit formation is to “create a framework to maximize profitability, while keeping purchase and use decisions in automatic mode.” Customers who are consciously paying attention to price will not likely adapt habitual use. You must be able to establish “a value commensurate with the price” that must survive the executive mind scrutiny.

As marketers, we need to be careful about direct response and the speed with which we operate. I’m a little concerned about digital marketing channels. It’s become really hard to remain persistently in-message when managed by different departments and different agencies, while each own a portion of the customer lifecycle and a thread of the transactional view. The same applies to measurement; there’s too much to measure, no universal measurement and fundamental flaws in our fragmented view of the consumer, all leading to chaos and too-large budgets.

We are doing ourselves a disservice by not stepping back and thinking about reorganizing marketing for tomorrow, how our efforts shape consumer habits, and how we need to invest to stay competitive. The next-generation industry leaders will recognize this and transform.  As we move to more instantaneous recall of brands, more seamless Point of Sale and mCommerce the impact of habits will have an even more dramatic impact on the consumer experience. How you own that point when brand recall and purchase decisions happen, will be the catalyst to the future buying journey.






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