Don’t ask the consumer

The unconscious mind, by definition, is not accessible to conscious introspection. Therefore people in the experiments described in previous blogs had not been aware of its influence nor of the experimental design they were participating in. So if the unconscious mind is not passing the information to the conscious level, how to master it consciously?


Indeed, it is exceedingly difficult. For example, only 2% of the customers in the wine store experiment noticed the influence of the music on their own purchase choice. Moreover, an astonishing 86% of those customers were convinced that the music had nothing to do with their choice, even after they were told about the experiment and sales figures. That is understandable because the conscious level did not have enough information to establish the causality between the music and the purchase. But interviewing these consumers would have produced totally different results. They would have given reasons for their decisions not related to the main motive, music.


This is not unusual or uncommon. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Already in 1993 it was found that people who are asked to analyze reasons for their choices may end up at different alternatives than people who are just asked to choose and leave with the chosen item. So basically interviewing people may give information about choices consumers would NOT make in a real situation in the first place.
This presumption is in line with other scientific research. For example, in a highly prestigious scientific journal researchers reported how little people may know about their own behavior, and even less about the reasons behind it. The researcher in the study held pictures of two different women in his hands and asked a test subject on the other side of the table to pick the picture that he found preferable. When the subject chose a picture, the researcher placed the pictures face down on the table, took (undetected) a copy of the other woman’s picture from his sleeve, and gave that (wrong) picture to the subject. Unbelievably, half of the subjects didn’t notice that the picture wasn’t the one they chose a few seconds earlier. And what is even more unbelievable, they gave undisputed reasons why they chose the picture they had in their hand, although that was not the picture they actually chose. They didn’t hesitate at all. One person, for example, explained that he chose this woman particularly because she had earrings and he liked earrings in general. An excellent and rational reason, but the woman he actually chose did not wear earrings at all. The conscious mind may not be at all aware of the reasons for a behavior.
The same thing has been replicated in a more natural context. In a study researchers took a table and went to a local supermarket. In the supermarket they asked passing consumers to taste two different flavors of tee and jam, and to pick their favorite. Instantly after the consumer gave their preference, researchers gave them a sample opposite to their preferred flavor, and asked the consumer to explain why they preferred this particular flavor. An astonishing 2/3 of the subjects did not notice the change in flavor! Regardless of the change, consumers were fully able to give an explanation for their preference, although it was not their initial pick. So this finding has to be because the flavors were so similar, right? Wrong, they were really different. Flavors were cinnamon-apple vs. grapefruit and mango vs. anise.
And then an interesting part of the story: if the conscious mind, or I, am so unaware of my own behavior and its basis, which of these two levels of mind is in charge in the end? Do I even have a free will? That is a hot topic in neuroscience and several researchers are probing this exact question. So far studies have shown that in such a meaningless act as lifting a finger, the volitional decision to lift the finger induces brain activity around 300ms before the finger actually rises, but the brain in fact activates even before that, closer to 500ms before movement. Is this the unconscious mind telling the conscious mind about the decision already made for it?
Whether we have free will or not, it is undisputed that we are mostly unaware that we are unaware of so many things. In the light of these discoveries, is it still a wonder that only 5-20% of all marketing campaigns and product launches fail? If you ask your customers’ preferences and reasons for a new product, a new commercial or even an existing package, he or she may not have the slightest idea what he or she prefers, even less why. Despite that, you’re sure to get an answer!
So can it be that focusing only on 1-10% (conscious mind) will result in a success rate of 5-20%? And would it be smart to focus also on that remaining 90-99% and consequently raise the success rate? Sounds rational to me.