Thought Bubble

Targeting the Consumer Mind

August 27, 2015, 7:08am posted by  |  0 comments

Posted in: The Media Landscape, The Industry,

Targeting the Consumer Mind

This blog post was contributed by Carina Brown, a CooperKatz Summer 2015 intern and rising senior studying psychology with a concentration in business management at Columbia University. 

If marketers could read consumers’ minds, most of the world would probably be broke (and the show Hoarders would become a lot more intense). And yet, that is the very goal of marketing, advertising and PR: to anticipate people’s desires and influence their decisions.

Today, it is possible to not only measure consumer behavior via engagement and sales, but new scientific technologies also allow us to see inside the mind of a consumer as they decide which product to buy or how they feel about a particular brand. We have the ability to view images of the brain that tell us consumers’ subconscious reactions to a brand, ad or product. These images also indicate whether consumers are likely to store that information in their long-term memory, which can influence their purchasing habits in the future.

Brands are beginning to harness consumer psychology and neuromarketing to reach consumers in the most targeted way possible. By understanding how the brain responds to various situations, we are granted insight into a deeply personal and highly advantageous realm of data acquisition. These findings can be used to influence brand messaging, pitching, targeted outreach, and social media strategy.

So, how, exactly, can we incorporate this into marketing and PR practice?

1. Go for the heart

When considering anything from a brand’s messaging to a pitch, we understand that one of the most important elements of a successful campaign is the story. A story not only gives brands relatability, but it’s also an opportunity to directly appeal to customers’ emotions. The more emotional impact, the more likely that our client’s brand, logo, but most importantly, their story, will be stored in the hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with long term memory.

We don’t even need them to remember the content – and that’s ok! Our biggest success could be something as minimal as association. Memory is malleable and dominated primarily through emotional interpretation of an experience, so what you think you remember is actually your sensory experience combined with your emotions at the time. An association to an emotion makes a brand ever-present in a consumer’s mind. For example, why do people tend to prefer Coke over Pepsi? In a study by McClure et al. (2004), it was shown that when given a blind taste test, consumers actually preferred the taste of Pepsi (and that was reflected in their neural response); however when given a taste test while aware of the brand, consumers’ emotion centers were firing when they drank Coke. Unsurprisingly, when asked which of the two they preferred, the majority chose Coke.

2. BUT, you also have to take into account their age

Before you go all gung-ho on the emotions, there is one thing to keep in mind: your audience’s age. Older adults are more attentive to and can better detect when a brand is trying to play to their emotions. Although more cognitive resources are used when completing tasks like remembering a brand, emotional information is preserved with age. In fact, when tested for memory of emotional stimuli, older adults performed just as well as younger adults.

This all boils down to a concept called future time perspective (FTP). FTP is essentially an individual’s belief about how much time they have left to live. Younger adults are mostly interested in expanding their social networks, setting life goals and experiencing a more diverse array of environments. On the other hand, older adults are focused on narrowing their social networks and becoming more intimate with the people and places that are the most important to them.

Identifying the different focuses for each age group is critical when devising a brand’s story, personality and target audience.

3. And, while you’re tailoring for age, don’t forget about tone

To make things just a little more complicated, it’s not just what kind of message you promote, but also the tone that matters. While older adults show more of a positivity bias and even find ads with positive appeals to be more persuasive, young adults actually show a preference for negatively-spun messaging. This can be subtle, but it is the difference between “Do so and so to enhance your health” versus “If you don’t do so and so your health will deteriorate”.

PR professionals are masters of persuasion, but in an environment so densely cluttered with digital information, it can be challenging to make a brand’s voice heard. For this reason, understanding the audience can be immensely helpful in the competition for consumer attention. And even though we cannot read consumers’ minds just yet, neuroscience and consumer psychology are bringing us closer the insights we need to make our marketing and PR efforts that much more effective.

Image via Creation Haus

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