Decision-making and the Subconscious

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By Siegfrid SchmahlMore from this author

Will consumers of the future differ from consumers of the 90's? No, because people's gene structures have hardly changed in the last 20,000 years. What has changed is how important the subconscious is. Just a few years ago, neuro-marketing (neuro = nerves) firmly believed that external stimulation (such as visual stimulation or education) was the most important element for decision-making and the subconscious only had a small role to play. However, more recent insights show that human behavior is the outcome of the three limbic instructions balance, domination and stimulation.

These three forces form our thinking and drive our behavior. Balance: avoid dangers and strive for stability so that you don't waste your energy uselessly. Domination: assert yourself, be active and expand your power. And stimulation: look for new stimuli and avoid boredom. Animals have been able to survive and develop for millions of years using these three instructions. Humans are at the end of the chain of evolution and the subconscious is still guiding us. 30% of our decisions are willful, but about 70% can be attributed to the subconscious.


Are there still identifiable consumer groups?

Yes. They are the "guard consumer", the "disciplined consumer", the "ambitious consumer", the "courageous consumer", the "desire hunter" and the "connoisseur". If you aim your brand name, products and services at these types of consumers, you'll hit the bulls-eye. You disagree? You ask whether there are any consumer groups with the same behavior? Doesn't the purchase decision hinge on the purchaser's mood in this minute? You're right to ask these questions, but there's still no other answer. The basic needs of all people are the domination, stimulation and balance instructions. All consumers have them to a greater or lesser degree and this means that our personality is nothing else but a blend of these three tendencies. Behavioral genetics operates on the assumption that approximately 50% of the personality is inherent and the rest is motivated by rearing, life experience and the environment in the child's first years of life. In other words, the personality is fortified when growing up so that we can define these basic types that are also found in animals: the guard consumer (approximately 35%), the disciplined consumer (approximately 15%), the ambitious consumer (5%), the courageous consumer (approximately 10%), the desire hunter (approximately 15%) and the connoisseur (approximately 20%).

People have differently developed limbic instructions

The guard consumer type: this consumer type is somewhat cautious and reserved toward new things due to the stronger balance instruction. Reliability, confidence and quality are of primary significance for purchase decisions. That involves rigid purchasing habits (making this consumer type a regular customer). This consumer type puts her or his own person in the background, meaning that public opinion is important. This consumer type is insecure and needs advice. Regional products are preferred. The disciplined consumer type: this consumer is strict with him-/herself and is pessimistic and untrusting to the surroundings. This consumer type rarely seeks diversion, meaning that enjoyment does not figure prominently in life. The only thing purchased is what is really needed. Gadgets don't have a chance and the warranty and quality are of paramount importance. That's why prizes are compared again and again. The ambitious consumer always wants to show how good he or she is. That's why this consumer type prefers to buy products with technical perfection (such as status symbols) to demonstrate superiority. Jewelry just for anybody is not for this consumer type. The ambitious consumer loves to negotiate prices. If a product gives great prestige, the price isn't important anymore. The courageous consumer type: this adventurer always wants to experience something. The additional benefit is important to the purchase decision, whereas quality does not figure prominently. The internet supplies him or her with all of the important product information and the consumer type only buys where it's fun to shop. The desire hunter consumer type: this hedonist is always searching for the next treat. Brash, garish and extravagant things are important and this consumer type's body is her or his zone of experience and lust. Quality is not significant in shopping, but the latest fashion is. The connoisseur consumer type: this consumer type loves life and has a positive attitude. Products are preferred that are made of natural materials to fulfill dreams. Shopping is one of the leisure-time activities this consumer type loves and he or she targets brand names that promise an exciting experience. The connoisseur stays in contact and likes to attend events.

Customers are feminine

Women say what goes on, and they guard the household purse. They make the decisions on 70% of almost all consumer goods. Beyond this, they have the largest portion of freely available income in private households. Because of the women's purchasing power, you as an entrepreneur would be well advised if you addressed women as the most important decision-makers more often at the POS and in your printed advertising.

This assortment is for various different types of women, but the advertising for it make all women smirk

Do you really know the new man?

A lot of areas of the brain have a major part in the human struggle for survival. For instance, the domination system helps men to drive away competitors to sexual satisfaction who are interested in the same reproductive partner. Money makes you sexy: Men make their careers to improve their chances of reproducing. The stimulation system makes sure that the women men worship can't miss them (romance and men's jewelry) while the balance instructions ensure offspring (in terms of marriage, family and purchasing values). "If you want to be the master of others, learn how to master yourself." An upbringing that teaches young men self-mastery always has the goal of making them capable of dominating others (the power of domination). The older men get, the better they know what they want and they do not regret the fact that time has passed so quickly. They not only buy their first motorcycle, they visit the specialized dealers with new partners.

Is family-friendliness your strength?

Being family-friendly guarantees more attention, lowers costs and boosts your sales. Does your advertising show happy parents and children? We consumers think we make our purchase decisions consciously, but the experts say that's not true. (Family) feelings control our actions unconsciously. For instance, there's no grandmother who can overlook an jewelry advertising if it shows smiling grandchildren, and when a single man sees happy people, he yearns for the security of a family. You send advertising to your target groups, although you're dissatisfied with the return? Try family-friendliness! Advertising is only read in detail when it has information that is very important. What offers and information do you send your traditional family customers (married, one to two children and approximately 44% of the population)? Years ago, "single parent" was foreign vocabulary with a negative connotation. Today it's one form of family among others where parents are exposed to a high degree of psychological and physical stress. Help these fathers and mothers walk the tightrope between job and family (delivery services, technical advice and accepting repairs outside of normal business hours).

The 6- to 19-year-olds have a lot of money

It's no big surprise to you that children have their own mind when it comes to shopping. The good old times are long gone for service providers when dad and mom said what their children bought. Today, kids are screaming for a voice in these affairs. It is easy to see what role children play with new products. And here's an important tip: children have to be taken seriously as consumers. They want the truth and nothing but the truth and they won't let themselves be tricked by advertising. If your business has the wrong youthful image, you lose two markets at once: the present market and the future market. The lessons to be learned are that you get the adults as customers if you get the children. Professional youth marketing is a necessary investment for you. So, it's better to start today instead of tomorrow - and exchange your crayons for a game console.

You voluntarily gave up that young man with all the money? Is fresh talent missing in the collections?

What impact does a baby have on the purchasing behavior of young parents? People generally start a family between 20 and 40 and it's not surprising that this combination of events makes a mess of women's and men's hormones. Pregnant women are under the influence of estrogen that focuses their attention on healthy nutrition. Their precious jewelry is put on the shelf. And the infant's needs are at the top of the family's consumption agenda in the first couple of months of its life. What does that mean for your assortment? Do you present baptismal gifts and values for the future? Young fathers also change in these months. Their testosterone level drops slightly and the care hormone prolactine level rises every time the father bonds with the child. He's ready and willing to give up his sports car for a station wagon at any time. This is also the time when parents want to own their own home and not buy valuable gifts of jewelry.

20- to 40-year-old purchasers are doing it in style

They are in great shape and their income is doing even better. In nature, the time of searching for a sexual partner is the most important period in a person's life. Testosterone builds up men's muscles and estrogen makes women look more beautiful. "That's what I want to look like!": your windows and showcases should be well equipped with pictures of young and good-looking people that women like to imitate. That's the driving force behind society. Virtually every major invention and social achievement came from the 20- to 40-year-old set because that's when the brain is tuned to the highest performance level. It's logical that the balance instruction (for reliability and stability) is kept to a minimum at this phase of life. In other words, the stimulation and domination instructions are predominant.

You don't have good chances with care and security among the 20- to 40- year-olds. Everybody in this groups wants success, strength, fun and power

Are the 40 to 50 plus generation your most important customers?

This generation has found its destiny in its profession and they're taking on the challenges and demands of private life. They have a comparably high income and are looking forward to living out the rest of their lives in peace. That's why garish and loud things are no longer interesting. These harmonious persons have a long range of purchasing experience and it is style and quality that they pay attention to. The stimulation and domination systems start dropping and the balance instructions (preservation and discipline) are now predominant. Their bank accounts, their closets and their garages are full of the things they need so that new ideas and the latest fashion fade into the background. The 40 to 50 plus generation sincerely believe in frugality and that has an enormous impact on the purchasing behavior. If you ask the ladies and gentlemen with silver temples if they want to enjoy their lives to the full, they'll wholeheartedly say "yes". But their shopping bags stay empty because they don't want as much as before.

How can you get more sales with the 40 to 50 plus generation? Working with traditional values? Well, less is more for the 50 plus generation: simplifying the information in your advertising? Do you put your faith in regional tradition and almost forgotten virtues (such as faithfulness, friendship or caring for one another) at your events? What business partners make sense here? Hairdressers and precious jewelry? Cruiser event presentations in your showcases? Cosmetic studio coupons instead of discounts? Reputable professors holding talks on the meaning of life?

The situation of the 60 plus generation

This consumer group will dramatically increase from 13% to more than 20% by 2040. This is the nightmare of all younger people, but it also has a good side: the older persons among the 60- to 75-year-olds have the highest available income anywhere. Unfortunately - and that's the bad news - they don't spend it. You can find the reason for it in older people's brains. The fear hormone cortisol increases substantially while the stimulation and domination drivers testosterone and dopamine drop just as substantially and the information-processing capacity drops from 40 bits per second with young people to half that. Why don't senior citizens like spending money? Bigger purchases trigger fear and insecurity and alarm the balance system. There's another development that deserves attention. They like to indulge themselves, but they don't overdo it. Quality is a matter of fact, good advice is a must and service is rewarded. They also prefer products that can be easily operated. Older persons can't move and see as well as they would like to at the point of sale so that the only goods they notice are those in front of their noses. So, work with the reward system: kids get good grades for learning in school and customers learn more of what you're trying to teach them about your product with visual stimulus at the point of sale (retro, care and feelings). These customers don't like impatient young sellers who create stressful situations. There's enough lessons to be learned from this for improving your senior citizen marketing (such as coach your salespersons, boost their empathy, equip the point of sale for convenience and safety, make sure that lights don't glare, write prizes larger and catch their eyes with world culture heritage instead of glass and plastic)?

The older you get, the harder it is for you to think things through. Fashion isn't as important anymore and athletic activities are not hazardous

Are you satisfied with your customer focus?

The big suppliers show you how to do it. Just a couple of years ago, global marketing strategies were putting new customers at the top of their agendas. But now long-term customer loyalty is the name of the corporate game and they don't want to leave anything to chance. Customer focus encompasses everything the company does to influence customer behavior in the right direction while expanding business relations. What they want is to get customers to like coming now and in the future. We can describe what effective customer focus loyalty is in a couple of sentences: 1. Find out everything about your customers. 2. Make your company unmistakable. 3. Dazzle your customers. 4. Lead your employees to high-performance achievements. 5. It's not short-term sales, but long-term business relationship that is the most important target. 6. You don't get customer focus with single instruments such as premium prizes, but by fulfilling your customers' expectations. Customers who are voluntarily loyal are glad to pay a little bit more and come more frequently, bring other customers with them and tell friends and relatives about how nice it is to shop at your store. Regular customers lower costs because it costs less to service them. Do you know how satisfied your customers are?

by Siegfrid Schmahl

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Siegfrid Schmahl

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