To Understand Our Customer’s “Automatic Zone,” We Need to Get Out of Our Own

Posted by A.J. Drexler on 7/16/15 2:05 PM, Last updated 04/29/2017
A.J. Drexler

Today I decided to challenge myself and write this post in a way that would keep you in your Automatic Zone. (Oops, I just lost a few of you.) As many of you now know, behavioral economists (oh dear, a few more gone) have easily proven that we humans prefer—almost at all costs—to stay in our Automatic Zone. In fact, our brains are wired to do so.

With the many sources of information bombarding us all the time, our brains are still programmed to prioritize—with virtually zero conscious thought—the sound or smell of fire burning nearby, for example, or even the much more subtle sound of twigs breaking as something sneaks up on us. Without too much contemplation, we all intuitively understand that this sort of lightening-fast unconscious thought will generate an automatic flight response that will override virtually any other activity our brains may have been engaged in—even sleep for that matter. (So far, so good; I’ve perhaps held on to the majority of you.)

Applied Behavioral Economics Consumer Choice 2015

But here I reach the dilemma.

Actually understanding how this same preference for automatic thought influences the everyday behavior of people—particular people engaged in commercial activity (consumers) —actually, and unfortunately, requires us to exit our Automatic Zone and move fully into our Reflective Zone. (Darn it! There you go...) For us humans, this type of deliberate, logical thinking requires substantial energy, which evolutionary biology has trained us to preserve. Which is probably the reason why most marketers have not fully embraced behavioral economics as an easily useful discipline.

The fundamental principle of behavioral economics—that because humans prefer to “think fast,” we have concocted a whole set of somewhat predictable biases and heuristics (i.e., shortcuts) that help us respond intuitively to most any situation, whether the situation actually calls for it or not—is actually complex and seemingly irrational enough that it does require our full attention to comprehend. And to be honest, it doesn’t help that much of the writing on this subject is still coming from academia, where much of the work is being done.

But, if, as marketers, we do take the time to figure this stuff out, it can add tremendous power to our brands. The principles of behavioral economics can help us understand how brands really work in the minds of consumers. And, even more, understand (and better predict) how and why buyers of our products behave the way they do. Brands, it turns out, are themselves heuristics—part of the shortcuts we use to navigate the world.

So, for those of you who have stuck with this post to this point and comfortably moved into your Reflective Zone, I have a treat. Below, with the permission of the authors, is a link to The Behavioral Economics Guide 2015, just published by Behavioral Economics .com. It includes an introduction by Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, and, while a true study in spending time in your Reflective Zone, this document is a treasure trove of articles, book recommendations, and even a directory of great TED Talks on the subject of behavioral economics. I think you will especially like the article way back on page 93 (I told you, you have to love it!) by Seamus O’Farrell entitled, "Building Strong Brands through the Lens of Unthinking Emotional Behavior."

While I have clearly failed in my challenge today to write this post in such a way that would keep you in your Automatic Zone, perhaps I have effectively sorted you in such a way that only the most committed got access to this amazingly interesting (and at times highly academic) document.

Happy reading.


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image: mahesh kularatne

Topics: Behavioral Economics

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