Reasons & reasoning: why people buy what they buy

Saw a link to Clotaire Rapaille’s interview on The Persuaders on 37signals’ blog a couple of days ago … and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

He’s a psychiatrist-turned-brand-marketer, and he helps companies understand what people are really thinking (as opposed to what they’ll tell you) and why they really do things (as opposed to how they explain themselves). An interesting part:

When we [are] born, we have the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is there already. It’s part of survival; it’s breathing, eating, going to the bathroom. But then, in relationship with the mother, we develop the second brain, which is the limbic brain — emotions — and these emotions vary from one culture to another. In the relationship with your mother, you’re going to imprint, make mental connection about what means love, what means mother, what means being fed, what means a home, what means all the things that are very basic for survival. [These] are transmitted by the mother to you, and you create this mental connection in the brain — like a reference system, if you want, that you keep using. After a while, this system becomes unconscious. You do not even think about it. You know “Oh, this is a house; of course this is a house.” Well, for a lot of people around the world, this is not a house. A house might be a tent or made of ice or whatever, but this is not their reference system. It might be different for others.

Then, after 7, we have in place the cortex. The cortex is the last part of the brain that we develop, and that’s what we suppose to be “intelligent.” We are scientists, you know — numbers and stuff like that. Now, what is interesting is the cortex, we [are] kind of aware of that. We try to be intelligent, but the reptilian [part] we are not very much aware of it, and the limbic is more or less completely unconscious.

An interesting example of what he’s talking about, when asked what’s wrong with most market research:

They are too cortex, which means that they think too much, and then they ask people to think and to tell them what they think. Now, my experience is that most of the time, people have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have no idea, so they’re going to try to make up something that makes sense. Why do you need a Hummer to go shopping? “Well, you see, because in case there is a snowstorm.” No. Why [do] you buy four wheel drive? “Well, you know, in case I need to go off-road.” Well, you live in Manhattan; why do you need four wheel drive in Manhattan? “Well, you know, sometime[s] I go out, and I go — ” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This is nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do. So there are many limits in traditional market research.

But some examples he gives of people that are getting it right:

Some people understand the power of the reptilian in a very gutsy way. They don’t do all the analysis of the three brains, but [they get it]. For example, the Nextel campaign, “I do, therefore I am.” Right, bingo. This is not “I think, therefore I am.” And the campaign for the Hummer — the Hummer is a car with a strong identity. It’s a car in a uniform. I told them, put four stars on the shoulder of the Hummer, you will sell better. If you look at the campaign, brilliant. I have no credit for it, just so you know, but brilliant. They say, “You give us the money, we give you the car, nobody gets hurt.” I love it! It’s like the mafia speaking to you. For women, they say it’s a new way to scare men. Wow. And women love the Hummer. They’re not telling you, “Buy a Hummer because you get better gas mileage.” You don’t. This is cortex things. They address your reptilian brain.

Fascinating stuff, to me.

[tags] branding, marketing, Clotaire Rapaille, john koetsier, market research [/tags]

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Intresting view and to be hoenst make sense, we really dont know in hindsight what are we doing and how we are doing — it is better to have holistic view from all part of life before embarking on any project..

    does make sense??

  • I don’t know if any of this makes sense, to be honest … somehow we have reasons for what we do and why we do it … and sometimes those reasons bear some relationship to reality.

    I find Rapaille’s work fascinating as an example of a way to dig down below the surface and start to understand true motivations, which I tend to think can only be inferred from behavior, not communicated verbally.

  • John –

    we have Apple (iPod, ITune, Iphone, ITV and etc) and Sony ( Walkman, PSP, PS and etc), where customer led by innovators

    & then we have

    Google, Amozon and eBay, where market led by customers

    and then finally to captures customer imaginations (i.e. behaviour) we have various loyalty schemes embedded with intriguing financial benefits, which in my opinion is clever idea to toy with customers needs and behaviours..

    I think debate is still on historic market data vs behaviour .but I tend to agree with you ..lets capture behavior