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It’s time for marketers to tap into system 1 thinking

Author's avatar By Robert Jones 08 Aug, 2018
Essential Essential topic

Are you tapping into Customer Psychology for your marketing?

Kahneman popularised System 1 and System 2 decision-making in his book, "thinking fast and slow" - but how can marketers use this Scientific theory in their marketing?

Last year I was faced with a fairly every day dilemma, my partner and I were going through the process of buying an IKEA kitchen at home, I'd dropped and smashed my iPhone screen, rendering it unusable (I replaced it with a much cheaper android phone)and I wanted to go on holiday to Italy (Turin). The dilemma was: Did I need an iPhone? Could I hold off on the holiday to Italy? The kitchen was the biggest decision, it was over £4000 in cost - it took time to research what we wanted and plan the whole thing with IKEA. Arranging delivery, getting the whole thing installed. It's a major project and being without a kitchen for a period of time is annoying, costly and messy. I bought all three, I justified all decisions irrationally. An iPhone is an investment, I work for traveling, and we need a kitchen to eventually sell the house to buy the next one.

You may think I used System 2 decisions (rational decisions) when buying this kitchen, it's expensive, it's a huge project which required a level of project management from the customer. But to be honest, I was also making irrational and emotional System 1 decisions.  How? I love IKEA, I'm so incredibly brand loyal I didn't even consider any other company. I wanted an IKEA kitchen, end of. I chose IKEA first, the kitchen design second. This is me using system 1 thinking far more than system 2. And the iPhone? It was an iPhone Product (RED) - how could I say no? I held off making system 2 decisions that my android was sufficient and that I needed to save money. I also bought the iPhone and the holiday to Italy.

What is System 1 and System 1 thinking?

System 1 and system 2 thinking are two different ways of decision-making, which we all do. They are behavioral frameworks based on Psychological research, which ultimately theorized that we all think in two different and rather distinct ways.

System 1: Irrational, emotional decisions. Our emotional instinctual brain.

This is where a customer makes an irrational decision, such as buying an iPhone when they already have a functioning phone. Or justifying a holiday. We all make system 1 decisions daily. System 1 decisions are made quickly.

Everyday decisions tend to be made using system 1 decision-making.

System 2: Rational decision making. Our rational and conscientious brain.

This is where customers are making logical decisions, we like to think we are logically making a decision, but many decisions are justified using system 1 decision making.

System 2 decisions are slow, well thought through, they are analytical and may be based on evidence and previous experience which is carefully considered.

System 2 decisions are still made on a daily basis, it helps when we have more time, for example, if something is less urgent we tend to make more type 2 decisions. However, time alone doesn't fully account for type 2 decisions, I put off buying a new iPhone, only to want one more. When it came to me picking an ISA, my previous ISA had not matured so I had more time to research it and find the best rate, whilst deciding also to lock these funds away for another year. This decision was a system 2 decision-making process because it was based on logical thinking, weighing up a variety of options within the situation I was in.

I'm convinced that most people make system 1 decisions for the majority of their decisions and this is something marketers need to tap into, to get their approach right. I was previously convinced people make system 2 decisions with financial products, but sometimes people buy insurance out of fear, this is system 1 decision-making. People make them with holidays, grocery shopping, B2B services, you name it.

Of course, I'm not saying we're all totally irrational, but isn't it system 2 decisions that encourage the sale? Whilst system 1 might be us trying to rationally convince our boss to buy us a training course or chatting with our partners reviewing the details of a savings account. System 2 tips us over the edge, imagine missing 1.5% earnings on that savings account, or not taking the training course that could get you a pay rise in a future job.

We need to tap into System 1 thinking, Here's why:

System 1 Research, formally BrainJuicer, says we need just three brand metrics.

  • Fame - if a brand simply comes to mind, it's a good choice
  • Feeling - If a brand feels good then it's a good choice
  • Fluency - If a brand is recognizable then it's a good choice

Each of these metrics stems from behavioral science, namely the availability heuristic, the affect heuristic and the processing fluency heuristic.

To be successful brands need to come to mind first, feel good (for example a good choice, ethical, or whatever making it a good choice may be in terms of the product or service area) and must be recognizable in the industry.

What can us marketers do?

There are a number of ways of tapping into system 1 thinking, by understanding what customers are making irrational decisions means that we, as marketers can use this to our advantage. My suggestions include:

  1. Be the intuitive choice, not just the logical choice. By this I mean, your brand might be the name which comes to mind first, even though a competitor would be more logical for certain needs.
  2. Memories matter - it's all about the experience. People remember bad experiences, even if it was just one issue or one small negative aspect. We should be customer obsessed, experiences should be consistent. For digital marketing, it's essential for a focus on user experience (UX), whether it be UX design and UX research, you need to focus on a consistent, smooth experience where the users can complete their intended goals, which may be purchasing something from your website.
  3. Associative coherence drives sales - positive PR and positive branding, show the brand is human. Regular positive PR keeps driving positive thinking from customers.

My recommendations for tapping into System 1 decision-making

We can tap into system 1 decision-making which is so prevalent, by making a few adjustments to our marketing strategy.

  • Continuous positive Public relations (PR) - constantly find new ways of promoting your brand in the news, whether it be mainstream news, digital PR, on search engines, in online communities.
  • Focus on customer experience (CX) and User experience (UX), digital experiences should be smooth, fast and consistent.
  • Promote your brand as the best in its area, the fun brand or the edgy brand, to be the brand which comes to mind first.

Examples of brands and ads that understand system 1 thinking

The following brands have used system 1 thinking in their approach:

John Lewis: The UK based department store have provided, over the years various emotional Christmas ads, such as "Boxer the Buster" and "The Bear and the Hare".

Various travel companies, from Expedia, to TUI and Hotels.com with their ads showing the benefits of travel and feeling good. Hotels.com ran an ad in the UK which promoted their loyalty scheme (stay 10 nights and get one free) as a "no brainer", they used humour (such as mocking accents) to tap into system 1 decision making and system 2 at the same time. As why would anyone book using another site and not get a free reward, for a hotel they were booking anyway?

All make system 1 decisions most of the day. System 1 says we buy more when we feel more. Plus, let's face it, system 1 decision makers are far easier to market to.

Image copyright: System 1 Research - Little Book of Feeling. 

Author's avatar

By Robert Jones

Robert Jones is a specialist in CRO, UX Research, insight and digital Marketing. He is CRO Analyst at Enjoy Digital. He has a Psychology Masters of Research, has run large digital marketing campaigns to build research panels and worked in insight roles for Vision Critical, ASDA and WhatUsersDo. He also managed all of Smart Insights member resources and published several guides including "How to conduct Persona Research" as well as contributing over 100 blog posts to the Smart Insights blog. When he isn’t working on marketing campaigns he is most likely eating authentic Italian food or planning his next short trip. You can connect with Robert on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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Consumer psychologyPsychology

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