Science and marketing come together. It’s important for retailers and service providers to understand what really drives customer behavior. By Leon Alexander
Have you ever walked into a hotel room and tossed your room key or card somewhere, and a few seconds later forgotten where you put it? The data just vanishes from the brain’s hard drive. Why? Because our brains are simultaneously processing all kinds of information-what city or time zone I’m in, how long until my appointment, when is it time to dine? With a limited capacity of our short-term memory, the location of the room card just doesn’t make the cut.
Our brains are constantly busy collecting and filtering information. Some bits of information will make it into long-term memory, but most will become extraneous clutter, dispensed into oblivion.
The basis of this beauty industry strategic blueprint, involving design, marketing, strategies and initiatives, is to ensure that consumers do not view our salons as the equivalent of the hotel room key. This article is aimed at salon owners understanding how customers think and act. If we don’t know how customer think, how can we be expected to sell to them or give them experiences? Ethnology tells us how customers think, Retail Anthropology tells us how customers act and Environmental Psychology tells us how customers think and act, within a specific environment.
Let’s start with Neuromarketing, which is a combination of marketing and science. It is the window into the human mind – the subconscious thoughts, feelings and desires that drive our purchasing decisions.
The medial pre-frontal cortex is a portion of the brain responsible for higher thinking and the ventral putamen is a region of the brain that’s stimulated when we find things appealing. These two areas of the brain are in a tug-of-war between rational and emotional thinking. During that mini-second of grappling and indecision, the emotions rise up like mutinous soldiers to override consumer’s rational preferences. All positive associations with a product, the sheer inarguable, inexorable, ineluctable, emotional feelings have beat back their rational choice, because emotions are a way in which our brains encode things of value.
Think Apple, Harley Davison, Starbucks.
Psychologists asked a group of students to choose between a pair of Amazon.com gift vouchers. If they picked the first, which was a $15 gift voucher, they would get it at once. If they were willing to wait two weeks they would get a $20 gift certificate. Brain scans revealed that both options triggered activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that generates emotion. Of course the rational mind knew the $20 offer was logically a better deal, but guess what-their emotions won out. We have an opportunity to maximize the potential of a consumers visit when they are in our salons. Impulse buying should be a major part of a salons retail strategy.
I’ll have what she’s having!
Mirror neurons are responsible for why we often imitate other people’s behavior. When other people whisper, we tend to lower our own voices. Mirror neurons explain why we often smile when we see someone who is happy or wince when we see someone who is in pain. Yawn. Are you yawning now, or feeling the initial stirrings of yawning? Not because you are bored, but simply because I typed the word yawn. Mirror neurons become activated not only when we are observing other people’s behavior, they even fire when we read about someone performing it. If I simply write the words “nails scratching on a chalkboard” or “sucking a lemon” or “giant hairy black spider” the chances are that you will recoil, wince and squirm while reading them. Your mind visualizes the painful sound or furry legs edging along your calf. Those are your mirror neurons at work. That’s how consumer’s behavior is affected by what they see, read and experience in our salons.
Mirror neurons don’t work alone. Often they work in tandem with dopamine, one of the brains pleasure chemicals. Dopamine is one of the most addictive substances known to man and purchasing decisions are driven by its seductive effects. When you see that new camera, or those flashy diamond earrings, dopamine subtly flushes the brain with pleasure, and then before you know it, you’ve signed the credit card. It takes as little as 2.5 seconds to make a purchasing decision. A few minutes later, as you exit the store, bag in hand, the euphoric feelings caused by the dopamine recede, and sometimes you wonder if you made the right decision.
We have all heard the term “retail therapy” All scientific indicators point to it making us happier in the short term. That dose of happiness can be attributed to dopamine; the brains flush of reward, pleasure and wellbeing. When we first decide to buy something, the brain cells that release dopamine secrete a burst of good feeling and this dopamine rush fuels our instinct to keep shopping even when our rational minds tell us we have had enough.
The future of advertising isn’t smoke and mirrors-it’s mirror neurons.
Generally speaking, subliminal messages are defined as visual, auditory, or any other sensory messages that register just below our level of conscious perception and can be detected only by the sub-conscious mind. 95% of cognition occurs below the awareness in the shadows of the mind. 5% occurs within the individual’s conscious awareness. Retailers and service providers have to appeal to both the conscious and sub-conscious minds of the consumer. Subliminal messaging has shown to influence how much a consumer is willing to pay for a product or service. Unconscious emotions (smiling faces) have an effect on consumers to buy more, or to make a purchase. Silk Cut, a popular British tobacco brand, positioned its logo against a background of purple silk in every ad they ran. When the advertising ban on tobacco came into effect and the logo was no longer permitted on ads and billboards, the company simply created highway billboards that didn’t say a word about Silk Cut, but merely showed swaths of purple silk. Shortly after a study showed 98% of consumers identified those billboards with having something to do with Silk Cut. In other words, manufacturers efforts to link innocent images with smoking in our sub-conscious minds have paid off big time.
Buying a product is more often a ritualized behavior than a conscious decision. Do those anti-wrinkle potions that beckon women and some men actually work? Many women consumers admit that anti-wrinkle creams are pointless, but every three months, they’ll still clamber to the local pharmacy to pick up the latest miracle balm. The one with the newest, sexiest, most complex-sounding formula. It’s a pattern as predictable as the seasons. Why? Simply because it’s a ritual they and their mothers and grandmothers before them-have always followed.
In an increasingly standardized, sterilized, homogenous world, rituals help us differentiate one brand from another. Once we have found a ritual or brand, there is a lot of comfort in having a particular blend of coffee every morning, a signature shampoo with a familiar smell, or a favorite make of running sneaker we buy.
The Power of Somatic Markers
The Greek philosopher Socrates once told his student to imagine the mind as a block of wax “on which we stamp what we perceive or conceive.” Whatever is impressed on the wax, we remember and know, provided the image remains in the wax, but “whatever is obliterated or cannot be impressed, we forget and do not know.” A metaphor so suggestive and widespread that we still say that an experience “made a good impression.”
Imagine as a child we touch a hot pot on the stove and burn the tips of our fingers. Assuming our fingertips weren’t too badly burned, a half hour later you’re back playing.
The tenderness of your fingertips will vanish in a few days, but your mind isn’t that lenient. It won’t forget what happened. Sub-consciously, the neurons in your brain have just assembled an equation linking together the concepts of “oven” and “hot” and “fingertips” and “grill” and “pain.” In sum, the chain-link of concepts and body parts are what is called a somatic marker- a kind of a bookmark in our brain. These markers serve to connect an experience or emotion with a specific, required reaction. These same cognitive shortcuts are what underlie most of our buying decisions or whether we return to a salon to get a service. Every day we manufacture new somatic markers. Without them, we would not be able to make any decisions.
Unilever was launching a shampoo in Asia when an employee wrote on the label “contains the X9 factor.” It went undetected by Unilever, and soon millions of bottles of the shampoo were shipped to stores. It would have cost too much to recall the shampoo, so Unilever simply let it be. Six months later, when the company reprinted the label, they left out the reference to the nonexistent “X9 factor.” To there surprise, they soon received a slew of outraged mail from their customers. None of the customers had any idea what the X9 factor was, many people claimed that the shampoo wasn’t working anymore and their hair had lost its luster.
It just goes to show the more mystery and intrigue a brand can cultivate, the more likely it will appeal to us.
Selling to Our Senses
Visual images are far more effective, and more memorable, when they are coupled with another sense. Imagine viewing a fish dinner along with the slightest whiff of lemon, perhaps evoking the summer you spent grilling fresh fish on the beaches. That’s because the sight and smell of the product were congruent-a perfect collaboration between eyes and nose.
The same principal should apply to both sight and smell when the consumer enters a salon. The most recognized smell in the world is Johnson’s Baby Powder. Yet practically nobody remembers the Johnson & Johnson logo. Of all the senses, smell is the most primal. All other senses we think before we respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think.
When asked the importance of buying products, 84.7% of consumers claimed that color amounted to more than half the criterion they consider when choosing a location or brand. Color energies affect our brain. Neurotransmitter’s in the eye transmit information about light to the brain and releases a hormone that affects our moods, mental clarity and energy level. Brown is conducive to hunger, that’s why McDonalds trays are all brown and it is used as part of a design for restaurants. Light purple is the color most conducive to buying. An accent color of red at the back of a retail area contributes to drawing the consumer to the back and encourages the brain to spend.
It is important in incorporate all the senses into the design of a consumer location in both the retail and service areas. Tomorrow’s retail world will have distinct smells. It won’t be in black and white, but in vivid color and will infuse you and leave you humming. This assault on your senses will be more effective in winning your mind, your loyalty, and your dollars than you ever thought possible. The road to emotion runs through our sensory experiences. Emotion is one of the most powerful forces in driving what we buy.
Now you and your brain have a better understanding of why we buy. The hidden preferences, unconscious desires and irrational dreams. Thanks to neuroimaging, we can now understand better what really drives our behavior. Science and marketing have come together. Science is hard fact, the final word. Marketers, on the other hand, have spent over a century throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping it will stick.
Until now, marketers and advertisers haven’t really known what drives our behavior, so they’ve had to rely on luck or chance. But now we know that roughly 90% of our consumer buying behavior is unconscious, and the time has come for a paradigm shift. The design and strategic blueprint of our salons today and in the future, must be around creating an experience for the consumer.