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Thinking Fast and Slow – Three Marketing Opportunities

You’ve probably read Thinking, Fast and Slow (or like most people are in a prolonged state of ‘reading’ it) by the only psychologist to win a Nobel prize*, Daniel Kahneman, but here are three big marketing opportunity implications from the book – and that became apparent when listening to Kahneman speak in person in London last night.

  1. Use ‘associative coherence’ to drive sales – Okay so this sounds like psychobabble, but ‘associative coherence’ is simply using the positive associations that your target audience already makes around your brand and category in your marketing. (What words come to mind when I say ‘Acme’ [your brand]?).  This will reinforce purchase influence in our ‘fast thinking’ mind and make your product seem like the intuitive choice (see 3). And, just as holding a warm cup of coffee increases the likelihood of perceiving a stranger as warm, and thinking about elderly people will make you walk slower (‘elderly’ and ‘walk slow’ are associationally coherent) – the sales opportunity for you is to identify positive outcomes associated with consuming your brand (causal associations) – and then communicate them in your marketing. In a nutshell, your brand strategy should be to seduce the fast thinking mind by reinforcing positive associations around your brand.
  2. Market to the ‘memory self’ – Kahneman also took a side swipe at (user) experience design and experiential marketing – saying it’s memories that matter for people, not experiences. Kahneman argues people have two ‘selves’ – their ‘experience self’ – the self that experiences things, and then the ‘remembered self’ – the self that is made up of memories of those experiences.  The difference matters. For example, when we say that our online experience was ruined by a last click glitch, what we mean is that the memory of that experience was ruined (actually the experience was fine 95% of the time).  If this all sounds a little abstract, the point to marketers is that it is the ‘remembered self’ that matters most, it’s what really motivates people and what makes people happy.  We’re all memory machines, driven to make memories for consuming and sharing later. So it’s the anticipation of creating a great memory of an online/product experience that motivates us.  And it’s consuming that memory, after the experience, that creates delight.  So focus marketing not on the brand experience, but the anticipated memory it will create. In sum, people are memory machines, and smart marketing is about making memories. So forget experience, it’s the memory that matters.  ‘Memory marketing’ – you heard it here first.
  3. Appeal to ‘fast thinking’ – Demoted this to third, as it’s the obvious – and most cited – marketing takeout from a model that says that people basically have two thinking modes – fast thinking and slow thinking, and spend much of their time in fast-thinking mode.  We can all do ‘slow thinking’ – i.e. logical thinking (using what he calls a ‘System 2’ process – controlled thinking, thinking stuff through properly), but it’s effortful and well, slow, so we don’t bother much.  The problem is that much marketing is based on getting consumers to think slowly/logically – ‘buy this because it has this benefit’ etc, when in fact we should be appealing to the fast thinker in everybody which operates automatically (uncontrolled) and is based on intuition (mental associations, and mental rules of thumb – a ‘System 1’ process), not logic.  The opportunity for marketing is to market yourself as the intuitive choice, not the logical choice.

* Technically true, but Roger Sperry and Herbert Simon – not academic psychologists – also worked in psychology and won Nobel prizes

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.