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Neuroscience insights to feed your marketing plans

Rushing consumers use cognitive shortcuts to avoid new information and block you out. Filtering, quick-scan, risk-aversion or routines allow them to keep sanity. Being aware of the lenses they use enables brands to work with them, not against them. 


Our always-on connectivity forces us to battle through 200 daily emails, WhatsApp’s, continuous streams of social media. In between the 6000+ commercial messages that fight for our attention… it never ends. A study published in the journal Memory looks into the process of “cognitive offloading” (Risko, Gilbert): We necessarily filter what we allow our attention to focus on. A means of mental survival! But, here’s a watch-out: offloading memory to Google or your orientation to your GPS might affect the way you think.

What are our off-loading strategies?

Filtering: we put filters. Technology & cookies allow gradual personalisation of our digital experience. Rules evict unwanted emails. We only accept friends that fit the way we think. We defriend intruders posting dinner-plates too frequently. We mute too voicy WhatsApp conversations. We select the content we tolerate. It’s a defence mechanism: just like headphones help with sound cancellation, we create Digital Noise Reduction. 

This filtering protects us, but to use Obama’s words in his farewell speech, it also closes us in a bubble. A cognitive bubble. Our (likeminded) networks like, share and feed us, but we end up reading the same stuff. Murakami warns us: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”  

Scanning: Lack of time forces us to scan information ever more rapidly. Our brain however reads things through a bias of confirmation: we only selectively retain information in line with what we recognise. This is not new, it’s called “selective exposure” in psychology theory, a tendency to favour information which reinforces pre-existing views (while avoiding contradictory information). Our brain tends to see proof that confirms our opinions, and gradually form silos for our thinking. Some lunatics even create alternative facts to condone their self-silo-invented post-truths... and build further narrow-minded walls.

Avoid risk & Copy-paste: we humans, love reassurance. To go quick and offload too much thinking, we revert to what we know. We hire people that come from the same industry (they’ll be operational immediately, have a network, no need to invest to educate them). So, in a bank you hire bankers, in telco you hire telco specialists and in pharma ex-pharma’s... We’re also more likely to approve tried and tested tactics. We invest in predictable stuff. It’s our “comfort zone reflex”. 

Most of us battle in mature markets. Sticking to ‘close-to-home’, we’ll only trust small-step incremental innovations. We swim in red oceans, and don’t mind wasting costly research euros to grapple for an extra 0.2% market share. In red oceans, we tend to forget there might be blue sky outside the usual promo’s. In red oceans, we scrutinize every competitor move and revert to panic-football, copying & responding with more of the same. Price, what else? Consequence: we feed undifferentiated and inescapable commoditization, read value destruction.


What’s the link with Marketing?

In an off-loading world, your brand will struggle much more to get noticed. Filtering, quick-scan, risk-aversion or Red Oceans are all dangers we’d like to avoid: Porter rejected this abruptly in 5 words: "strategy is about being different".

  • Consciously invite debate.
  • Is it possible to avoid these cognitive shortcuts?
  • To repeatedly and proactively confront yourself with disturbing contradictors and shakers?
  • Disturb alarmingly convergent approaches?
  • Would you allow us to question the darling dogmas of your category? 


4 fast tricks to keep challenging internal orthodoxy: 

  • Create antennas to monitor outside worlds: Look at competition beyond your industry. Watch for “weak signals” on the periphery of your usual zone. Antenna’s should be active signal-seekers. Strategic enough to explore places where we wouldn’t focus in a natural way. Then make time for these antenna’s, help them filter relevant patterns, scenario’s out of the overload of data/noise.
  • Let go ego’s : Learn to love divergence. Accept contrast. Know your mental defence mechanisms that naturally try to produce harmony between new ideas and pre-existing beliefs. Make it safe for your people to contradict you. Allow non-linearity. Curiosity can counteract selective exposure.
  • Invite “boundary spanners”: Michael Tuchman’s research shows most useful input comes from people not fully part of your world. Go cross industry and allow yourself to rethink: Invite unrelated worlds, gain time, learn from divergent industries. Don’t expect immediate solutions, expect input. Disturbing questions. It’s a form of “Open innovation”. It’s Johansson’s “Medici Effect”: innovation is exponential when you allow distinct concepts to intersect. Watch mavericks that reinvent entire industries: their unconventional CEO’s are often NOT born in that industry. They reframe intra-industry unwritten rules. They ask questions nobody dares to ask anymore. Choose someone that has legitimacy to speak to high-level managers, with strong track records.
  • Visit other worlds? is a symbolic way to get us out of our bubble. This search engine shows results from the question asked by the person before you. Allow serendipity to tumble your thinking to another galaxy for free... A bit ridiculous, but a fair point.

Or spend a weekly TV night with TED instead of the mind-numbing season 14 of your usual series?

Inviting debate is springful thinking. It’s inviting new/green idea’s and strategies into the boardroom. Last year alone, we challenged 7 different industries with the Markitects-thinking. So, yes, let’s reframe, invite fresh air, summon other industries into your model and watch what sparks it can provoke…

Invite spring in your strategy, contact us and we’ll happily come kick around your industry with you.


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