Ask the customer what she wants; certainly this tactic is not unheard of. Companies do this constantly with focus groups, usability testing, et cetera. The general idea is that through a series of tests, we can better identify what our customer wants, and by extension what our customer will buy. But there is a certain risk involved in asking someone what he wants: perhaps what he wants is not something visible to his conscious self. This is exactly what Douglas Van Praet suggests in his new book, Unconscious Branding. The argument he makes, in his own words:
The quantitative copy tests, concept tests, and advertising tracking studies that make up the majority of [...] evaluative research only skim the surface. They fail to recognize and understand the underlying unconscious causes that often evade awareness.
Unconscious Branding is Douglas Van Praet’s bid for marketers to rethink their audience—their identities, desires, and feelings. Chapter 2, titled “Humans, Not Consumers”, helps to lay the groundwork for the book’s argument. Van Praet says that the tag ‘consumer’ dehumanizes a person or group, turning a complex person into an oversimplified lump of statistics. This perspective, he says, “strips them of their humanity and diminishes empathy.” The humane approach to your potential customer requires thinking about more than simply whether she’s going to buy your product. As Van Praet says, “The goal of most humans is to satisfy their own needs and drives, not to consume your product.” Perhaps thinking about our customers as people, rather than targets, can help to create stronger, more meaningful relationships with them.
Once we’ve started thinking about people—human beings—instead of ‘consumers’, we’ve opened the door to a different approach to branding and marketing. Van Praet cites Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and his now ubiquitous neologism ‘meme’ to explain the relationship between humans’ six key “unconscious biological drives”—survival, safety, security, sustenance, sex, and status—and behavior. We now are privy to research that demonstrates that human sensation (e.g. when we see an advertisement) triggers feeling first, and rational thought soon after.
So what do we do with this new understanding of how people react to our marketing efforts? In some sense this is knowledge we’ve had for decades—things like sex and status have been central to many large corporate campaigns. A focus on biological drive has been and will continue to be an effective way to connect with individuals we want to market and sell to. Van Praet, however, has taken the emphasis on these underlying motivations and now suggests a seven step system for curating our marketing to these drives. Van Praet explains this system in good detail throughout Unconscious Branding, but a very simple reduction is this: get attention, get emotional buy in, satisfy the critical mind, and take action.