An analysis of how users and customers decide made by Neuralized: the neuroscience laboratory applied to marketing and user experience at Celerative.

We see a commercial. We like it. We laugh. We find it cute. We share it. But when we go to the store, we buy the competition’s product. What happens in our brain when we make such decisions? Are our purchasing decisions based purely on our reasoning or is there anything else?

Human beings make decisions every day, but in most cases we cannot explain why or how we did it. Gerald Zaltman from Harvard Business School reveals that 95% of our purchasing decision-making is performed subconsciously. The renowned psychologist and Nobel award winner Daniel Kahneman states in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that human beings use two systems of thought (broadly): ‘System 1’ is fast, instinctive and based on emotions; while ‘System 2’ is slow and based on logic. These systems of thought influence each other, but it is ‘System 1’ the one that governs our behavior in most of the situations.

This implies that our way of thinking is not as rational as we believe, generating bias effects in all of us when making decisions. When faced with this inevitable situation, we have a shot: being aware of the way in which our brain functions to avoid falling into its “traps”; and, if we are intelligent enough, we’ll be able to take advantage of these mechanisms to communicate our message in a better way.

First, we must consider human being’s memory -as opposed to a computer- is very limited. We have basically three types of memory: sensory memory (stores a lot of information from the senses for approximately 250ms); short-term memory (stores only the information needed to interact with the environment, 7 ±2 elements for 10 seconds); and finally, the long-term memory, where we store knowledge, skills and experiences, which are mainly set off by emotions.

That is why any company (whether they are SMEs or multinationals), must see the importance in understanding what type information is absorbed by users under certain stimulus (from the interface of home banking to a television commercial) and how they absorb it, so as to optimize the retention of the message you want to transmit. This is only possible by doing laboratory experiments, which are less expensive every day.

There are also other cognitive biases that affect our rationality when making decisions. In psychology, the ‘primate’ phenomenon refers to how certain stimuli we receive affect the response we will give to subsequent stimuli. This effect is useful from the point of view of marketing and user experience since it can be generate users’ propensity to remember certain information about a brand, and even influence purchasing decisions.

Finally, there are social phenomena that affect the way in which we express ourselves or take actions. The phenomenon known as ‘social approval’ describes a mechanism where people tend to take the same actions or beliefs as the group of people they belong to or rely on. Several experiments have even shown that a person can verbalize opinions (even knowing that they are wrong), in the need of not going against the widespread opinion of the group, and avoiding confrontations.

It is important to understand that social approval will go against us when checking users explicit opinions on our products (e.g. through a survey or a focus group), since what they say may not be what they really thin; and what they think is precisely what’s important when deciding -or not- to buy the product.

In Neuralized, the neuroscience laboratory applied to marketing and user experience at Celerative, our analysts study specific cases by applying technologies such as eye-tracking, electroencephalograms, skin conductivity and facial microexpressions reading analysis. These allow us to understand how phenomena, such as those presented above (among many others), affect different situations: from a user’s interface to a customer’s purchase decision. In a certain way, our goal is to help our customers improve their products and optimize the user experience.