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Zaltman Knows His Stuff

September 29, 2009
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Posted by Susan Weissman

I’m re-reading “How Customers Think” by Gerald Zaltman — great book on how to dig deeper into the consumer’s mind, understand motivation and persuasion, and better apply our marketing thinking. Here are just a few of the things I find fascinating:

  • 95% of thought, emotion and learning occur in the unconscious mind — that is, without our awareness. There is a recent study of effects of brain lesions which demonstrates that when neurological structures responsible for either emotion or reasoning sustain damage, the affected individuals lose their ability to make the kinds of sound decisions that permit normal lives. We are always pushing for our clients to create more emotionally resonate messages in their marketing and you can’t believe the resistance we encounter.
  • Everyone in marketing does a lot of research to better understand the audiences with whom we want to relate. Zaltman claims there are three predictable areas of error in our thinking: mistaking descriptive information for insight, confusing customer data with understanding, and focusing on the wrong elements of the consumer experience. He makes a whole case for how we aren’t really getting what we need out of focus groups because consumers, though they try, can’t really tell us what they think. They don’t know what really makes them act in particular ways.
  • Human thought arises from what neuroscientists call images. Verbal language isn’t the same as thought. In fact, Nobel Prize winner Gerald Edelman has observed that “conceptual capabilities develop in evolution well before speech.” We think all the time about how much to convey visually versus in words.
  • We’ve been using metaphors in our branding and advertising work for years. Zaltman explains how metaphors direct consumers attention, influence their perceptions and enable them to make sense of what they encounter. A metaphor is a relationship between two memory structures, that’s why they are so powerful in eliciting hidden thoughts and feelings and moving us to do something. Metaphor has a neurological foundation — who knew? (We just knew they worked.)
All these things have huge implications for marketers and how to establish a competitive advantage. If you want to know the whole deal, you have to read the book. Great stuff.

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