Influencing decision making is arguably the ultimate challenge and role of marketing. Personally, I’m fascinated by how people make decisions, especially when it comes to money and personal finances. Many financial decisions seem entirely rational on the surface, but the reality is there is so much more at play.

At our recent Breakfast and Brainfood event, Joseph Devlin, Vice-Dean at UCL and a leading specialist in the sphere of neuroscience and marketing, spoke about how our bodies and brains reveal what we’re really prioritizing when making decisions. The answer is … we give away all sorts of physical clues that our words and actions hide.

Undertaking research and really understanding your audience is a fundamental part of building marketing strategies and plans. Research often asks audiences what they think, feel and do, which can be very useful in building great campaigns. However, the downside of taking what people tell you in research on face value has long been debated. So what else can we learn? And how can we learn it?

By paying attention to, testing and understanding the non-conscious signals our bodies send, we can reveal the decision making process we don’t articulate. From the signals sent in our brains to our heart rate and skin temperature, it is the story of decision making that our bodies tell by themselves. These are the signals that can’t be hidden by the boxes we tick on a survey or how we verbally articulate why we’ve made a particular decision.

Research has shown that brands plays a role in that decision making, the 1975 Pepsi Challenge being one of the leading examples. The experiment revealed that we do in fact build emotional associations with brands, making it even more important for financial services brands to know and more importantly understand the emotional needs of their target customers.

We also learned and discussed how consumers react to written, spoken and viewed narratives. How do our different experiences of a story impact our emotional response to it? It impacts how we react, the extent to which we pay attention and our emotional connection to the story. But what ties us in most is the narrative – have we connected to the characters and the experiences they are having? Even though our reactions take longer when reading a narrative (due to the process of co-creating the story through our own imaginings) our reactions tend to be more impactful. 

As a group, we concluded that there are many mysteries when it comes to decision making and that as communicators and marketers we have so much more to learn and understand about how our audiences behave and make decisions.  So, the next time you’re making a decision, remember while you might tell one story of why you’ve made that decision, your body is possibly telling another.

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