Sometimes things just feel right.  We can’t say why, they just do.  The house bought not because it ticked all the boxes, but because you could imagine living there.  The supplier chosen not after an exhaustive procurement assessment, but because they just seemed to fit.  In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores experiences like these.

Gladwell’s theory is that there’s a part of our mind which constantly scans the environment digesting information, identifying patterns and matching this with past experience.  It does so unconsciously and then guides our decisions.  It also often – but not always – makes more accurate decisions than a conscious, rational thought process would.

This idea has significant implications for marketers.

We tend to think of B2B purchases as being highly rational.  Undoubtedly many are, but buying decisions always involve people.  This means even B2B marketers need to tap into the mechanism Gladwell describes.  To appeal to the conscious and unconscious, the rational mind and the gut.

It also impacts how we gather insights into what causes one supplier to be chosen over another.  If a person’s decision is guided by the unconscious, they’ll find it tough to explain what truly determines their choice.  Ask them and they’ll either admit they don’t really know or, more likely, post-rationalise.  In the latter case there’s great potential to unintentionally mislead.

Now, let’s not get carried away.  On the majority of occasions B2B buyers can accurately express their motivations.  Asking them directly then does tend to be revealing.  For deeper insights though, the trick is to also explore if and how the unconscious is at play.  One particularly revealing method of doing so is deduction.

Surveys often ask buyers to rate the importance of different attributes when choosing between prospective suppliers.  Adding two further questions provides a side door to the unconscious.  Ask them to rate the relative attractiveness of different suppliers.  Then ask them to rate the perceived performance of each against attributes likely to drive supplier choice.  Finally, apply a statistical technique called regression.  This identifies any correlation between greater overall attractiveness and higher ratings on particular attributes.  That is, it deduces what matters to people rather than asking them directly.  Now we have a full picture – a map of the rational and unconscious drivers of choice.

Read more about how we map the buying journey and drivers of supplier choice.

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One thought on “Blink: A side door to the unconscious

  1. Lidwina says:

    Excellent blog post, great blog layout, keep up the good work

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Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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