A clever chap called Daniel Kahneman has a theory.

When making decisions there are two systems in our mind which influence the outcome.  System 1 works at a sub-conscious level without us knowing it.  Using intuition and beliefs about how the world works, it makes a rapid assessment of the situation then quickly settles on a course of action.  In contrast, system 2 works at a conscious level.  Using deliberative reasoning and logic, it carefully evaluates the situation before reaching a conclusion.

In everyday life we rely mostly on system 1 to effortlessly make decisions, but occasionally system 2 is called in.  This happens in complex scenarios, when the situation is new or when system 2 suspects that system 1 may have reached the wrong conclusion.

Now, what does all this mean for B2B marketers?

B2B purchase decisions are often complex and need to be justified to others.  So, when your target market is choosing between suppliers it’s likely that they’ll be using system 2.  This means that you should appeal to system 2’s rational nature – present a logical case for your product and make it easy for system 2 to assimilate this (it loathes expending more mental effort than is absolutely necessary).

However, even if system 2 takes the reins, system 1 still puts forward impressions, feelings and a sense of what the ‘right’ conclusion is.    This means that even though system 2 believes itself to be in control, system 1 can be subtly guiding it towards a particular choice.  This has two further implications for marketers.

First, you can influence the case that system 1 sub-consciously presents to system 2 using ‘cognitive biases’ – systematic and predictable errors that system 1 makes.  For example:

  • People often assess new information using an anchoring reference point (Anchoring Bias).  So use early engagement in the buying process to ensure competitors fight on your battleground
  • People tend to give preferential treatment to those they see as ‘one of us’ (In Group Bias).  So position yourself as an active citizen in your target market’s industry and profession
  • People are more likely to prefer things they are familiar with (Mere Exposure Effect).  So communicate with the target market often and be omnipresent in their environment

Second, be careful when using surveys and other research to guide your marketing activities.  Asking the target market about their behaviours, needs and opinions will paint a valuable picture.  However, there will be a tendency for research respondents to relay only system 2 thinking to you and give an overly rational account of themselves.  Not to worry though, there are techniques to uncover their system 1 side.  For example, don’t just ask what’s important to them when choosing a supplier.  Also find out the share of wallet allocated to different suppliers and how each supplier’s performance is rated in different areas.  Then look for links between the two to uncover what really drives preference.

Find out more about Circle Research’s B2B (business-to-business) research services here.

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About Andrew

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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