Tim Witcherley

6 ways the brain influences buying behaviour

by Tim Witcherley on April 17, 2014

Marketing is not a science with the same level of predictability as physics or chemistry, but it’s also not complete instinct or guesswork. How do you leverage the scientific aspects of marketing to minimise risk? It boils down to an understanding of human psychology.

The human brain displays six characteristics that make it hard to influence behaviour, and to be successful marketing has to overcome these subconscious biases.

  1. We can only process a limited amount of information consciously. Our brains remember information in chunks, and we can only recall a limited number of ‘chunks’ at any one time. Research from cognitive psychologist George Miller indicates that on average humans can only recall seven chunks of information at a time.

  2. Because of this, we instinctively generalise. In other words, if we hear about something happening to one business we have a natural tendency to apply it to many businesses.

  3. We’re hardwired to believe in stories. This is known as the ‘narrative fallacy’, when the power of a single story prompts us to misunderstand the real, statistical probability of an event taking place.

  4. We’re driven by habit. From the moment we’re born the brain undergoes a process called ‘pruning’. This involves the brain’s neuronal pathways being cut like grooves in a record. The more often we experience something, the deeper the groove. This means that we subconsciously make decisions based on our previous experience rather than on a complete, critical judgement of the present circumstance. If we use a particular decision-making process enough times we convince ourselves that it is the way to make decisions – even if there’s evidence to the contrary.

  5. This means that our capacity for critical judgement is not as critical as we like to think. The psychologist Daniel Gilbert demonstrated that in order to understand something the brain automatically accepts what we already know as being ‘true.’ In other words: we believe before we doubt.

  6. We also tend towards ‘confirmation bias’. We naturally accept and process information that confirms our existing beliefs and delete information that challenges or refutes those beliefs.



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Tim Witcherley

This post was written by Tim Witcherley

As Cognition's Managing Director, Tim sets by example by being an incredibly driven and commercial businessman who has built a very impressive marketing consultancy which has continued to grow year on year. With a very straight and honest approach to business, he ensures he gets the best results for his clients and builds strong partnerships with his suppliers.

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