January 20, 2008

The Voting Booth and the Cash Register

Last Friday, I read this brilliant article in the New York Times from David Brooks called 'How Voters Think'. The article talks about how the press and political pollsters are having a hard time trying to anticipate each primary in this year's election. Read this...
"The truth is that many of the theories we come up with are bogus. They are based on the assumption that voters make cold, rational decisions about who to vote for and can tell us why they decided as they did. This is false. In reality, we voters - all of us - make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness."

I immediately thought that the very same process happens with consumers in relation to brands.  Why would someone purchase a German import when an equivalent Korean vehicle with the same features costs $15,000 less?

The article goes on...
"After seeing a candidate for 100 milliseconds, voters make certain sorts of judgments based on expressiveness, facial structure, carriage and attitude. Then, having formed an impression from these thin-sliced appraisals, voters rack their memory banks. Decades ago, Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that human judgment is less a matter of calculating probabilities and more a matter of trying to fit new things into familiar patterns."

Doesn't the same happen in consumer behavior?  The perception we have on brands is also a collage of hundreds of different impressions.  From the basic visual stimulus from packaging, an ad, to the memory of who was consuming it the first time we saw that brand.  Maybe a certain product or even the comeback of an old jingle reminds us of good feelings we had in our youth (is that why I bought a Converse All-Star® the other day?) or maybe we unconsciously choose comfort food to help cope with stress from a busy day?  

Like selecting a candidate, there are many emotions that go through a purchasing decision that may have nothing to do with a rational choice. I'm having fun watching the political theater unfold... and it's quite interesting to see that there may be more similarities between the voting booth and the cash register than we think.

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