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The world is changing and customer behavior too

Understanding the customer is a key part of a brand’s marketing strategy. Before the implementation of a strategy, it is important to collect the requests and expectations of the latter to better target its actions. The analysis of consumer behavior (going from customer to consumer without explanation) is done in a multidisciplinary way to allow the company to adapt to this behavior, or even anticipate it. Economics, psychology, sociology and anthropology are the main approaches used. His contribution contributes as much to strategic thinking as to operational marketing.

Since the early 2000s, we even talk about behavioral economics thanks to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize in economics for his theory of prospects showing that humans do not always behave rationally in the face of the risks of gains or losses. .

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His book, “System 1, System 2”, describes our mental functioning as being the result of the dialogue between two systems of thought: the “system 1”, fast and intuitive (the one that mobilizes when we have to recognize an emotion expressed on a face , for example), and the slower, more rational “system 2” (the one we use to calculate the product of 17 by 24). These two systems cohabit permanently, system 1 making most of the day-to-day decisions, system 2 contenting itself with monitoring the first and intervening when something unusual occurs. Everyone has their own part of the job. The problem is that this division of roles is often found to be at fault when we are rational, which is not the case all the time. This work explains why Dr. Kahneman gradually became very interested in positive psychology, emphasizing how “attention is the key to everything”. If we were able to put our attention where it is needed, when it is needed, for the time it takes, we could savor our moments of happiness much more, and only focus on our moments of pain to draw information and necessary decisions, without ruminating on them. We could thus lead our existence towards more happiness and fewer errors… [1]

Phineas Gage

Others like Antonio Damasio, brings an original vision on the way in which emotions manifest themselves in the close interrelationships maintained by the body and the brain in the perception of objects. Based on the case study “Phinéas Gage”, the author proposes to show how emotions allow us to adapt to the environment and why “for good and bad” they are part of reason. (contrary to what a certain classical Cartesian culture indicates, hence the evocative title of the book). Phineas Gage worked in the construction of railroads in the American West in the last century. Following an explosives accident, a crowbar went through his skull. Gage miraculously emerged alive from this tragedy, but with a radical change in personality: the man, who was appreciated and respected before the accident, became, after it, asocial and very poorly skilled in his life choices. By studying the neuropsychological consequences of Gage’s brain damage, it appears that he had lost respect for social conventions and previously learned moral rules, even though neither fundamental intellectual functions nor language seemed to be compromised. For Damasio, the “Gage case” ideally illustrates how the lesion of part of the prefrontal region (ventromedial) significantly disturbs emotionality, this type of attack having the consequences of abolishing the ability to properly program one’s actions. in the future, to behave skilfully according to previously learned social rules and finally to make choices likely to be more advantageous for one’s survival. Thus, thanks to the contribution of neuropathology, we can support the idea that the brain has the characteristics of making it possible to anticipate the future and to form action plans, this by relying on the orchestration end of emotion. Indeed, emotion would give weight to the different future solutions in terms of survival and self-interest, relying on the factual emotional marking acquired by the person and on the innate emotional marking of his species. To support his general demonstration, Damasio advances, in the first part of his book, that the neural circuits, which are the basis of the perception of emotions, are located in the limbic system, but also in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex, while as much as in the regions of the brain where the signals coming from the body are projected and integrated. In a second part, the author attempts to show that the perception of emotions would correspond to sensory information coming from a certain part of the body landscape, at a time t. The juxtaposition of this state to a non-corporeal event, the perception of an external object for example, would then cover this event with a good or bad “quality” according to the information coming from the body: the capacity to perceive emotions representing a mechanism for evaluating the quality of relations between the organism and objects (concrete or abstract). A cognitive value would therefore be attributed to emotions, according to this so-called “somatic means” theory. Finally, in the third part of the work, Damasio ends his demonstration by specifying how the body provides a fundamental content to mental representations. This constitutes the frame of reference of our representation of the world, of our relationship to it: the fundamental representations of the body in the process of acting form a stable spatial and temporal framework, on which the other representations could be based. Thus, the fact of existing would precede that of thinking, contrary to what Cartesian thought indicates.

The research group of the Institute of Neurophysiology at the University of Parma, led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, made an extraordinary discovery in the early 1990s for the understanding of mental processes: that of “mirror” neurons. The mirror neurons, initially detected in the pre-motor cortex of macaques, activate when finalized actions are executed, but also when we observe the same actions executed by others (obviously, in this second situation, the inhibition of the motor act is associated). Successive neurophysiological studies based on different experimental methods have demonstrated that the human brain is also endowed with a system of mirror neurons located in the parietal and pre-motor cortical regions, with two fundamental functions: controlling the execution of actions and above all , to allow understanding. Learning and understanding the actions of others is therefore done through a process of imitation.

Mirror neurons

Moreover, experimental results indicate that the same chains of mirror neurons are involved not only in the recognition of the action of the other, but also in the “why” of the action, i.e. in the intention that motivated it. These “cognitive” processes are not simply linked together (as classical cognitive science asserts), but are structured on the basis of circuits which make “as if it is not possible to understand the meaning and intentions of the other in what he does only if we imitate and reproduce his action in our body”.[2]

“Economics would have much to gain from being based on the actual behavior of people, not their supposed behavior.” This is one of Dan Ariely’s quotes in his book “C’est (vraiment) moi qui decide”, a French translation of “Predictably irrational, the hidden forces that shape our decisions”. Our behavior is irrational, but it is often predictive. Most economic models assume a rational behavior of the different actors, in particular of the human being (as a consumer for example). It is assumed that faced with different alternatives, he will choose the one which is objectively the most favorable for him, the one which minimizes his costs, which maximizes his profits, the chances of achieving his objectives. Economic models are based on these assumptions (in particular, the famous law of supply and demand). We ourselves prefer to see ourselves as “rational agents” rather than fallible human beings, and rationalize all our choices a posteriori. The reality, however, is quite different. We regularly make absurd decisions, or seemingly absurd ones, when we acquire property (small or large), when we change jobs, when we embark on sentimental relationships.

Dan Ariely, It's (really) me who decides

The issues addressed have all been the subject of experiments, tests (and the author describes in detail the conditions, sometimes very amusing, of the implementation). Among the topics discussed are: how we judge the prices of objects not in absolute terms, but relative to reference prices – anchors – that clever marketing campaigns will succeed in suggesting to us, and that it will therefore be difficult for us to give up; how gratuity exerts an emotional pull on us, leading us to irrational choices; the greater effectiveness of a placebo drug when its price is high; the balance between social norms and market norms (for example, the fact of being paid takes away, under certain conditions, part of the pleasure of doing something); the role of the “excitement” factor which leads us to behave opposite to what we had agreed in ourselves (the experimental implementation deserves the reading); the systematic overestimation of the value of the goods we own; self-persuasion (how overly high expectations make us see and remember reality differently from what it was); the propensity of all individuals to engage in dishonest behavior when conditions present themselves; the tendency to postpone activities that can be delayed until the next day, even if it is irrational to do so… So many questions addressed in a lively and amusing way.

Behavioral economics invites us to revise economic models by taking into account the fact that economic agents, humans in particular, are not rational agents who optimize their decisions in the light of their objectives. One of the author’s conclusions, from the perspective of a society implementing – in a rational way – laws and regulatory frameworks aimed at objectively protecting the collective interest, is that it is sometimes necessary to make greater use of regulation, the imposition of modes of behavior (in economics or public health, for example).

And finally, we cannot conclude this article on customer behavior without mentioning Richard H. Thaler, the new Nobel laureate in economics, and his work on Nudges.

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The nudge, literally the “boost”, helps the irrational beings that we are to make decisions. Because according to the theoreticians of behavioral economics, of which Richard H. Thaler is now the herald, the homo-economicus does not exist. On the contrary, all decision-making is influenced by “cognitive biases” such as the environment, emotions, instinct… In his 2008 book, “Nudge, the gentle method to inspire good decision-making”, co-authored with Cass R. Sustein, the researcher develops the idea of a paternalism “which does not prohibit anything or restrict anyone’s options”, but which greatly influences.

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The academic speaks of “mental accounting” to explain how individuals “simplify their financial decision-making” by focusing in particular on “the impact of each individual decision rather than the overall effect”, analyzes the academy. . “It also showed how much loss aversion can explain why individuals place greater value on something if they own it than if they don’t,” the Royal Swedish Academy recently reported.

SNCF is experimenting with the “nudge” technique to reduce incivility

The SNCF has launched in Ile-de-France eleven experiments inspired by the theory of “nudge”, literally a “nudge” or “boost”.

Some see it as a form of mental manipulation, in any case a way of influencing behavior. The SNCF has launched in Ile-de-France eleven experiments inspired by the theory of “nudge”, literally a “nudge” or “boost”.

The most famous example of this technique is that of a fake fly painted on the bottom of urinals at the airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Since this development, there has been an 80% reduction in cleaning expenses in the men’s toilets. Why ? Simply because the image of the animal implicitly encouraged users to aim more accurately.

Encouraging results

Enough to convince the SNCF to test this method against incivility. No quantified objective but a declared desire to modify the bad behavior of certain travelers, which today would be the cause of around 20% of delays or disruptions in public transport in Ile-de-France. And rather than direct repression, the idea is therefore to use trickery, as in the underground tunnel of a station, where many pedestrians did not respect the signs.

“Instead of putting a forbidden direction which gives the idea that we don’t have the right to go there but that there is a way, we put a dead end sign. We have reduced the bad sense of use on one of our undergrounds by 50%.

Alain Krakovitch, general manager of SNCF Transilien at Franceinfo

The SNCF also tries to encourage travelers to validate their ticket, even when the automatic doors are broken and let everyone pass. “We have set up signage with trees above the validators which shows that each time we validate, we are going to plant a tree. We accompany the gesture of validation with an environmental gesture which has therefore encouraged people , in Aulnay for example, to validate their Navigo pass much more”, reports Alain Krakovitch again. Officially, these are just simple experiments, limited for the moment to Ile-de-France. But the SNCF should obviously seek to generalize soon those which meet the best results.

Mental manipulation?

Michel Badoc is professor emeritus at HEC, specialist in neuroscience. For him, the development of “nudges” corresponds first to an observation. “Everyone believed that people were rational and in fact we find that the brain, in a lot of cases, makes automatic decisions, outside of consciousness and outside of rationality. Experts in the United States show us by example that 70% to 80% of purchases are irrational”, he underlines.

“In fact, we try to make the brain work outside of any consciousness on things that it perceives automatically, hence the place, even if we don’t like to hear this word, of the subliminal aspect which allows us to give the brain information, which may even be false information but which it perceives as real”.

Michel Badoc, neuroscience specialist at Franceinfo

If these techniques can then indeed be similar to manipulation, Michel Badoc raises an essential point according to him: “I think that manipulation does not come from the technique, it depends above all on the purpose for which it is used. There is has rules that exist”, recalls the specialist, even if he recognizes that completely prohibiting the subliminal would be a little difficult. “The smile of a saleswoman, for example, is subliminal and will sell a lot more than if she sulks,” he notes.

Customer behavior changes over time perhaps because of us and the array of advertising that is thrown into the eyes of these consumers every day. The behavior changes to better rise, to feel different and to extricate itself from this advertising world to become again a full-fledged human being to whom the brand speaks individually.

[1] D.Kahneman, System 1, system 2: The two speeds of thought, Flammarion, 2012

[2] Mirror neurons – Giacomo Rizzolatti, Corrado Sinigaglia – Odile Jacob – 2011

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