10.999.960 vs. 40: the superiority of our subconscious

Why Trump winning the 2016 presidential election wasn’t that big a surprise, and why many marketing campaigns have absolutely no chance of ever reaching their objectives.

Can you think of any sound businessperson who’d bet on the odds 40 against 10.999.960? When it comes to marketing investments, a surprising amount of decision makers actually do. They do so by carefully constructing marketing messaging that logically explains why you should buy their product.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right? We like the idea of a purchase making sense.

The problem is that we consumers rarely listen to sense.

The scientific background:

Every second our brains are bombarded with a vast variety of stimuli: sounds, images, smells, sensations, tastes, etc. By conservative estimates, we receive around 11 million stimuli each and every second. Out of those 11.000.000 stimuli, our conscious is capable of processing about 40. The remaining 10.999.960 are processed by the subconscious.

The brain receives 11 million stimuli per second:
40 are processed by the conscious
10.999.960 are processed by the subconscious

When a potential customer is presented with your marketing message, they are basically presented with a carefully selected array of stimuli. When you are bringing a new product to the market, it is difficult not to get caught up in all the features that make this product superior: technology, ease of use, availability, etc. However, this type of logical information is processed by the conscious, and focusing on this type of information thus limits the impact of your marketing communication.

“But it’s the conscious making the decisions, so that’s what I want to communicate to”

Have you ever thought about how many decisions you make during the day? Thousands. Now, how many decisions do you remember evaluating before making them? …

Most of our decisions are automated and completely controlled by the subconscious. Many decisions are initially made by the subconscious, then validated by the conscious. None of our decisions are completely controlled by the conscious.

The subconscious is not only dominant, it’s very effective. The subconscious is programmed to make fast, simple decisions by drawing on feelings, past experiences, and associations stored in our memory. The decisions made by the subconscious are either or, it’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, there’s no ‘maybe’ or ‘let me think about it’. This helps us get through the day without spending hours in the bread aisle in the supermarket, actively evaluating which brand to choose. Our subconscious already made that decision, saving us precious time and energy.

The subconscious unlocks the conscious

To be effective, marketing communication loaded with facts (and thus aimed at the conscious), needs its audience to be concentrated and highly engaged. But in a world of communication overload, we will rarely spend our precious concentration on an unknown product. This is where many marketing campaigns fall short. If you want to earn you audience’s concentration, you have to get their subconscious on board first. Once our subconscious is triggered, we are more likely to engage in conscious processing of information.

One of the most common (and most effective) ways of doing so, is to speak to the feelings of your audience. We are never not emotional, and we are never not receptive to emotional communication.

This is exactly what the 2016 Trump campaign did. They spoke to their audience’s most primal emotion – fear. Fear is our most powerful emotion. Fear is instinct; it’s the basis of the survival of our species. The Hillary campaign mainly bet on facts and conscious decision-making.

The odds? 10.999.960 to 40 in Trump’s favour.

Now, this example is of course exaggerated. Many other factors influenced this election and the decision-making of the American voters – such complex matters can not realistically be simplified in this way.

The purpose of this example however, is to demonstrate the importance of wooing the subconscious if you want the consumers’ decision-making to work in your favour. Whether your product is B2C or B2B, your customer is human, and their decision-making will be influenced by the subconscious. How effective your conscious-aimed communication will be, depends on how well you manage the subconscious triggers.

In other words, make sure the odds are in your favour.

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Isabelle

Isabelle

Hi, I’m Isabelle! I’m a consumer-focused communication strategist. That means that I use my extensive knowledge of how people think and behave as the base upon which I create efficient branding and communication. My areas of expertise are: thought leadership creation, brand identity and storytelling, cross-cultural communication, and online brand presence.
I'm based in Europe.

Isabelle

Isabelle

Hi, I’m Isabelle! I’m a consumer-focused communication strategist. That means that I use my extensive knowledge of how people think and behave as the base upon which I create efficient branding and communication. My areas of expertise are: thought leadership creation, brand identity and storytelling, cross-cultural communication, and online presence.

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