Human Mind’s are insecure



Who was it that said  ‘Man is Rational animal’? It is at best an extremely incomplete description. Humans are emotional beings. They are also largely insecure and risk averse.

One of the problems of Market Research is that the stated reasons of customers for purchasing a product are very different from the actual reasons. In some cases, the customer knows the real reason for purchasing a product by gives a different answer. And sometimes the customer doesn’t know precisely why she purchased a particular product.

One thing that I have noticed is that stated reasons are more rational or logical and the real reasons are more emotional. After all, we all like to show that we are smart and rational individuals – even when we are not.

Q: Sir, Why did you choose bike X?

A: The Torque to weight ratio is just perfect. It has a 5 speed integrated transmission and a y fork suspension.

Real Reason: The blue bike looks sexy and might attract the girls.

Lets look at some of the reasons why people buy products

Because other’s buy it

People copy what they see. Once a new product has certain number of customers (called early adopters), it achieves critical mass and gains momentum as more and more customers buy the product. In other words it becomes fashionable.

That’s how the iPod became a cult hit. After the early adopters picked up the product and wore them around (note the distinctive white earphones – no accident that) other began to clamor for IPods.

Buying a well-known popular brand reduces the perceived risk of the customer. The risk that it might not work, or that he might have wasted money or the risk that he might be considered stupid by people around him (social risk)

Lessons for Marketing Managers

Use testimonials of people who have successfully used the product. Testimonials can be from celebrities or from ordinary people. Celebrity testimonials are watched by more people but may be less believable than ordinary people.

Create the Bandwagon effect. If your product is no 1 or is the fastest growing in its category say it. It will help convince the risk averse.

Human Minds are resistant to change

Kellogg’s is the world leader in breakfast cereals, cornflakes etc. They launched its products in India in September 1994 about the time I passed out of Engineering. The product positioning was the same ‘Healthy breakfast’. For Indians of course breakfast means either Parathas or Loch or Dosa depending on which part of the country you are from.

Today 17 years later, a vast majority of Indians still eat Maratha, Dosa etc. The total breakfast cereal market in India is only 400 Crores. And Kellogg’s has approximately 50% market share i.e. about 200 Crore. Clearly it shows that the vast majority of 100 Crore Indians have not changed their breakfast habits. And the biggest success stories have been Chocos and Frosties – products aimed at children who are more willing to try new things – especially if it comes out of boxes with cartoons on them.

Why is so difficult to change minds?

Human minds are based on belief systems. Ideally such belief systems are based on information and when new information is received, the beliefs should change. But this rarely happens. Information that doesn’t suit your beliefs is either ignored (you do not notice it) or rejected.

A BJP supporter will notice and accept news that is pro BJP while ignoring or explaining away any news that is anti BJP.

So to change a customer’s behavior you need to change her attitude and to change her attitude you need to change the beliefs on which such attitudes are best. And you expect to change that with a 30 second TV Ad. All the best.

When Parents can’t change their kid’s minds, nor can wives change their husbands, Marketing has no realistic chance.




Written by –

Rahul Reddy

Director Vanguard Business School


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