An exclusive first look excerpt from "The Science of Why" by Dr. David Forbes.
Editor’s Note: Today we have a rare treat for you, dear reader: a first look excerpt from an amazing book that I think you’ll enjoy immensely. The book is “The Science of Why” by my good friend Dr. David Forbes, CEO of Forbes Consulting Group (a Copernicus Company and part of the Dentsu Aegis Network). I have the privilege of serving in an Advisory role for David and have done so for many years, so this is a pretty cool deal for me too: I’ve been along for the ride as he started writing this book and have had many discussions with him on it’s evolution for the past few years. Helping to share the results with the world is exciting! David has generously given us permission to serialize a few chapters from his forthcoming book here, so we’re starting today with the beginning of Chapter 1!
What’s ‘The Science of Why” about? Here is a description to whet your appetite:
Why do consumers do what they do? What’s really behind the choices they make? What moves them, what delights them, what truly fulfills them? And how can I reach them in their heart of hearts?
Questions like these have probably vexed marketers since the days when shells and spears were the most popular Fast Moving Consumer Goods. The Science of Why will answer those challenges and change your vision of consumer marketing in the process.
In this book Dr. Forbes brings together up-to-the-minute details of the new marketplace, advances in consumer research methods, and new information on uncovering, understanding, and targeting the emotional motivations that drive the actions of every consumer, all of the time. He has created a simple, easy to understand and easy to apply model of human motivation—a kind of ‘periodic table’ of motives that identifies, organizes, and explains the nine core motivations. This matrix contains all we need to know about why consumers do the things they do the way they do them.
Dr. Forbes enhances his material with fascinating examples, anecdotes and illustrations, and supplements his narrative with real world marketing case studies. Sharing the insight, humor, and understanding he’s gained from over 30 years as a psychologist, researcher, and marketing consultant to CEO’s worldwide, he will deliver game-changing insights and tactics to help you connect the dots from consumer motivations to business bottom lines.
David will be speaking next week at IIeX North America as well as doing a book signing on site. Stop by an pick up a free copy!
By Dr. David Forbes
Marketing to Motivation
The drive to persuade and to sell is part of what makes us human. We are, if nothing else, a social and a political species. From early childhood, we seek to persuade and to influence the situations and people around us. If you’ve ever seen a child work though sixteen reasons why it’s not yet time to go home from the playground, you know exactly what I mean. Ever since we’ve had something to sell, trade, or barter, we’ve been trying to persuade someone else to buy it.
From Lascaux to Twitter
We have taken a long strange trip from the caves at Lascaux to the welter of communications in the bold new world around us today. The clutter we navigate every second far exceeds anything we could ever have imagined even just one generation ago. In fact, it’s probably not an exaggeration to characterize the great, sweeping momentum of that change—in media, in communication, in popular culture—as transformational.
A big part of that change manifests in the way we consume media and messages today. When I was a kid,in the late fifties there were three channels of TV available. Everyone watched the same three channels. We all absorbed the same messages, available for the same amount of time, night after night. At 11 p.m., the three channels signed off. It was time for the country to go to bed. And so we did.
We consumed most of our other media in collectively standardized fashion as well. Our favorite musical artists regularly released standard-length albums, complete with catchy liner notes and mesmerizing cover art. We listened to them—in real time—with our friends, from beginning to end, day in and day out, until their grooves literally wore away. Then we taped quarters to the stylus of our record players and kept right on listening.
Like everyone around us, we knew those lyrics by heart and used the most personally meaningful of them to create a soundtrack for our lives. As we faithfully listened to that music and watched those shows, we progressed through a succession of predictable life stages together. We didn’t all like the same things, of course, but we shared a basic understanding of the options available to us. We saw those options as paths to reject or embrace as we made our way in the world. They embodied the zeitgeist of the era, the social bonds that held my generational cohort together.
The world began to change for my generation when Ted Turner created a fourth option to compete with our beloved three networks. CNN and the 24-hour news cycle stormed the scene in 1980, and the world would never be the same again. Suddenly we could consume media around the clock—and suddenly it was less of a “given” that we’d all watch or hear the same things.
Of course, Turner’s revolutionary concept and the offerings of subscription television quickly evolved further still, and now these too are becoming quaint and obsolete. Faced with this tsunami of stimuli, we fall back on the psychological mechanisms that have served us well since the time of the cave drawings. Our ancient brains are filters. They continuously pay attention to some things and shut out others. They tell us when to turn a glance into a gaze; they filter out the important signals from the cacophony of noise going on around us. They tell us when to start paying attention, and they tell us when to stop.
Foremost among these filters are the emotional filters. With every stimulus that comes in as a candidate for our attention, our emotional filters almost instantaneously ask these questions: “How do I feel about this?” “Will this be useful to me?” “Should I run away from this, or should I attack it?” Our emotional brain asks these questions over and over as we move through our day—and it does so faster than the speed of light and almost always below the threshold of our consciousness. This emotional processing lets us take action in situations that matter to us, helps us take advantage of situations that can benefit us, and keeps us safe in city crosswalks just as it once kept us safe from predators on the savanna .
Our brains still start the emotional processing of every new stimulus with the amygdala and its “fight or flight or freeze” judgment. But this is just the beginning of the complex emotional filtering that occurs with every new thing we encounter. Our emotional brain evaluates the emotional significance of what our senses bring to our attention. At this point, our core motivations—the ones we’ll be exploring in this book—come into full play. The question about “Will this be useful; can this help me out?” are answered foremost by reference to the core motivational forces that drive us all. These questions become “Could this represent a chance to fulfill any of my aspirational yearnings?” or “Might it give me a chance to overcome some of the frustrations that nag me as I move through my life?”
If a particular stimulus passes the threshold of emotional relevance, then we move on to the intellectual evaluations that will help us take best advantage of the opportunity—and get the most emotionally fulfilling outcome: “Should I react to this now or later?” “Will this go well with what I’m doing at the moment, or will taking advantage of it require a change of plan?” All these and many more intellectual questions need answers before we fully formulate how we will respond to a new situation that our senses present to us.
As we perform these evaluations, in thousandths of a second, we determine whether what we perceive represents something we feel good—or bad—about and whether it gives us an opportunity to change our lives for the better. And so it is that the very first questions we will ask are linked to the aspirations and frustrations we carry along with us as we move through life. These psychological motivations not only drive what we do but literally form a set of lenses through which we perceive the world around us.
Marketers widely complain about the clutter of messages in the marketplace today, but that’s really just the half of it. The clutter of marketing messages is only a subset of the broader clutter of stimuli that surround us in the world in which we now live. That’s why marketing messages—if they are to stand any chance of gaining access to our brains—must first pass through our emotional filters by communicating immediately and on a visceral level. They must be redolent with the promise of positive emotional experience. And they must arouse one of our core emotional motivations. Otherwise the print ad will lose out to the article on the facing page or to the child in the room asking about breakfast. The television advertisement will lose out to the vase of flowers that needs watering or to the rumbling of our stomachs that signals it’s snack time. The billboard advertisement may lose out to the attractive person passing in front of us or to the cute kid in the stroller just ahead. Likewise, the pop-up ad may lose out to the video link. And so it goes with every stimulus we encounter. The process of making these almost continuous emotional evaluations is largely instinctive – a function that is as old as or older than our first recorded steps toward motivation and persuasion in those “advertorials” on the ancient cave walls.
A Brief History of the Marketplace
Starting with trading beads like those discovered in the earliest human cave dwellings, the market has both created and answered consumers’ needs for products and services. Since those first primitive exchanges, “manufacturers” have scrambled to improve their products and to invent new ones at a dizzying pace, always chasing the signals and signs of what people want. Of course, unlocking the secrets behind what consumers really want is the province of motivational theory and emotional research—a journey we’re just beginning.
We can trace the early beginnings of marketing as we now practice it in the business world back to the beginning of the agricultural revolution. In the eons before we learned sedentary agriculture and animal husbandry, humans were nomadic, living hand to mouth and always engaged in the pursuit of food, safety, shelter, and the primal directive to reproduce.
In those early days, staying alive took up all of our time and all of our energy—calorically, physically, mentally, emotionally, and even culturally. In fact, before we invented cooking food over a fire, we literally spent more than half of our day just chewing our food.
We didn’t have the luxury of downtime to drive production, consumption, and ownership, and we didn’t yet have permanent homes to fill with the things we cherished. Only after our basic physiological needs were met did we begin to have the freedom to consider less urgent concerns. Only then did we become able to dream of and build a better life.
Through a series of pivotal developments, the agricultural revolution took hold, allowing members of those nomadic groups to put down literal and metaphorical roots. Over the course of many generations—again, in terms of evolution, just the blink of an eye—we became experts in planting and harvesting food and inventing and using tools. Cereals and grains were among our first domesticated crops. Gourds were reimagined as bowls. We kept our own animals as helpers and tamed them for use as food (like cattle and pigs and other livestock), as providers of commodities like wool (provided by sheep and llamas), transportation (horses, mules, camels, and elephants), protection (dogs), and eventually as companions.. We made pottery and learned food preservation techniques. At last, we became comfortable enough to feed our minds as well as our bellies. And all of this steadily increased our capacity to look beyond our physical selves and our immediate needs to imagine and yearn for a veritable host of ways we could improve our lives and make ourselves happier.
As we developed permanent homes, they became spaces we could improve over time, places our children could live and play in , and places to protect us, to house our possessions, and to preserve our legacies. We filled them with items of necessity, to be sure, but also with things that meant something to us on emotional and spiritual levels. As the significance of these items grew, we began to treasure them and to struggle to preserve them.
Not too far into this process, the day came when we found ourselves with significant excess time and excess provisions. This left us with the building blocks of the first “products” we could now trade with our neighbors, who were also newly able to produce more than they needed to survive. As time passed we devised methods to produce more and better products—sturdier shoes, clothes that fit and felt better, and soap that really got things clean. Meanwhile, our neighbors were also hard at work and devised systems and innovations that let them produce their products at a higher quality as well. And in this freest of free markets there were naturally redundancies in what everyone was making, and that’s what gave rise to competition.
This also led to the beginning of marketing (“Hey, look,” said John, “my soap is better than the other guys’!”). As insights, inventions, and new products sprang up to populate the marketplace, new options only succeeded over competing ones if they delivered a better way (or the perception of a better way) to improve the lives of the people who bought them. That is, to prevail in the market, products and services had to possess a compelling ability either to bring consumers closer to their aspirations and hopes or to help them move farther from their frustrations and fears.
The idea of “branding” began to emerge, as specialization, innovation, and word-of-mouth endorsements propelled generations of fortunate craftsmen to develop the reputation for making the best shoes (or clothes or soap) possible. Whole neighborhoods and whole villages became expert in making a small number of products.
For many generations at the beginning of our marketplace culture, we did business with our neighbors and friends in our own general neighborhood of small villages where people were well acquainted with each other. Most of those exchanges occurred in homes or commons. We knew the quality of products because we intimately knew the producers and the users of them, and we had known their parents and clan for all our lives. In this society of consumers and producers, reputations were made and lost on the basis of how well our products performed; everyone knew firsthand or heard from trusted friends and neighbors that John’s (and John’s son’s) soaps, for example, really worked.
As increasingly efficient methods of manufacturing evolved, a growing surplus of goods outstripped the needs of people living within the boundaries of the known neighborhood area. Marketers needed ways to increase their reach. This gave rise to another game-changing shift.
Growing the marketplace beyond the local neighborhood of villages and engaging in trade with more distant and larger audiences ushered in a new era of sales-driven business practices as we looked for new ways to compete. To succeed we had to motivate new consumers to buy our products—customers that we’d never seen or met and who did not know us and our goods at all. To reach consumers at a distance beyond word-of-mouth reputation it became necessary to broadcast, and that’s how product advertising was born – and the business of consumer persuasion began..
The Evolution of Motivational Marketing
These early forays into the art of persuasion still focused on the reputation of the individual or the craftsmen. And presentation of the products from these master craftsmen focused on the functional benefits, and a reputation for quality and value was everything.
But with a steadily increasing barrage of products, manufacturers, and advertisers working for them, it quickly became apparent that many excellent brands of almost any product type were available. Faced with the inability to compete simply on quality and value, manufacturers needed a way to persuade their customers to buy their brand even without an obvious or provable advantage.
Meanwhile, inventors and entrepreneurs used their brainpower to create new products that had never existed before, and they needed to create a need in consumers’ minds where there previously had been none. In these new marketplace contexts, the idea of “higher-order benefits” and the activity of “brand positioning” became an inexorable part of global commerce. Thus, a manufacturer of products competing with other brands of equal quality and value could appeal to his long and caring relationship with customers (“Johnson’s Soap—helping you stay fresh since 1892”), an example of the nurturance motivation in action (see chapter 13), or he could talk about his brand as “the one to trust” if a security motivation (see chapter 4) was more appropriate. And for the entrepreneur with the previously unknown product, new rhetoric aimed at the marketplace identified the “unmet need” as a topic of advertising: “Wouldn’t you love to stop struggling with the buttons on your pants? Now there’s the zipper!” In all of these cases, consumers first needed to be sold on what was lacking in their lives and then had to be convinced that their life would be much better if they had the missing “it.” All of these changes in how brands were presented to consumers and especially the rise of references to “higher order benefits” in positioning and new product advertising created a new need for businesspeople to think about their consumers’ lives by looking at the big picture. They had to focus on what people “really” needed or wanted and identify the kinds of product promises that might truly motivate them at their emotional core. Brand marketers who had until then just talked about products needed to start talking about how consumers might feel if they used a particular brand or tried a particular new product and how the item might change their lives for the better. The need then arose for marketers to get to know consumers and their motivations in a whole new way.
The Medium and the Message
At the same time these changes in the landscape of production and promotion were happening, the ways to get the message out to the masses changed as well. Word of mouth was the dominant form of advertising in the earliest marketplaces, even after Gutenberg rolled out his printing machine and produced the first printed Bible in 1455.
And word of mouth worked. As we travelled, we spread the word to the people we encountered that Johnson’s soap was indeed the best in the world. Later, merchants hired dedicated salespeople who travelled to consumers and attempted to sell them their products. The job of the traveling salesman, the Fuller Brush man, and the Avon lady started there.
Over time, as people continued to migrate to cities, everyone began to have access to public notices and newspapers. These papers in turn became cheaper, appeared more frequently, and became accessible to all. Very slowly, literacy rates improved, and the public no longer had to wait for information to come from an educated minority who consumed it first. As literacy and readership of media grew, the media itself transformed, and illustrations and the first grainy photographs appeared to communicate more vividly (and one hoped persuasively) the indescribable qualities of products – and the feelings consumers could get from using them — that words alone could not do justice to.
Remarkably quickly then, innovations in printing and transportation meant that newspapers could be delivered almost anywhere quickly and reliably. And inside each of those issues, tucked between the news and the opinions, were messages about products. The era of print advertising had arrived.
Thus, changes in methods and capabilities of production, development of new modes of distribution, and transformation in the technologies of communication all came together to radically transform the little village marketplace where John’s son had built his shop (and where the demand for his soap had grown to a point where his wife kicked the business out of the house). National product brands became the new marketplace norm, and products were advertised to national audiences by way of sophisticated print media with national reach. The need to talk about products evolved into its own special discipline as people who were exceptionally clever at devising persuasive ideas joined with people equally clever with words and other people equally creative at design. Together, they put themselves to work creating messages for multiple companies and product brands. Advertising agencies emerged as businesses in their own right, and brought with them their own culture, jargon, and values. And eventually, consumer research came into being, and experts in this new science developed ways of learning more about consumers and the effectiveness of messages designed to reach and persuade them. Not coincidentally, these first forays into the science of consumer behavior were called motivational research. From the very beginning, there has been an (unfocused) awareness that consumer activity began with the motivation to imagine, try, and buy.
Consumer Motivation and the American Dream
As people returned from the Second World War, changes in the worldview of the average household began to take place that would revolutionize consumer culture. Class barriers were breaking down among soldiers who had been united in the fight for freedom, and economic status became defined by what one could afford to buy instead of by inherited social class. And we rapidly began to develop a fantastic material culture for consumers: marvels of engineering (television, the automatic transmission!) and miracles of “Better Living Through Chemistry” (plastics!) that promised continuous changes for the better in our lives. The ideal of the American Dream became a dominant life aspirations not just in the United States but around the Western world, based on the conviction that we were entitled to a better life than our parents had, namely, a life filled with opportunity and options. Soldiers returning from war were often given loans that put more families into homes of their own. College tuition was provided for every veteran who could gain admittance, and levels of education and upward mobility led to the creation of a new culture focused on getting ahead in life.
This vision of ever expanding possibilities for progress took hold of our imagination, and the ideal of living up to our dreams and outstripping the successes of our parents took hold. The ambition to “keep up with the Joneses” became widespread, and a culture of material success blossomed. Almost all of us came to feel sure that with the requisite Buick in the driveway, the washing machine, and the new television set we could be really happy.
By this point, almost all of us could read and newspapers arrived daily at our doors. Radios sat in the living rooms of every home, and televisions were rapidly entering most homes. Electricity was no longer just about light. We wanted electric appliances to improve the quality of our lives, to amuse, distract, and enlighten us.
At the same time as this “perfect storm” of events that brought us into the modern age of consumer culture and that transformed the marketing world, the largest and most sweeping population surge in history took place. A single age group that was to dominate the landscape for decades was born in the demographic earthquake we now know as the baby boom.
This generation became the first to grow up completely under the sway of omnipresent communication, continuous innovation, and relentless consumerism. When the baby boomers were children, TV dinners, fast-food restaurants, and the commuter lifestyle of suburbia shaped a new perspective on domestic life. As adolescents, baby boomers embraced snack foods and soft drinks and changed the way we fed ourselves. College years of war protests and rock and roll changed the mores of our social lives. Young, upwardly mobile boomer yuppies took on Wall Street, acquired luxury cars and created the condo. Today, as retirees, they’re driving a revolution in leisure activities and retirement planning. The boomer generation was the first generation that was thoroughly marketed to, and the ways they behaved in this ever attentive marketplace reshaped the world as we know it today.
The process will continue with coming generations. While none of them may have quite the impact of the first real market-driving generation, each forthcoming generation — their values and attitudes, their behaviors and styles, and the needs and motivations linked to these will continue to reshape the culture as marketers continuously scurry to adapt to and adopt the perspective of emerging consumers.
And through all of this, success in the world of business will continue to depend on the ability to understand the psychological big picture of consumers’ wants and needs, their deep emotional motivations—and the capacity to translate these insights into messages about how products can change the experience of living for the better.
1. One impact of our “connected” revolution is that we are engulfed in media stimuli whose complexity outstrips the processing capacity of our brains.
2. This complexity makes it necessary for us to filter incoming stimuli to pay attention to those that promise to be most important or meaningful to us. The most powerful of these filters focus on emotional relevance.
3. The realities of consumer filtering and the complex and crowded information marketplace set a high standard for effective consumer communication—and much of what is out there will simply not get through to consumers.
4. For marketing messages to penetrate the media cacophony, they must make it past consumers’ perceptual filters.
5. The surest way to do this is to appeal to the consumers’strongest emotions –i.e., their dominant psychological motivations.