20th March 2015

The hard science behind why your customers like what they like

We like to think that we’re masters of our own choices, that we’re the ones who are in control of the decisions we make. But a growing body of research is showing that, quite often, the choices we (and our customers) make aren’t always made for the reasons we think.

Which do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?

It’s an easy question for most people; when asked, most vote for the red can over the blue one. But what if I gave you two unbranded glasses of cola, and asked you to indicate favourite. Do you think you'd be able to tell the difference? Would you be able to identify your favourite?

As it turns out, most people in blind taste tests select Pepsi over Coke, but in unbland test switch their preference to Coke. In fact, this switch is so common that it even has a name – The Pepsi Paradox.

So why the dramatic change in opinion - do people lie, pretend, or do they submit to some perceived peer pressure?

The answer is far simpler than that - when people know what brand they're drinking they simply, and genuinely,  like it (or dislike lit) more. The Pepsi Paradox was first identified in the 1970s and has been repeated several times over the past 40 years, over which time it remained a rather (for Pepsi, at least) frustrating mystery – why if the company’s product is subjectively better than its rivals in blind tests do people switch preference in unblind tests?

An answer came in 2007 when researchers repeated the experiment using fMRI scanners, which allowed them to monitor real-time activity in subjects' brains.

When the blind test was repeated in the scanner the area of the brain associated with processing taste lit up, as you'd expect. When the unblind test was repeated the same areas of the brain were activated, but so were the areas of the brain that process emotional responses.

Marketers concluded that this showed that Coke’s kumbaya, sing-it-on-a-mountain marketing was more effective than Pepsi’s individualistic, do-it-yourself, branding. Psychologists argued that the results indicated that our preferences, and our choices, are as much made on an emotional as intellectual level.

Either way, it shows that having an identifiably superior product isn’t enough – brands need to work at creating experiences that chime with their customers. These designed experiences shouldn’t be seen as ephemera that support the product, nor should they be limited to marketing, but should be seen as a core part of the product.

Other things we've been reading this week include, Nintendo's mobile transformation (finally!), Facebook's plans for your credit card, and Microsoft's volley for the Internet of Things.

  • Mobile
  • Even digital giants need to adapt to mobile
  • All change, but no change. Nintendo has two proud traditions – the first is Mario; the second is its habit of reluctantly adapting to fundamental changes in its market. So, surprisingly, this week the company announced that it will begin developing hardware and software for smart devices. If Nintendo plays its cards right mobile could add $5 billion to the company's bottom line.
  • Read More »
  • eCommerce
  • Of emoji and money
  • Facebook may have bigger plans for your credit card than allowing you to send dosh to your Messenger mates. Once the company has access to those important 16 digits it could begin offering direct sales through your Facebook feed.
  • Read More »
  • Content
  • "You can use this knowledge for evil in a sense"
  • Ela recommends this Freakonomics podcast, which looks at how ad men, such as Ogilvy, use psychology to encourage us to make certain decisions.
  • Listen »
  • Human Centered design
  • Designed to change
  • The tech industry's adoption of design isn't new, it's part of an old trend – one most young industries go through – according to Kleiner Perkins' John Maeda; General Motors hired its first VP of Design in the 1930s.
  • Read More »
  • #Though Provoking
  • You're entitled to your opinion, and little else
  • You my be entitled to an opinion, but that doesn't mean people have to respect it. For that, you need to argue a reasoned point. (via John)
  • Read More »