Art & Commerce: Mind Over Matter

Account planners have been evolving for some time, and like many other species, they come in seemingly infinite varieties. Today’s planners search for a sentience with the audience. The way to achieve that is through learning and, ultimately, gaining a better understanding of the nature of the beast.

There are four areas of learning in which planners need to be well informed: brain and mind sciences, evolutionary sciences, cultural an thro pology and archetype research.

Recent discoveries in brain science provide new insights into the way humans think and make decisions, changing what we thought we knew about ourselves—including the reliability of what we say about our motives and intentions.

Modern planners factor in changes in values and attitudes that happen naturally across a person’s life span. They also consider the major changes in thinking that happen with age but that few of us realize are happening as the changes take place. Knowledge of these changes is necessary to fully understand consumer behavior.

Planners understand that emotion plays the major role in decisions in which we have a personal stake in the outcome. Reason can only help us analyze our choices and identify options. Often we bypass reason altogether when making decisions based on past experience. Famed neurologist Antonio Damasio refers to our past experiences as “somatic markers.” You and I call them “hot buttons.” These mental shortcuts are most likely the biological basis of intuition. And because they happen unconsciously, they tend not to surface in traditional research. If you’re only concerned with the conscious mind, you’ve already missed the vital part of the decision-making process.

Today’s planners take an anthropological approach to learning about consumers by using ethnographic research techniques. Ethnography involves observation and involvement with natives in their habitats. Ethnographic planners look for subtle but crucial differences among people’s values and beliefs and how they integrate such influences as cohort effect into their behavior.

Where cultural anthropology looks at what makes people different from one another, archetype research is about identifying the emotional drivers that are common among people, from those shared by people in the same season of life to those shared across the entire species.

Identifying a match between an archetype and a brand involves discovering and defining the emotional nature of relationships between people and brands that lies in the collective unconscious. That consumers attribute human characteristics to brands is not new. But it is apparent from examining the advertising scene that, regardless of whether a brand personality was defined in a creative brief, few brands succeed in creating emotional value for people.

Planning embraces these ideas in a heuristic approach to understanding a client’s customers in ways they don’t even understand themselves. In these conditions, planners can bring to their colleagues and clients true insight that will, more often than not, result in solutions that consistently drive results.