Marketing To The Brain’s Rational Mode & More News Headlines


What percentage of cars produced in the United States currently come with a manual stick shift transmission? About 1 percent. It makes sense. Why think when you don’t have to? This mentality is not unique to the auto industry. It is directly analogous to how the brain works regarding decision-making.

The brain does not want to think unless it has to make a decision. Unlike cars, humans have situations where we need to stop and think through our steps in manual mode. Neuroscientist Daniel Kahneman dubbed the manual mode System 2. It is paramount for marketers to understand System 2, its impact on consumer behavior, and how to calibrate tactics accordingly.

Most of the time, the brain prefers to go with the flow. So it cruises along in automatic mode, what Kahneman calls System 1. System 1 is the quick, intuitive way of making decisions which is the exact opposite of System 2.

But there are times when exerting the mental energy to take manual control is necessary, which is where System 2 is needed. It happens in real life all the time. Take this scenario, for example. Assume you grew up speaking only one language, English, and you find yourself traveling to a non-English speaking country. Imagine coming across a local person asking you something in the native tongue. It will be automatic for you to respond in English the first few times. Even if you are proficient in other languages, the initial response for the first few instances is likely in English before adjusting over time.

This is because your brain prefers System 1 and is reluctant to switch to System 2. As a result, you have to pause, proactively decide to think deeply about something, and not just “go with the flow.” In other words, your System 1 needs to be overridden by your slow and deliberative System 2.

It is not as simple as it sounds to switch to System 2. The switch does not happen automatically; it must be done manually. You have to literally fight off the impulse to go with the System 1 response. You must fight off the instinct to speak in your native language. Exerting control is like being a salmon swimming upstream. Everything is pushing you in the direction of System 1, and you’re forcing yourself to go against it. Impulsive decision-making is a result of System 1, and your armor against impulse is System 2.

For consumers, certain purchases naturally require analysis and deliberate thought. This is where marketers should optimize for System 2. In general, System 2 helps with big-ticket purchases or complex products which require multiple buy-ins. Think about shopping for auto insurance, a new home, office space, a cloud service for your employees, a new account software, or CRM for your company. No one ever signs a three-million-dollar SalesForce contract on a whim. As marketers, the first step is to review your products. Evaluate which of your products could be a System 2 product.

Next, evaluate the communication around said products. Is the communication speaking to the reactive, quick, and emotional System 1? Or is the communication speaking to the rational, deliberate, and logical System 2? It should be the latter. The goal with System 2 products is to market them by slowing the consumers down. Therefore, marketing tactics should provide objective reasons to justify the purchase. Typical forms of System 2 marketing include white papers, reviews, testimonials, case studies, etc.

Unlike a car’s stick shift transmission, marketers cannot engineer their way out of a manual mode. Instead, they must speak the language of logic, reason, and analysis to progress the consumer towards a purchase.

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