Oct 30 2020

Why customers can (not) say what they want

Everyone wants sustainable furniture, when asked. But do they really, when it comes to spending (more) money? The agency Beyond Reason uses neuroscientific methods to find out which processes in a consumer's brain influence actuall purchase decisions. This knowledge can be used for the marketing of companies or brands. We spoke to Olivier Tjon, co-founder of Beyond Reason.

If I want to know my customers, I just ask them a few questions. Right or wrong? 

The agency Beyond Reason uses neuroscientific methods to find out which processes in a consumer's brain influence purchase decisions. This knowledge can be used for the marketing of companies or brands. We spoke to Olivier Tjon, co-founder of Beyond Reason.It is not that simple. Everyone who has done a bit of market research has experienced that there is a gap between what people say and do, between what they express and what they feel. Often, the gap is so wide that it becomes a serious risk.  

Why is there a discrepancy between what we want and what we do? 

It is caused by the simple but inconvenient truth that human behaviour, our choices, preferences and decisions -including our purchase decisions, are mainly controlled by sub-conscious or implicit brain processes. Deliberate conscious reasoning only plays a minor role. When you interview or survey people, you expect them to consciously report what goes on in the sub-conscious part of their brain -that is a bit too much to ask. 

Is your point that it is totally useless to interview consumers? 

No, not at all. Our job will always be about people. What people say will always matter -a lot. But science has learned us that we have two voices or two systems in our head. The essence of neuro-marketing is to listen to both and to find the right balance between them. This is why we are in favour of the combination between traditional ‘explicit’ and innovative ‘implicit’ methods. 

Do you think that neuro-marketing makes sense for furniture manufacturers and design brands? 

Also in this category, business success depends on the capacity to influence preferences and purchase decisions. Neuro-marketing is currently the best and most systematic approach to achieve this goal. But there is more… Yes, furniture has to be functional, but we all know that furniture also fulfils something else than ergonomy and functionality.

Who doesn’t remember that wobbly chair in that first tiny apartment? Who doesn’t remember the bed in which you first made love? It is clear that our appreciation for furniture is also determined by immaterial, intangible or psychological factors.

It is exactly here that implicit methods are at their best. Because interviews will not reveal accurate details about this latent but decisive elements. This equally valid for the whole spectrum of the furniture market, from mass produced low-cost to hand made high-end products and brands.  

One last question. The ongoing pandemic is changing many aspects of our lives. How much time we spend at home, how we organise our workplaces, etc... Can Beyond Reason share any insights or observations?   

You do not need neuro-marketing to answer this. In uncertain times, people seek certainty. Certainty can come in countless nuances, shades, variants. It can be about build quality and durability, about tradition or nostalgia, or about reassurance, stability and trust.To determine the exact type of certainty that might ‘work’ best in your specific niche of the furniture market it is advisable to consider an implicit research project. 

Whatever you do, whatever marketing initiative you are taking, make sure that it gives people the feeling of more certainty. Make sure they can count on you. It will be rewarded.

Do you have a connection with the furniture industry? 

My wife and I are mid-century design enthusiasts and proud owners of museum quality originals by Charlotte Perriand, Verner Panton and Sergio Rodrigues. We’re also a great fans of the Vitra Design Museum, in Weil am Rhein, who’s expos we try to visit at least once a year.  

Olivier Tjon is co-founder and director of Beyond Reason © Beyond Reason

Olivier Tjon, what do you do in life? 

I’m a marketing veteran, with +25y experience on the agency side. My debut was in entertainment and event marketing. Later I developed a speciality in trends & hypes, which landed me several jobs and projects for major brands that wanted to connect with niche audiences.

When campaigning for AB INBEV, my path crossed that of Nathan Axford -my business partner & BR co-founder. Our shared fascination for that mythical, magical component that makes brands hip and trendy, eventually lead to the creation of Beyond Reason.

Now, five years later, we are very grateful that we are gaining recognition as one of the global experts on implicit consumer research and applied neuro-marketing. 

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