How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market

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This is a practical synthesis of the cognitive sciences. Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, sociology & linguistics, Zaltman offers a methodology for understanding how customers think. He demonstrates research tools, such as metaphor elicitation & response latency. Zaltman (business administration, Harvard Business School) draws upon such diverse disciplines as business theory, literary analysis, cognitive science, and sociology to explain how customers make buying decisions. Aimed at marketing professionals, the text describes ways to develop research questions that speak to the unconscious brain, accurately measure consumer reactions to marketing stimuli, and instill meaningful metaphoric images in brand communications.

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Editorial Reviews

Denver Business Journal
Any marketing professional will treasure this book. — December 8, 2003
Fast Company Magazine
How Customers Think is exciting ... It advances provacative ideas ... for real learning and change.
February 2003
Rajeev Kamineni
How Customers Think offers fresh insights into the consumer mind.
Marketing Update, 2003
Publishers Weekly
Harvard Business School professor Zaltman notes that despite enormous amounts of time and money dedicated to customer surveys and marketing, approximately 80% of all new products fail within six months or fall significantly short of their profit forecast. This shouldn't be surprising, he convincingly argues, since "a great mismatch exists between the way consumers experience and think about their world and the methods marketers use to collect this information." He calls for creative questioning that probes the unconscious values underlying consumers' reactions to products and marketing campaigns. Drawing on an impressive array of recent multidisciplinary research, Zaltman is especially provocative on the importance of memory, metaphor and storytelling in customers' decision making and the ways marketers might use these findings. Marketers worried about the scale and complexity of the surveys Zaltman advocates will breathe a sigh of relief as he outlines efficient methods to develop a set of shared values in a target market by creatively interviewing a small sample of customers. In fact, large vision and practical application go hand-in-hand for Zaltman. He may caution, rather abstractly, that successfully gauging the mind of the market depends on developing creative surveys and quality thinking about information gathered, but he also reminds readers to frame campaigns for a product in terms that vividly communicate its function and its emotional appeal for consumers. Zaltman's smart, practical analysis and many success stories will hold special appeal for those facing competitive markets, as well as for those rethinking more limited marketing approaches. (Feb. 21) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Every marketing manager wants to understand what consumers are thinking. But between the mind of the consumer and the predispositions and biases in the mind of the manager, advertising campaigns frequently don't achieve their intended goal. In How Customers Think, Gerald Zaltman explains how the brains, minds, and memories of consumers work, and how marketers can effectively leverage that information in their strategies. He discusses the conscious and unconscious mind and how they work together to develop the metaphors and stories that drive consumer behavior. Marketers believe that they control the image of their brand, but really, it is what is in the head of the consumer that controls the individual image of the brand. Learning how customers think will allow you to affect them with messages that are relevant to their experiences and context, not just assail consumers with your perceptions of what they think.

The key to understanding the full customer experience is customer-centricity, the degree to which marketers focus on latent and obvious needs of current and potential customers. It involves:

  • The customer hearing and understanding that a product merits a purchase.
  • The firm hearing and understanding what current and potential customers are saying about their deep thoughts and feelings.

Customer-centric firms understand that customers must be skillfully heard, not aggressively sold to. They know that people interpret the same data differently, so products appeal equally to people with different points of view.

Marketers who ignore the importance of the unconscious level doom themselves to the old mistakes. In the new paradigm:

  • Thought is based on images, not words. Neural images based on words or visual images make up thought, not discrete words.
  • Most communication is nonverbal. As much as 80 percent of human communication involves gestures, body posture, eye contact and paralanguage — tone and manner of speech. Paralanguage can affect telemarketing, selling and voice-over advertising.
  • Metaphors are central to thought. Metaphors are so prevalent that we are often unaware of them. They stimulate the mind, help us perceive the world around us, and allow us to surface unconscious feelings.
  • Emotion partners with reason. Most marketers have a reason-centered bias in their research, but emotion should not be separated out.
  • Most thought, emotion and learning occur without awareness. Often people do not know that they have knowledge until they synthesize it with other data to come up with information.
  • Socially shared mental models are important. Mental models help to filter information so that it is manageable. When groups of people share important features of mental models, they are called consensus maps and they are possibly the single most important set of insights a manager can have about consumers.
  • Memory is fragile. Memory is actually a creative product of our encounters, beliefs and plans that is developed on a subconscious level.

Based on the observations of some of the most imaginative executives, here are 10 "crowbars" that will pry managers loose from conventional thinking:

  • Favor restlessness over contentment. Look for innovation by reexamining patterns of thought, familiar meanings and underlying assumptions.
  • Wonder about the cow's crumpled horn. In the story "This is the House that Jack Built," an entire stream of events happens because of a cow with a crumpled horn. Irregular or aberrant data can generate valuable new ideas and strategies.
  • Play with accidental data. Creative thinking requires active play to decipher useful meaning where initially you see none.
  • View conclusions as beginnings. When you think you have solved a problem, ask more questions to reveal what is still concealed.
  • Get outdated. Make what you currently know look out of date as soon as possible to make progress instead of celebrating the status quo.
  • Stop squeezing the same baby chicken. Becoming overly attached to a new idea and holding it very tightly, like children do to baby chickens, is not healthy.
  • Nurture cool passion. Passion fuels creative thinking while coolness harnesses its energy. Integrate the two without censuring the process of creative thinking.
  • Have the courage of your convictions, not someone else's. Do not be swayed by the people who say "Yeah, but ..." when you have an idea. Do not let their lack of creativity prevent you from innovating.
  • Ask generic questions. What are the fundamental human or social processes you are seeking to examine when you conduct marketing research? How would other disciplines view the issues, and how can you apply knowledge from other disciplines?
  • Avoid premature dismissal. Do not dismiss ideas before asking what the consequences would be if they were true.

The questions you ask while conducting market research shape the ultimate learning about consumers. Instead of focusing on answers and conclusions, pay equal attention to questions and beginnings, because the framing of your questions foreshadow your answers. Frame effective research questions by doing the following:

  • Determine the generic question you want to explore.
  • Determine whether the basic question should be specific to brand, category, or problem.
  • Pose more general and specific versions of the first question that comes to mind. Viewing this information framed at other levels may be more useful.
  • Determine whether you need to know direction, velocity, or both.
  • Allow for surprises.
  • Convert assumptions into questions.
  • Employ a wizard. Protect against potential knowledge deficiencies by asking what one thing would a wizard most likely fix.
  • Data are all stimuli that influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, so you should collect multiple kinds.

Copyright © 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578518265
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 12/26/2002
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 684,438
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.76 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. I Preparing for an Expedition
1 A Voyage from the Familiar 3
2 A Voyage to New Frontiers 27
Pt. II Understanding the Mind of the Market
3 Illuminating the Mind: Consumers' Cognitive Unconscious 47
4 Interviewing the Mind/Brain: Metaphor Elicitation 73
5 Interviewing the Mind/Brain: Response Latency and Neuroimaging 111
6 Come to Think of It 129
7 Reading the Mind of the Market: Using Consensus Maps 149
8 Memory's Fragile Power 165
9 Memory, Metaphor, and Stories 189
10 Stories and Brands 211
Pt. III Thinking Differently and Deeply
11 Crowbars for Creative Thinking 237
12 Quality Questions Beget Quality Answers 263
13 Launching a New Mind-Set 285
Notes 291
Index 311
Acknowledgments 319
About the Author 323
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2005

    This Book Is Like The Movie 'National Treasure'

    In the beginning, it was a bit of a difficult read...but then WHAM! Things started to make sense. What I already knew, I then understood in GREATer detail. BUT, what I didn't know well...that will remain a 'Secret' between me and the other readers of this book. If I were anyone reading this, I would get this book and put in a little effort and time in understanding every ounce of information in this book. You don't need to be a brain surgeon to understand it but, buy it, grab a highliter and some of those little 'colored tape-like flag things' or post-its and get to work. If you have a business, then prepare for MAJOR Growth!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2005

    Highly Recommended!

    In this thoroughly researched, documented, footnoted book, author Gerald Zaltman opens a gateway into a deep, fertile field for marketing professionals. After a thorough review of traditional marketing research techniques based on the abysmal failures of consumer surveys and focus groups, Zaltman addresses the importance of the subconscious in framing consumer attitudes and behaviors. He cites a wide variety of interdisciplinary sources, including results from biochemical research about brain function. This is definitely not a light read, but it has insight and offers great potential for dedicated, large corporation marketers who have a background in behavioral science. While the book is interesting and challenging, it is also dense and sometimes repetitive. The book explores an interesting metaphysical discussion and uses apt case studies to drive home key points, yet its practical application is open to discussion. For instance, how can marketers practically find the intersection between their subconscious and the consumer¿s subconscious, as Zaltman suggests? We recommend this thought-provoking work to all research-oriented marketing executives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2003

    A Wakeup Call to Marketers!

    Zaltman's well-written book offers new perspectives in market research. Those who read it will change why they do research and how they apply it. The author combines the knowledge of multiple disciplines to help marketers perceive customers with new eyes. This book is a 'must read' for anyone who is serious about market research and understanding customers. If you are wondering why your market research is not delivering the insights that you critically need, then this book will really open your eyes. The small investment for this book will save you thousands in bad research. To provide additional background, Zaltman has included an extensive bibliography that directs the reader to sources that agree and disagree with his positions. The author provides a logical and scientifically based development of ideas, while using a reader-friendly writing style. Several real-life examples are provided to help explain how to construct better consumer research. Zaltman effectively describes how diverse consumers have much more in common that traditional segmentation studies might reveal. Although the book focuses on metaphor elicitation and consensus mapping, the underlying theme reveals how to find out what consumers know, but may not know that they know! This book will be a required text for my MBA students!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2009

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