Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis

Do you know about the rational consumer? I bet you do! We grew up believing that the human being is a rational agent who makes decisions based on logic, objectivity, and analysis.

As retailers, we produced orderly rational campaigns believing that customers would make rational purchase decisions. In fact, most people also believe that their choices result from a rational analysis of the available alternatives. But then came the ground-breaking research by a neuroscience professor, Antonio Damasio that changed everything. The research revealed that human beings are, in fact, not rational. In reality, emotions play a predominant role in most of our decisions.

In another research, a Harvard School of Business Professor, Gerald Zaltman, concluded that 95% of purchase decisions are made by the subconscious limbic system. In his research, Zaltman found that unconscious urges, especially emotions, are what drive the purchasing behaviours.

What does this mean for retailers?

Think about it – why do we choose certain brands over the others or brand-name products over generic? Well, it all lies in the limbic system.

According to Neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Theory, the brain comprises 3 parts: the Reptilian Brain, Limbic Brain, and Neocortex. The Reptilian is the oldest and controls the core functions like breathing and heart rate. The Limbic Brain is responsible for memories, feelings, loyalty, and value judgments, and the youngest, the Neocortex, performs high-order brain functions like language, cognition, abstract thought, and consciousness. Consumer Neuroscience believes that most consumer decisions are made in the older parts of the brain, and are therefore based on gut feelings rather than rational logic.

The Limbic Brain (emotions) is the main reason why consumers choose brand-name products over generic and store products with cheaper prices. Humans connect emotionally to others with the same set of values. Similarly, they are attracted to brands that have values that resonate with them. In fact, positive emotions toward a brand have a greater influence on consumer loyalty than other judgments.

If a brand consists only of the product’s features, attributes, and other information, it lacks the emotional links to connect with the consumer. Therefore, you need to master the art of connecting emotionally with customers. The richer the emotional content, the more likely the consumer will be loyal.

Some brands and companies are already utilising this concept.

Examples of campaigns targeting consumer emotions are everywhere. Think for a moment – luxury goods target our feelings of status and self-worth. Lingerie, perfumes, and cologne target emotions related to love and sexual desires.

As retailers, we must, therefore, sell the feeling and the lifestyle by highlighting the emotional response a consumer will get from the product. 

Using Neuroscience to Expand Your Retail Brand

Retailers need to move on from the classic approaches of demographic profiling to more of personality profiling. The only way we will get to know why consumers connect with certain brands is by understanding consumers’ personality and their subconscious emotional drivers.

So, how can brands implement this concept?

People prefer brands that have the values that resonate with them. Therefore, the relationship between the consumer and a brand is based on a collection of experiences, exposures, and associated feelings. These feelings get stored in the Limbic Brain to give the Reptilian Brain the inputs it requires to rationalise a decision. So, by the time the conscious mind is making a choice, the decision is usually already made by the Limbic Brain.

Here are a few specific ways retailers can use to target customers personality types:

Neuromarketing: This is the use of neuroscience to enhance marketing efforts. Retailers can use various Neuroscience methods to monitor consumers’ emotional responses and determine the effectiveness of different marketing, branding, and sales tactics. Don’t just throw material out there and hope for the best. Instead, craft your content with your consumer personality profiles in mind. Targeted wording and tone of voice to attract your ideal customer segments.

Strategic Design: Consumers are influenced on an emotional level by the visual aspects of your physical and online retail experience. Therefore, use strategic designs to appeal to the subconscious by evoking positive emotions, memories, and personal context. From colour to structure, imagery, fonts, and personalisation, all touchpoints of your brand should trigger emotional engagement with the consumer.

Be customer-centric: Truly understand who your customer is and why they want to interact with you. Understanding their drivers and behaviours on an emotional level will help you adapt all your touchpoints to target them specifically.

Brand narrative: The story that a brand communicates is another important foundation for a brand’s emotions. Companies need to stick with their values and use this emotional connection to drive long-term loyalty.

Retailers need to make emotion their central strategy because it is emotional connections that rationalise consumer purchase decisions. The more the emotional connection between the consumer and the brand or product, the more likely a consumer will buy your product and become a long time loyal customer.

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