As you make your routine visit to the grocery store to stock up on food for the week, you suddenly remember that you need laundry detergent. You make your way to the appropriate isle and suddenly you are parting a sea of hundreds of various laundry products. You aren’t very brand loyal to any certain product so you begin to look at all of the scents and guarantees that are on the labels of these red, blue, orange, and florescent green packages. After about a minute of scanning the isle you grab the Gain Original Scent, toss it in your shopping cart, and continue to the frozen goods section. Was your decision rational? Absolutely not.

While you may defend your decision on choosing Gain with an attempt at logic, chances are you don’t really know why you chose that product. However, the actual decision making process happened in about 5 seconds based off of a lifetime of experiences and associations. These are things we don’t think about on a conscious level and instead we have a full dialogue with ourselves deep in our subconscious mind about how your mom once used Gain and you enjoyed the scent and that on the show Dexter he used Gain once and his white t shirt is always white and his clothes never seem faded. Plus, you saw David’s mom use Tide once and his clothes never smell nice and he never really seems very fresh. Not to mention the nice green color of Gain’s packaging that made you feel relaxed and assured you that this is a natural, environmentally safe product.

Believe it or not, all of these thoughts go through your mind without you realizing it when you are making a decision. According to German retail experts Gruppe Nymphenburg who conducted a study on consumer behavior, more than 50% of all purchasing decisions by shoppers are made spontaneously at the point of sale. These thoughts and associations that flash through your mind are known as Somatic Markers. Our brains often create shortcuts for us to enable us to think and thus react faster. An example of this can be found in many optical illusions where your brain uses Mental Filtering to make assumptions based off of your memory. Take this photo for example:


Your brain has created a shortcut for you to read the sentence without realizing the repeated word. Much like this brain shortcut, Somatic Markers give you a shortcut on rationalizing decisions in the blink of an eye.

In an experiment led by Portuguese-American neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio at the University of Iowa, the somatic markers hypothesis was tested in the Iowa Gambling Task. “Participants are presented with 4 virtual decks of cards on a computer screen. They are told that each time they choose a card they will win some game money. Every so often, however, choosing a card causes them to lose some money. The goal of the game is to win as much money as possible. The decks differ from each other in the number of trials over which the losses are distributed. Thus, some decks are “bad decks”, and other decks are “good decks”, because some will lead to losses over the long run, and others will lead to gains.”

The healthy participants sampled cards from each deck and after about 50 turns started figuring out the game and were able to consistently choose the good decks. However, the study found that based off a measurement of the player’s galvanic skin response that they started to show a reaction of stress when hovering over a bad deck after only 10 turns. The findings show that our minds are able to rationalize decisions on a subconscious level much faster than we are able to on a conscious stream of thought. This is where the whole “go with your heart not your brain” argument takes place. When dealing with difficult decisions and conflict resolutions, we aren’t always able to make a decision on a conscious level. We think of all of the alternatives and various outcomes and that is when emotion sets in. We have an emotional response to conflict based off of our past experiences in life. First, our reactions to a stimuli or a conflict begins with a physical, bodily response such as activation of the sweat glands or an increased heart rate. This reaction triggers our emotions and we begin thinking of a resolution to the problem from an emotional stance. Over time, these emotions and the resulting physical bodily changes become associated with certain situations and their past outcomes. This is a somatic marker.

These brands want to be on the right side of your emotional response and is a huge reason you see so many advertisements with emotional appeal. At face value, that heartwarming commercial you saw yesterday was cool but it didn’t influence you to go out and buy that product immediately. The purpose of that ad, however, wasn’t to get you to do such a thing. The next time you are shopping for that product, that advertisement that gave you an emotional response will be a somatic marker when deciding which brand to go with. Creating long-term relationships with consumers is a goal every brand has and hopes to achieve.

Which brands are you most loyal to and why? After making a purchasing decision I challenge you to question why you made the decision you did. It may take asking yourself why several times to get to the root answer, but in doing so you can start to better understand your emotional viewpoint on certain things in life.

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