The Business Blindfold

The Business Blindfold

“80% of new product initiatives fail”  (Inez Blackburn, University of Toronto 2008)

“Just 6% of companies are satisfied with their innovation performance, yet very few executives know what the problem is” (McKinsey Global Innovation Survey 2015)

“ Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” Lord Leverhulme, founder of Unilever, 1851-1925

Strange, isn’t it, that on subjects as important as launching new products or developing effective advertising, the best brains in the business world seem unable to predict success or understand reasons for failure.

My book ‘The Growth Director’s Secret’ suggests there may be a simple reason for this  - the research tools that the business world has been using to understand consumers since Lord Leverhulme’s day simply don’t work – or at least don’t work as regards understanding the motivations behind purchase decisions or advertising responses.

If you find this a little hard to accept – let me turn to a Nobel prize-winner to explain why conventional research tools fail in this fundamental way.

In 2002 Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for breakthrough understandings about how our brains work. He explained there are 2 systems in the brain – rather unimaginatively he called them ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’.

System 1 is our subconscious brain.

It’s super-fast and works emotionally and intuitively. It’s effortless and has huge data-processing capability. It’s ‘on’ all the time – but we’re not aware of it.

System 2, our conscious brain is very different.

It’s slow, rational and evaluatory. Using it is hard work and it has only a fraction of the capacity of System 1.

Kahneman showed that our super-efficient System 1 brain takes around 95% of all the decisions we ever make – including most brand purchase decisions.

But here’s the problem. Conventional research tools connect with our rational, logical System 2 brains only. They take the answers from our System 2 responses as being truthful – which they are; but also as accurate – which they’re not. Building plans on responses from consumers’ System 2 brains is like putting a blindfold on your business – and explains why we get consumer motivations so wrong so often.

Post Kahneman new ‘Implicit’ research tools have emerged that can connect with the System 2 processes that drive nearly all our decision-making – and can provide an understanding of consumer motivations way beyond what conventional tools can deliver.

The problem, though, is that most businesses are not yet using these tools – in effect, they’re operating with a blindfold on.

It's not that conventional research should never be used. If you want to know WHAT consumers are doing it works fine; but if you want to know WHY they do it you must utilise the implicit tools that can connect with the part of the brain that drives purchase decision-making for all brands.

My appeal to the marketing world is to embrace these new Implicit tools, build your brand’s positioning on the emotional, intuitive insights they provide – and rip that blindfold off your business!


By Andy Brent, author and founding partner, Think Again Growth