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The Unconscious, Uncontested & Uninsured

Giving brands the best chance to change behavior

Did you know?

Gap in ‘Say v. Do’ is getting bigger and bigger.


Choice. A word that continues to grow exponentially, on what seems a daily basis. In one study, consumers severely underestimated how many food-related choices they made throughout the day. Out of 200 actual choices they made (236 to be exact), the average consumer in the test estimated they had made 15 in a day. 14x off.[1]

What’s happening here? With all the increased choices we have to make every day, our brain is trying to keep up, making rules that automate these decisions. And, because we’re always trying to get more out of life, we are likely not to notice the automation in action.

The output; a larger, more obvious gap between what we say we do, versus what we actually do.

Mining the Unconscious

Inspiring how to move the machine (your mind)


How consumers think and feel, which impacts how they act is highly motivated by the unconscious. With the significant increase in sheer volume of choice and stimulus in the world, shifting the unconscious is much harder. The brain is working harder than ever to help us make decisions on everyday behaviors, in order to make space for new choices. Simply put, the automation engine is running hot, making it ever more important to understand how our existing mindsets are influenced. What are the established biases influencing our unconscious?

Luckily, research has been happening for years, defining the principles which shape and guide behavior (the brain’s automation) and therefore driving predetermined biases which consumers have. Have you ever heard of concepts such as anchoring, framing, ego depletion, or reciprocity bias?

Anchoring is the cognitive bias which, during decision making, occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. We rely too heavily, or anchor too blindly, on one piece of information when making a decision. For example, as a person looks to buy a used car, he or she may focus excessively on the mileage reading and model year of the car, and use those criteria as a basis for evaluating the value of the car, rather than considering how well the engine or the transmission is maintained

All of these biases have significant impact on how consumers make decisions every day. In particular, retail strategy, store and packaging design have been highly influenced based on research demonstrating how shoppers anchor and frame in-store.

There is a wealth of data and research defining existing biases and how they influence behaviors. More importantly, many of these studies can offer inspiration for how to influence specific mindsets and behaviors for brands.

Consumers going uncontested


We provide consumers too many chances to go uncontested in insight and strategic planning. We take them at their word in small groups, blindly believe that what we observe in ethnography is typical and expect longitudinal studies to reduce confirmation bias.

Instead of these interactions leading to new observations, that stimulate ‘breakthrough insight’, many times teams can be left stretching for more… or worse, using the outliers as the primary focus. Intuition-led analysis when we’re trying to explore something much more complex.

The consumer needs to be contested.

With the demand for convenience on the rise, there are a growing contingent of people that are more likely to substitute the same cleaner for multiple needs, in order to simplify their process…despite reporting in consumer research about the sheer range of specialty items they purchase for specific kitchen cleaning needs.  In order to contest behavior, we created an experiment to contest how consumers regularly clean their kitchen in order to test how to influence established behaviors.

Our team asked a small set of people to ‘deprive’ themselves of their entire selection of cleaning products at home, and instead only use max 3 products to clean the kitchen for 1 week.  We also incorporated technology to capture how often they were cleaning particular areas of the kitchen, compared to their reported data. What did we find? The kitchen sink is still a major source of attention, as although people traditionally say they clean it ~4-5 times a day, it was getting wiped down more than 10-12x a day. Oh, and what was the primary product consumers ended up using when deprived of all the specialties? Paper towel or wipes.

Uninsured positioning(s)


The obvious question. Shouldn’t brand strategy be made and adapted to influence these existing consumer biases / behaviors? With brands fighting for relevance, and marketers demanding to see activations that move behaviors more efficiently, strategy has to be insured to influence bias. 

Let’s complete the story using the example of the cleaning brand. The majority of cleaning brands (maybe ex Method) are positioned on assurance and relative ‘cleaning power’. All said, it’s function-driven, because many consumers at face value state that they need confidence the cleaner is killing germs, which likely ladders up to family safety. But assurance will not change behavior. A brand working to shift consumer unconscious and gain relevance in a new role must inject behavior change at the core of the positioning.

A visually spotless sink is still a significant pain point for home cleaners, product performance and efficacy has to ladder up to create a sense of calmness, relieving the anxiety of seeing a sink not sparkle. Forget the fact that it is ~90% germ free, if there are water marks, the sink isn’t clean.

What if?


What if the brand was to adapt their promise to speak to ‘kitchen zen’? Creating a purpose that inspires reducing anxiety, versus improving assurance of surface cleaning, which cannot be visually measured. The brand could challenge consumers to ‘wipe less’, ‘chill more’. There are endless possibilities but anchoring on the sink behavior to enter the space offers clear opportunities to stand out and breakthrough in an extremely category with high levels of new product introduction.

In summary, the consumer mindset (and unconscious) must be challenged in order to provide brands the potential to shift behavior.


  • Be clear on the likely principles / rules which are automating decisions today
  • Explore past research for inspiration for how to move the mindset
  • Create fresh experiments for your context that contest existing behavior
  • Utilize learnings to continue adapting the brand positioning / purpose



[1] Wansink, Brian, and Jeffery Sobal. "Mindless eating the 200 daily food decisions we overlook." Environment and Behavior 39.1 (2007): 106-123.

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