[Intern Insight] Imagine the Future: Influencing Customer Behaviour: Lizard, Monkey, or Rookie

Influencing Customer Behaviour by understanding the human brain

Understanding how people think, and why, can directly influence what they do and how they react to things. As a result of this, it’s important for businesses to learn to understand what influences customer behaviour, why, and how they can tap into it.

The Mechanics of Human Brain

An obsessive-compulsive lizard, an emotional monkey and a design-oriented rookie enter a clothing store during a winter storm.
The lizard says: ‘A warm coat.’
The monkey says ‘No. A fluffy coat.’
The rookie says: ‘A long sleeved, doubled layered coat, with a hoodie.’
The employee says: ‘We have all these features in this coat!’
The lizard, monkey, and rookie say: ‘BINGO!’

I bet you have no clue what I am talking about! It sounds like a really bad joke. Bear with me.

In previous articles, I discussed how I envisioned the retail industry to look like in the near and not so near future. In all these entries, the one challenge I always took into account was the fact that our environment was in constant motion, evolving.

Somehow, when we speak about the environment we always associate it with the external surroundings. However, we have another environment, a micro one, that changes at a very slow pace. But when it changes, humankind can only experience one thing… revolution.

I am talking about the human brain. It represents only 2% (Live Science, 2016) of our body mass, but consumes about 20% of our energy (Neuroscience Marketing, 2015). It is arguably the most complex system on Earth and the reason we are alive. So, how does it work? The brain is actually divided into three distinct parts:

  • The first part or the outer layer is called the neocortex (the new brain) or the ‘rookie’ in our case. It is in charge of designing our body according to the prototype code provided by our DNA. It starts from a common structure – after all, at conception all complex living creatures first look like a fish embryo (yes, even humans) – and then it adds specific functionalities (opposable thumbs, anyone?).
  • The second one is called the mammalian brain (the visceral brain) or the ‘monkey’. It is in charge of our basic functions such as thirst, hunger and regulates our emotional behaviour. It first developed in mammals around 150 million years ago, hence the name.
  • The third one and the core of our brain is the reptilian brain (R-complex in humans) or the ‘lizard’. It strongly resembles the brain structure of reptiles and it’s in charge of keeping us alive. It keeps us breathing, regulates our body temperature and controls our aggressive behaviour (flight or fight reflex) (Brain and Behaviour, 2017).

So, let’s try this again:

A customer enters a clothing store during a winter storm.
His survival brain says: ‘A warm coat.’
His emotional brain says ‘No. A fluffy coat.’
His higher-function brain says: ‘A long sleeved, doubled layered coat, with a hoodie.’
The employee says: ‘We have all these features in this coat!’
The customer says: ‘BINGO!’


Why did I go through the trouble of explaining that? It’s something to do with neuromarketing.

Neuromarketing is the point where human brain science meets marketing. If marketers tap into the secrets of human behaviour, which are regulated by the mechanics of the brain, new and wondrous things happen (Neuromarketing World Forum, 2016).

All this neuromarketing hype has brought to my attention that we are trying to find any kind of explanation of how customers behave. That includes the underlying pattern, and how to mimic the desired traits to trigger the purchasing action. So obviously, we have to look at who is in charge in our heads right now and who will take control in the future according to human evolution. Many specialists focus on the ‘lizard’. Why? Because the ‘lizard’ makes the vital decisions and we want our products and services to be vital for customers. And as the ‘lizard’ communicates the best through visual receptors, we bombard people with well-designed adds and splashes of colours to attract attention and create visual stimuli.

Of course, the ‘monkey’ and the ‘rookie’ also have their parts to play. Whatever we buy must serve a purpose (outside our own survival) and must encompass the necessary traits to fulfil this purpose – for business, for pleasure, for family, for work, etc.

Now, the ‘lizard’ is here to stay. Therefore, we must attract its attention first and foremost. That is the role of marketing. However, the purchasing decision is filtered through all three brains and I must say, the ‘rookie’ is in charge of this one. Let me make it visual for you.

When customers enter a store, and see the available selection of products – most of them would be a warm coat. So, if you have a warm coat for $50 and one for $500, the ‘lizard’ says: ‘Well, I am satisfied. What do you want monkey?’. Now, as we are such complex creatures we do seek the fulfilment of our emotional desires. If the coat is fluffy and offers comfort through its texture, the monkey will want it! But is this enough to buy it? What if both are warm and fluffy? Then the ‘rookie’ intervenes: ‘I have to pay bills, book a ticket for my holidays, buy a present for my mom, pay my school…”. (Honestly, at this point, my ‘monkey’ would say: ‘But it’s soooo fluffy!’ And it would have plausible chances of winning). It is quite simple.

The ‘lizard’ sees it.
The ‘monkey’ wants it.
The ‘rookie’ chooses it.


The Future of Customer Behaviour

The future retail industry must have a nice chit-chat with our ‘rookie’ brains and design their in-store processes to make this decision-making mechanism as easy as possible.

The hard part is already done. From all the multiple retailers offering the same range of products the customer entered in your store. So right now, all you need to do is to make the features, advantages and benefits of your products obvious enough in order for the consumer brain to have no doubts about the decision he is making.

Learning the secrets of customer behaviour gives an added advantage. It provides the path to one of the most desirable traits in customer service: personalization of the experience. And it’s so easy to do! Why? Because both your employees and customers are just people with brains. A company’s perspective is usually quite rigid when it comes to the human element, as people are more than people, they are resources.

Customers are divided into segments represented by personas Employees? Not really. They are almost faceless entities that must follow clear procedures. Ultimately, the real experience is that you have a ‘lizard’ brain talking to another ‘lizard’ brain. A ‘monkey’ brain feeling as intense as the other ‘monkey’ brain. A ‘rookie’ that analyses and provides logical information just like any other ‘rookie’. Brain to brain, customer and employees could have a wonderful interaction, provided they follow the same brainwave patterns.
Cognitive retailing is the future (Economic Times, 2016). It means that you are talking to the consumer on a higher level and not responding just to his basic needs. I think customers will appreciate that. To be able to do that you would need the insights that Big Data gathering can provide you but the funnel through which it has to go would still be human in origin for a long time to come. At the same time, this is what makes humans irreplaceable in the service context. Machines would not have the advantage of knowing how to engage the brain of customers. At the very least you would have a very distressed ‘monkey’ in that case.

This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Laura Susnea. As part of our internship programs, undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Laura’s primary project focusses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure.