New measure accurately maps your brand against System 1 and System 2 shopper decision making

In case you missed it, System 1 and System 2 are mental processes that form the focus of Daniel Kahneman’s fantastic book Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow. And his work won him a Nobel Prize.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman addresses what were and still are deeply flawed ideas about human decision making (a key aspect of shopping). In the 1970s it was mistakenly accepted that, firstly, people are generally rational. And secondly, most of the occasions when people depart from rationality are the result of emotion. But research has identified serious errors within the machinery of cognition, rather than just corruption by emotion. Not to say that emotion isn’t highly influential is human decision making.

It was Kahneman who introduced what have now become largely undisputed new terms: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach, while System 2 is the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates. In summary, Kahneman says “System 1 is more influential, guiding and steering System 2 to a very large extent.”

So how does this play out when you go shopping?

System 1 thinking can determine which brands shoppers buy. Therefore, many brands and retailers are desperate to crack the System 1 code. Their endgame is to make their brand the automatic, no-brainer purchase; something that requires System 1 brain processing.

These brand owners don’t want the shopper to really think about whether to buy their brand. Rather they want it to become the obvious choice, the instinctive best decision. That purchase can’t happen unless the brand is firmly lodged in consumers’ System 1 brain.

Shopping involves thinking, right? Shoppers, as members of the human race have 2 ways of processing information, or thinking. They either buy your brand using mostly a fast, automatic, intuitive approach or they make purchase decisions using more of the mind’s slower, analytical mode.

Whereas buying a can of Coke is largely a System 1 led process, choosing your next bed purchase is influenced more by System 2. Communicate to the wrong System in-store and you might as well be speaking in a foreign language!

We know that emotion is a powerful influencer of shopper emotions. Although all emotional responses are based in System 1, not all System 1 thinking is emotional. For example, when you’re driving to work on your regular commute, you’re on auto-pilot. Because traveling this route is a previously learned behaviour, your System 1 thinking, is doing all the work. In a shopping context, think of your mindset when you dash in and grab your usual can of cola at the store. You don’t give it much thought, do you? That’s System 1 in action.

System 2 works with System 1 to close the deal. While you want your brand to be a no-brainer choice, many purchases, particularly for larger ticket or considered purchase items, are based on overlaying System 1 instincts with more rational information, which is processed by System 2. Many brands attempt to close the sale by combining System 1 beliefs about the brand with reinforcing fact based System 2 messages. But the major problem (read opportunity) is that most don’t really understand the ratio of System 1 to System 2 persuasion needed to optimise sales.

We have been conducting research and have developed an advanced measurement scale that measures precisely the optimal levels of System 1 and System 2 communications for particular brands in-store: Be that on packaging, POS, promotions or online. So whereas far too many communications are based on the premise of ‘Spray and Pray’, trying to be all things to all people, we can provide a much more scientific information hierarchy for your shopper facing comms.

We want your help

Currently, in association with academia, we are looking to run some larger scale trials to further validate this new measurement tool and are looking for a limited number of brands to work with us. If you’d like to know more about where your brands sits in term of System 1 and System 2 decision making, please contact us within the next few weeks, thank you.

If you think there is value in this article then please share it, thank you.

Alternatively, are you just fascinated by how shoppers think? Or would you like to know more about how you think? Check out my books on Amazon for much more insightful, provocative and stimulating information.

Shoppology: The science of the shopping brain

Master your Brain: The science of your brain

The Presenters Handbook: The science of the PowerPoint brain

Thanks for reading

Phillip Adcock

The Psychology of Brand Communication

5 ways to improve the communication of your brand

Most brand marketers aren’t psychologists. But when you apply psychology to your brand communications, the results can be astonishing.

Here are 7 psychological techniques you can employ to improve your brand communications

1, What’s so different about you?

Almost at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sits esteem: This is defined as (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige). If you can align your brand with is inbuilt human trait, then you are on to a winner. Define how your brand can be exclusive in some way, specifically in a manner that relates to consumer esteem. Examples include ‘Reassuringly expensive’, ‘Because you’re worth it’, ‘Designed for driving pleasure’ and ‘The Few. The Proud’.

2, Fear & Uncertainty

As a species, we basically buy brands for one of 2 reasons: Fear or Greed. And we’ll do more to avoid pain (fear of pain). When you introduce fear and uncertainty, into your brand or competing brands you make consumers stop, think, and change their behaviour. But be careful how you use fear as it is very powerful: For good and bad.

3, The novelty effect

As a species, humans love novelty. Neurologically, it has been proven that exposure to something new and unfamiliar increases the release of a powerful neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. When you communicate Novelty, potential customers feel like there is a possibility of something good waiting for us just around the corner. That potential for pleasure motivates them to seek it out. This is one ofr the reasons so many brands love the word ‘New’.

4, The power of Why

Why should somebody choose your brand? The human mind is obsessed with understanding why. Searching for meanings, even when there is no inherent meaning. Essentially, we seek out explanations to understand everything we experience in life. So you need to provide a clear reason why someone should buy, consumer or adopt your brand. Because when you explain why people should buy your brand, you are offering something, they will far more likely to comply.

5, The lazy brain,

Daniel Kahneman, in his brilliant book, Thinking Fast and Slow, says that humans adhere to a ‘law of least effort’ and this applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. In summary, if there are a number of ways of achieving the same goal, people will naturally gravitate to the easiest, least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”

In a nutshell, humans will always always migrate to the easiest option (brand) to achieve a desired result.

There are many other psychological triggers you can use in your business to improve the communication of your brand and generate sales? If want help or advice regarding implementing any of the above triggers in your business or have any questions about the psychology of brand communication, contact us here at Bridge 87.

Path to Purchase – Which showroom is the more effective selling space?

BMW and Mercedes Benz showrooms performed poorly!

These ultimate Path to Purchase audits reveal precisely how real customers perceive real products in real ‘stores’. We compare individual brand performances against our central database of 800+ proven and validated psychological and behavioural insights compiled during the last 30 years of analysing shopper psychology and shopping behaviour. This powerful resource is further enhanced with key learnings from leading psychologists from around the globe.

This next post compares car showrooms: Specifically BMW vs. Mercedes Benz. So, how ‘retail’ are they?

BMW vs. Mercedes Benz

2 Leading car brand showrooms were compared and analysed across 12 different psychological metrics. From their ability to gain meaningful attention, through showroom design and vehicle layout, to emotional engagement and the communication of price. In summary, how well does each of these 2 leading car brands align with the psychological drivers and motivations of real people shopping for real cars?

The overall headline finding was that BMW and Mercedes Benz showrooms performed poorly! When it comes to the showrooms being psychologically effective selling spaces, both brands scored just 34%. In other words, for every psychological aspect they got right, they got a further 2 wrong.

So let’s look at the findings in a little more detail.


Firstly we analysed attention: How effectively do BMW and Mercedes Benz emotionally and instinctively grab the attention of potential customers as they enter the showroom. BMW returned a score of 41%, while Mercedes Benz scored slightly better (47%). The typical human brain processes emotional stimuli 3,000 times faster than more rational inputs, yet the modern car showroom is an area bereft of anything emotional. Rows of cars, frankly uninspiring images of cars or parts of cars and a décor that is more in keeping with an operating theatre. Based on how much most car brands spend on emotional advertising, the showrooms certainly should be more emotionally engaging, they just aren’t!

From cars to cards, toffee to coffee, How would your brand perform in this respect?


Secondly, we turned our focus to how well each of the research brands initially appeals to shoppers as they enter the showrooms. BMW scored just 30% and Mercedes Benz, slightly better at 37%. Apart from the cars themselves, a number of visual aspects of each showroom are somewhat similar to each other: White walls, light coloured floors and exposed aluminium present a clean and clinical backdrop on which to present cars. Psychology suggests that there is an opportunity for either brand to drive appeal (pun intended) by tapping into the mirror neuronal activity of the potential car buying visitors. These cold showrooms really lack any form of meaningful humanisation: It’s all about the car, but what about the customer?

 Does your brand appeal as much as it could on in-store/in showroom?


Next, engagement: How psychologically engaging is each brand showroom as it sits there displaying cars? With this metric, BMW (27%) was slightly less engaging that Mercedes Benz (36%). Once again, not all that impressive from a psychological perspective. Mercedes scored better because at least that marque taps into the brand heritage by effectively branding (in direct eye line) the reception desk (first point of contact a visitor has).

Incidentally, if you look at these psychological scores, you’ll see that the showrooms aren’t all that good at attracting psychological attention, they are less effective at being mentally appealing and even less effective when it comes to engaging with potential customers. But what they are is very, very similar to each other: Almost as if each is copying the other.

Ever wondered how engaging potential customers perceive your brand to be?


Moving our attention to the showroom layout, the scores were BMW (32%) and Mercedes Benz (37%). With such a naturally aesthetic range of products (cars), both brands could perform better in terms of how they present their wares to potential customers (location in showroom, graphic support, up-selling and cross-selling price logic, etc.). With such a small selection of models to choose between, there has to be an opportunity to create a more psychologically oriented layout. Such a tactic can significantly reduce cognitive load so that the purchase decision become easier.

” When a store or showroom is easier to shop, shoppers misattribute that ease with liking the products on display more”

Purchase conversion

Next is the browse to purchase conversion ability of each showroom: How well do these premises actively help in closing sales for the staff doing the selling? From a conversion from engagement to purchase, these brands were once again below what we would have expected: BMW 26% and Mercedes Benz 32%.

Psychology has identified that shoppers buying luxury products can sometimes perceive an inner feeling of guilt. Actively managing this psychological barrier can ease up selling and make closing the sales considerably easier; “Yes, you really are worth it”

Do you know the conversion rate for your brand?


In showroom imagery: BMW scored 20% and Mercedes Benz 23%. From a psychological perspective, these showrooms provide weak emotional ‘humanisation’ making them visually functional and emotionally neither appealing nor engaging. In such retail outlets as these, is it really a selling aid to support real cars with images of… …more cars (or bits of cars)? And your journey: Don’t stop believin’.


Concepts that are learned by viewing pictures are more easily and frequently recalled than are concepts that are learned by viewing their written word. Is your brand imagery in-store as good as it could be?




What about the showroom and product (car) colours: BMW 70%, Mercedes Benz 50%. The first positive scores and they show a significant difference between these 2 car brands. So much white as a backdrop and so many white cars on display, at least BMW introduces some colour if only in terms of the colours of some of the cars.

Shopper attention is naturally drawn toward stimuli that are visually salient (Definition: most noticeable or important). And whenever a concept enters our mind quickly and easily, it produces a pleasant sensation in our brain. We then falsely attribute that pleasantness with our evaluation of the stimulus. So what about white cars on a white background???

What’s the best colour for your brand in-store?




In showroom product information: How well do the words presented by each of these car brands communicate with shoppers? Answer, not very! BMW 19%, Mercedes Benz 21%.

It’s well-known is psychological circles that words can be made much more impactful if they resemble what they are talking about. Angled letters to simulate speed, thin letters to signify lightweight, etc. And by increasing the surface size of text, especially emotional words (if there were any), these showrooms could definitiely enhance the impact of their (potential) customer facing copy.

What do the words your use in-store say about your brand?


We then went on to analyse the psychological effectiveness of the fonts used on showroom customer facing communications. Both brands returned identical scores (31%). Although the fonts used are clear and easily legible, they psychologically send out messages of function without any feelings.

Psychologically, there is an opportunity for either or both of these brands to introduce more creative fonts within the showrooms. When people exert greater effort processing information, they encode the memory in greater detail. So not only would obscure fonts enhance the perceived uniqueness of each brand, but they’d also create a stronger memory of that brand.

Which brand in your category has the most effective font?



Specifically looking at how the prices were communicated BMW scored 24% and Mercedes Benz 31%. The techniques these showrooms used to display car prices is frankly, poor! There are many opportunities to make the car prices psychologically more appealing and less visually ‘painful’. From the location of the price on or by the product, to how the price is written and right down to the physical colour and shape the prices message itself. For example, Human judgements of numerical differences are disproportionately anchored to the left-most digit. ‘Reduced from £31,000 to £29,000’ is psychologically perceived as being a better deal than a price cut from ‘£29,000 to £26,000’. All because of left-digit bias.

What does the way the price is communcated say about your brand?


What about the non-price related numbers used by each of the brands? Car showrooms have plenty of numbers in them. The psychological scores were BMW 32%, Mercedes Benz 30%. Neither BMW nor Mercedes Benz appear to be strategic with locations of customer facing numbers at all. Take a look at the following (and this is the order it is presented in too. BMW 7-Series RRP: From £60,360, Dimensions: 5,098-5,248 mm L x 1,902 mm W x 1,478-1,485 mm H, Kerb weight: 1,800 to 2,255 kg, Fuel economy: 22-61 mpg combined (15-52 city, 29-67 highway), Max speed: 152.2 to 155.3 mph.

The biggest number in the spec details I’ve just shown you? The price, by some margin (not good for selling value for money). The smallest number was fuel economy related. Believe it or not, the psychological take out is a very expensive car with poor fuel economy, oh and by the way, it’s a certain size (no context) and weighs a bit too.



In summary, both could be made more appealing just by changing the way numbers are displayed on or next to the vehicles.

Can you count on the effectiveness of any numbers relating to your brand?




What about the psychological effectiveness of the promotional messaging? BMW scored 46% and Mercedes Benz 40%. In summary, the promotional mechanics are relatively effective, but the presentation could be improved. What’s more it would be easy to improve them and give away less margin at the same time. The car retailers need to consider how offers are communicated and not just what the deal is. For example, certain numeric messages are processed by the rational parts of the brain, while others miss reason out all together and go straight to the heart of the reward centres. Or to put it another way, if you can bypass reason, you can sell the dream more easily.

So there you have it: Car showrooms analysed as psychological selling spaces. Some might say this is all ‘psycho-babble’, while others might be offended. But, what if, just what if, introducing more psychology into car showrooms is actually a massive opportunity?

These retail effectiveness audits, are designed to help brands like yours increase sales, grow categories and enrich business relationships. The recommendations have been disseminated from a database of 800+ psychological insights specifically relating to shoppers and shopping.

Access to this database of priceless human (shopper) understanding is now available from our sister OCmany SBXLto you in the form of ultimate Path to Purchase audits. If you would like to know how your brand compares with your competitors, let’s talk. Also, if there’s a specific in-store comparison you’d like us to consider making, drop us a line.

Finally, before blaming Brexit and a host of other possible reasons for under performance of your brand, consider these following questions: Are you losing sales and share because your brand communications aren’t as psychologically effective as those of the competition? Is the performance of your brand suffering because it isn’t aligned with the minds of customers? Would you like to simply and effectively increase sales, grow your brand and enrich trading relationships?