December 7, 2004
If you're interested in the social dynamics of our consumer culture, you should take a look at the NY Times special section on shopping in today's paper. There's a great piece on the retail stores (like, not delis) that are open all night or very late in NYC, and the people who shop there; and one on the difficulties and underlying motivations that are involved with gift-giving. This being the Times, there is also a pointless article that reveals that some people do a lot of shopping online! And some women actually enjoy shopping - as a recreational activity!
The most interesting article is one about a neurological study that was done recently on some Japanese women, which examines the physical brain response related to brand loyalty. What they found is that for women who feel the strongest sense of loyalty to a particular store, their neurological activity when they think about that store is centered in areas of the brain that deal with visual memory and emotion. Particularly the amygdala, described as the "sensory gateway to the emotions." I'd be interested to see if men's brains indicate the same things about the source of their brand loyalty.
Marketers, of course, want to develop as many of these passionately loyal customers as possible, because these are the people who will go way out of their way to get to their preferred brand or store, they will tell their friends about it, and they will be very forgiving of any service lapses or product problems. I know that if everyone felt the way I do about ShiKai shower gel, you would be able to buy that stuff as easily as you can get a bottle of Coke: at supermarkets, gas stations, delis, and vending machines across the globe. The problem is that people develop this fanatical loyalty based on emotional response, not as a result of things that marketers can control, like advertising, or even exceptionally high quality products. It turns out that the best customers are irrational in their consumer behavior, so there's no clear way to manipulate their decision-making. It's hard to build a bigger base of loyal customers when their behavior makes no sense.
But focus groups are probably going to involve a lot more brain scanners in the years to come.
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