Thomas Z. Ramsøy

Predictably Surprised: The Secret Sauce of Consumer Behavior

The Crystal Ball Inside Our Heads

Imagine if you could predict the future.

You would know exactly how the stock market would move, what consumer behavior would be trending, who would win the next Super Bowl, or what your boss is thinking right before your annual review.

Well, in a strange way, we all have a little crystal ball inside our heads. And guess what? It’s playing a bigger role in our daily choices than we could ever imagine.

This crystal ball is not magic—it’s a gift from evolution, carefully honed over millions of years. This gift is our brain’s ability to predict. To foresee. To anticipate.

But why is this important? And how does it relate to consumer behavior?

Let’s dive in.

The Minimization of Surprise: The Brain’s Unending Quest

Picture yourself walking into your favorite coffee shop. The comforting smell of brewing coffee, the mellow tunes playing in the background, and the friendly barista who knows your usual order.

Everything is just as you expect. And that’s exactly how your brain likes it.

This is because your brain is on an unending quest to minimize surprise, a concept central to a groundbreaking theory in neuroscience known as the Free Energy Principle, developed by none other than the eminent neuroscientist Karl Friston.

As followers of this blog have already detected, I recently wrote a small piece about the negative side of commercial novelty.

The Friston Principle: Free Energy and the Quest for Homeostasis

Before we delve further into how this all plays out in the realm of consumer behavior, let’s take a moment to appreciate the genius behind the theory that ties it all together. Karl Friston is the architect of the ‘Free Energy Principle‘ and the theory of ‘Homeostasis‘ in cognitive biology.

Friston’s work revolutionized our understanding of the brain. He proposed that our brains are not just wired to minimize surprise, but they also work tirelessly to maintain a kind of balance or equilibrium, a concept known as homeostasis.

But this isn’t just about physiological variables like body temperature or blood pH. Friston suggests that our brains also maintain homeostasis of knowledge about the world.

Think of it this way – our brains constantly update their model of the world based on sensory inputs. They work to minimize the difference (or ‘free energy’) between the predictions they make and the actual inputs they receive.

This constant updating and minimizing of free energy can be seen as the brain’s way of maintaining equilibrium or homeostasis in its understanding of the world.

Friston’s work on homeostasis and the free energy principle provides a groundbreaking framework for understanding how our brains process information and interact with the environment, and as we’ll see, it has profound implications for understanding consumer behavior as well.

Decoding Consumer Behavior: Navigating the Predictive Patterns in the Sea of Products

So, we know our brains don’t like surprises. But wouldn’t life be rather dull if everything was always as expected?

Here’s where the plot thickens. Our brains, in their intricate wisdom, do a little dance—a balancing act, if you will—between the known and the unknown, the predictable and the surprising.

Now let’s apply this to consumer behavior. Picture yourself in a supermarket aisle, looking at a sea of different cereals.

How does your brain decide?

It predicts.

It predicts which one will taste best based on past experiences. And when your chosen cereal tastes just as good as your brain predicted, you experience a sense of satisfaction. Why? Because your brain successfully minimized surprise.

Marketers, Meet Neuroscience: The Unlikely Duo Shaping the Future of Business

If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably pondered the mysteries of consumer behavior: What makes a consumer choose one product over another? Why do some marketing strategies work better than others?

The answer lies within the intricate circuitry of the human brain.

Think about an advertisement for a new smartphone. Your campaign should ideally tap into consumers’ predictive models – their expectations about what a top-tier smartphone should offer. Superior camera quality? Check. Fast processing speed? Check. Sleek design? Check.

When these anticipated features align with your marketing message, consumers’ brains are satisfied, leading to a higher likelihood of product adoption.

But don’t forget the element of surprise.

Let’s say your new smartphone includes an innovative feature – maybe it’s solar-powered. This unexpected feature deviates from the consumer’s predictive model, sparking interest and engagement.

The field of neuromarketing is your key to unlocking these insights. Traditional neuromarketing uses brain imaging technologies like EEG to understand how consumers truly feel about products and advertisements.

These techniques can help you craft messages that harmonize with consumers’ predictive models, while also offering a dash of surprise to keep them captivated.

AI and Neuroscience: The Power Couple Accelerating Consumer Research

As groundbreaking as traditional neuromarketing techniques are, they have their limitations. They can be costly, complex, and time-consuming, with some studies taking weeks or even months to complete.

Enter the exciting combination of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Advanced AI models, like the ones developed by OpenAI, can simulate aspects of human cognition and predict behavior based on patterns in data.

This means that marketers can gain insights into consumer behavior in seconds to minutes, rather than weeks to months.

Imagine being able to tweak your marketing message and immediately understand how your target audience might respond. Or being able to predict which features of a new product will be most appealing to consumers. The combination of AI and neuroscience makes this possible.

Not only does this make research more efficient, but it also opens up new possibilities. By using AI to quickly test and iterate on marketing strategies, businesses can stay one step ahead in the rapidly changing consumer landscape.

The era of predictably surprising your consumers is here, and it’s faster than ever before.

Predictably Surprised: The New Mantra for the Modern Marketer

So, what does all this mean for you, the modern marketer?

It means that the key to connecting with consumers might be hidden in plain sight, in the beautifully complex predictive machinery of the human brain.

In the end, the most successful marketers might be those who can make us predictably surprised.

And isn’t that a surprise worth embracing?