Standard economists think that inner consistency is a cornerstone of human rationality.

Behavioural economists think that observed inconsistencies of human action prove the failure of standard economics. And that these inconsistencies are part of our make up.

BE set out to teach us about the ways in which rational analyses of choices were inadequate.

But before we replace one idea about human motivation with another, both these analyses contain distortions born of generalisation which lead to errors. If we analyse the nature of human action in enough detail, we can clearly see that people are aware of inner inconsistency, though they may choose to ignore or hide it*.

Moreover, they may intentionally control it to some extent!

System One operations contain what we think of as habits or short cuts. They may pass unnoticed in many events, as when we automatically adjust our step to surmount a kerb-stone or miss someone coming the other way along the pavement.

Although it operates automatically, System One is not invisible or inaccessible to consciousness. It is a convenience that it works without conscious effort, but if we find the right method of inquiry it is not hard to unravel how its heuristics work and the intentionality that underpins every one of them. Some of that intentionality is assertive, other parts are defensive. Both may be conveniently held outside of awareness because they have ignoble, selfish or vulnerable elements.

Yet all of them are learned behaviour. At some point in the past we created that short-cut or habit – and we did so to serve a purpose or follow an instruction. That purpose may underlie the continuance of habitual behaviour, including choice of brands, goods or services and our responses to marketing, whether or not the original purpose is relevant today. I suspect that as many as a third of our habits are redundant today.

It is worthwhile to discover how a heuristic was created if we are to understand our unconscious relationships with brands and how to re-position or refresh them. That’s why we might want to explore this in a research project if we want to know what a brand means or could mean.

The most commonplace short-cut in shopping is surely the familiarity heuristic where we buy a product automatically because it has proven its worth or its consistency over time and we do not feel inclined to examine this habit.

[I often wonder if one of the reasons we throw away so much food is not because we are wasteful, but exactly the opposite – we are following efficiency routines established when our situation or perceptions were different. We continue to buy such foods as an automatic response to an heuristic whose validity has evaporated in the light of new circumstances. I can see in my own bin that we buy green peppers every week and none of us has the faintest idea why! But if we spend a moment in reflection, it emerges that last year they were part of a repertoire dish which has since disappeared from our family menu, yet the heuristic remains.]

If a product or brand wishes to discover why it is losing loyalists then exploring what drew people to that brand in the first place is a vital piece of evidence in deciding how to refresh it. What is stored inside us about brands, Robert Heath calls ‘Embedded Brand Associations’ and nowhere near enough time is spent in today’s qualitative research in exploring these.

* One method used to explore subjective experience is called the Phenomenological Inquiry and was first outlined by Husserl more than 100 years ago. I tackle it in another post on this site.
Nowadays people are in too much of a hurry to attempt such careful explorations. They would rather collect a bunch of snaps from someone’s mobile phone or posts from their FB or Twitter account ‘in the moment’, forgetting all the while that impression management – rather than truthful talking – is the key driver of these posts. In other words people post, tweet, connect in order to further their own causes, be these inner needs (I want to feel I have lots of friends/ I want to look cool) or outer things they wish to associate themselves with.
The real question for qualitative researchers is not ‘what did they post on Facebook, Snapchat, Whats App or Twitter, but ‘what are they up to with these activities?’ Much of it is impression management – and what more useful information could you have about a person than how they wish to be seen?