Here’s What I Wasn’t Thinking

It’s not the thought that counts

This morning I got up and went straight to do the very first thing I do every day.  You know what it is because you do it, too.  No need to discuss it.   Actually, don’t even think about it.  I certainly don’t even when I’m doing it.   With that business out of the way, I washed my hands, went straight to the kitchen, opened the fridge, got the juice out and put it on the counter, opened the cabinet, grabbed a glass and sat it next to the juice.  I opened the freezer, got a bag of Starbucks out, pulled the carafe from the coffee brewer, put it under the faucet, turned on the water, spun around, opened the cabinet behind me and reached to retrieve a coffee filter from the top shelf.   By the time I got the filter, positioned it in the brewer and poured in the coffee, the perfect amount of water was in the carafe.  In one fluid move, I shut off the tap, poured the water into the brewer, slipped the carafe in place and pushed the start button.  Gosh, I’m good.

It could make your head explode

Total elapsed time from bed to brewing—less than three minutes.  Total elapsed conscious thoughts about what I was doing—zero.  You’re probably thinking so what, I do the same thing every morning.   You’re right and you don’t bother to think about it, either.  It’s second nature to automatically, effortlessly and thoughtlessly process all the intricate interactions between our brains, bodies, environments and anything else we need to manage every minute of every day.  In fact, our brains are processing eleven million bits of information every moment.  Yet, at any one time, we’re only consciously aware of a miniscule fraction of that—about the same amount as in a 7-digit telephone number—and, according to recent research, maybe even less.  That’s an enormous disparity but, if we were consciously aware of everything going on inside of them, our heads would explode.

Thinking without thinking

We think we think about everything, but an overwhelming body of science indicates that better than ninety-five percent of our mental functions are driven by nonconscious influences and automatic cues derived from the familiar patterns, mental models and heuristics imprinted in our brains.  Quite simply, our mental functions are designed so we don’t have to think about everything.  The vast amount of information that drives our behavior is processed without our awareness.  But, while this is great to help us get through the day, it creates a lot of problems for marketing researchers and strategists. If customers aren’t aware of what drives their choices and behaviors, it’s practically useless to ask them what they think about why they do what they do or why they chose one brand over another.  They simply don’t know.  Oh, they’ll give you rationalizations—what they think is the right answer—but the truth is they don’t consciously know why.

It’s dark in there

What people think is the right answer does marketing researchers and strategists very little good.  In fact, it frequently leads them astray.  That’s why we must utilize research methods that allow us to explore nonconscious motivations, or people’s unarticulated desires and needs.  It means we’ll have to get into people’s heads.  But it’s dark in there and we don’t know our way around so it makes us uncomfortable.  So much so that it’s become acceptable to settle for shallow, one-dimensional research that provides answers to what is happening but never to the deeper question of why.  Yet, if we don’t discover why people do what they do, we’ll never meet their unarticulated desires and needs. And then we’ll fail to find any advantage in the marketplace.

Change your mind

That’s why, at Brandtrust, we’re marketers but we’ve also become passionate social scientists and developed our expertise at getting into people’s heads.  And it’s why we advocate so strongly that marketers who want to discover deep insights and gain true advantage need to shift their own mental models from the “voice of the customer” to the “mind of the customer,” because that’s where the real answers are.


Norretranders, T. (1998). The user illusion: Cutting consciousness down to size. New York: Viking.

Zimmerman, M. (1989). The nervous system in the context of information theory. Human Physiology (pp. 166-173). Berlin: Springer.

Share Knowledge

Continue Learning

Related Resources

Consumer Insights and Coronavirus: How Behavioral Science and Memory Immersion Help Reveal Truth During a Pandemic

At the beginning of the year, no one imagined that 2020 would be defined by a global pandemic. Nonetheless, in a matter of weeks, the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus...

From Appreciation to Aspiration: Unlocking Your Organization’s Potential

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters enjoyed tremendous growth. From its humble beginnings as a coffee shop in 1981, the business bloomed into an enterprise worth more than $100 million. But, by...

The Appreciation Evolution: Moving From Your Organization’s Problems to its Potential

Declining profits and product quality. Failed cost reduction efforts. Strained relationships among employees and increasing pressure from competitors. Gina Hinrichs, an internal process consultant at John Deere, recognized plenty of...