The Source of Preference

The debate over the source of human preference has gone on since time immemorial.

Do preferences stem from childhood? Traumatic events? Genetics?

We may never know for sure. However, there’s no denying that our deeply rooted preferences can develop as a result of beliefs, habits, patterns, and subconscious biases that motivate us to feel certain emotions and respond to specific triggers. Many of these preferences stem from further back than we can remember.

Preferences are specific.

Have you ever met someone that passionately enjoys pineapples on pizza?

Or someone that hates pineapples on pizza as much as the aforementioned individual is passionate about them?

Preferences grow in specificity as we get older, yet we rarely go back to understand the origins of these preferences as we learn more about the complex world in which we live. Our subconscious programs and biases affect everything you think and do; from cravings to bedtime routines, handwriting style, and whether or not you slow down at a yellow stoplight. They fundamentally affect whether a user is going to buy your product or service, and they’re present before that user ever learns about your business.

So how does a business owner overcome this?

Understanding the Human Mind

There are only two psychologists who have ever won a Nobel Peace Prize: Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (Physiology or Medicine, 1904) and more recently, Daniel Kahneman (Economic Sciences, 2002). This is significant because there isn’t actually a Nobel Prize in psychology.

In Kahneman’s bestselling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, we begin to understand the different thinking systems that determine human response to stimuli. The book discusses the cognitive biases associated with each system of thinking, from loss aversion to the framing effect. By differentiating the learning mind from the animalistic mind, Kahneman makes it very clear that humans are extremely irrational creatures.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he refers to the conscious mind as System 2. This is the portion of the mind that rationalizes certain behaviors in hindsight. It’s slower, more deliberative, and logical than System 1. System 2 regards what we think and perceive unconsciously, but it doesn’t tell us why we feel a certain way.

System 2 Depiction:  Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious

On the other hand, System 1, or the subconscious or unconscious mind, is the habit mind. It learns through repetition.

System 1 Depiction:  Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, unconscious.

The emphasis here is that this system DOES NOT change easily. If it were more adaptable, habits would not exist. Most of the beliefs at this level are fortified by age 7. This means that System 1, the fast, instinctive and emotional part of the mind is inherently biased and quite unrefined.

Why is this important for marketers to understand?

Preference & Unconscious Cognition

Preferences and pre-existing beliefs also have an astounding impact on memory and unconscious cognition (what we pick up on subconsciously and continuously throughout our lives).

Unconscious cognition is the perception, learning, thinking, and communication that take place without being consciously aware of them taking place.

Since users are already biased by the time they learn about your business, the role of modern marketers is to harmonize the offering of your business with the subconscious desires and biases of qualified users.

In other words, we must earn the trust of a user’s subconscious mind.

Earning Trust & Understand How Decisions Are Made

When it comes to understanding decision-making from your customer’s point of view, there are several factors that come into play. Penetrating the walls and defenses in a modern user’s mind involves a combination of skills.

An understanding of neuroscience, linguistics, psychology, emotional intelligence, and subconscious communication goes a long way in executing a successful campaign.

The actual level of involvement of the unconscious brain during a cognitive process is negligible. However, there are several experiments and well-recorded phenomena to support that there is indeed involvement, like the illusion-of-truth effect. In neuromarketing, these foundational beliefs and biases are comparable to the root of a tree.

The Foundation of Personal Preferences

The root is quite necessary for the growth of the tree. However, it’s out of sight for most of the tree’s life. Beyond some sort of miraculous intervention or major alteration, it’s not going anywhere.

It’s firm, stable, and the core of what’s keeping the organism alive.

Ultimately, a user’s subconscious programs are most influential when that user decides to buy your product or service.

They’ll justify and rationalize why they chose you over competitors, yet they won’t really know why they did. It’s a marketers job to determine why a customer will buy from you, specifically, and drive the best customers to you.


Cell Memory & Memory Transference in Organ Transplant Recipients

There are many accounts of heart transplant recipients acquiring memories and personality traits from their donors. These suggest that preferences may stem from deeper resonance with environmental stimuli. Modern science cannot prove that these preferences are fundamental preferences, but here are a few examples supporting the focus of this article: the source of preference & unconscious cognition.

Beer & Chicken Nuggets

Claire Sylvia developed a preference for beer just shortly after receiving a heart transplant. Prior to her transplant, she was not keen on drinking beer. She also developed cravings for green peppers, and strangely, KFC chicken nuggets. She later began to have recurring dreams about a man named Tim L.

After searching through the local obituaries, she found Tim’s and eventually met with his family. They later confirmed his love for beer, green peppers, and of course, chicken nuggets.

A Preference for Classical Music

A 47-year-old received the heart of a black teenager killed in a drive-by shooting.

After the transplant, he developed a love for classical music. His biases did not allow him to associate this newfound preference with the transplant from the black teen, as he expected the teen would only listen to rap music. Later on, he discovered the teenager was a violinist. And he died holding his violin.

Finding A Murder

An eight-year-old girl received the heart of a murdered ten-year-old girl.

After the transplant, she began having vivid recurring dreams of being murdered by an unknown man. The girl’s mother took her to a psychiatrist, who then contacted police after determining this was a real event that had taken place. After providing clues such as the time the murder occurred, the weapon used, the place, clothes worn by the murderer, and a few verbal exchanges – police had enough info to track down the killer. This ultimately led police to find and convict the person behind this horrific crime.

Sexual Preference

A 19-year-old woman was killed in a car accident. Following the accident, a 29-year-old gay woman with a rare heart condition received the accident victim’s heart.

Shortly after the transplant, the gay woman had become a health-conscious, vegetarian, who enjoyed heterosexual relationships. A previously gay woman who enjoyed eating meat and junk food became attracted to men, and even got married declaring that she was no longer sexually attracted to women.

Negative Traits Inherited from A Donor

A nine-year-old boy received a heart transplant from a three-year-old girl who drowned in a pool at her mother’s boyfriend’s house. Apparently, before she drowned, the girl’s mother had gone through an ugly divorce and her father refused to see his daughter after the separation.

The recipient told his mother that he was receiving information from a girl who was “sad” and “wished her parents would not abandon or neglect her.” The transplant recipient’s mother reported that her son had become very afraid of water and abandonment after receiving the transplant.

What causes this phenomena?

The heart contains cells similar to the brain. Consequently, cellular memories and traits may be transferred from the heart to the brain. There are rare cases where other organ transplants result in such dramatic, fundamental changes in the recipient’s personality and core preferences. However, according to one study, kidney, liver, and other organ recipients often indicate changes in sense of smell, food preference, and emotional triggers after the procedure, but these are usually temporary changes.

One thing we can be certain about is that these preferences are hard-wired into customers before they find you.

As modern marketers, we have two options:

  • Play the numbers game – we can use brute force and generalized content to break through to customers after several interactions.
  • Outsmart the competition – we can use emotional intelligence and specific, directed content to increase appeal to a customer’s subconscious biases and preferences (lessening the number of required touches to make the sale).

In order to perform the latter, you’ll need a savvy team working by your side 24-7.

When it comes to online marketing, the diamonds are in the details. Most firms focus on volume. We’re suggesting that you tweak that focus a bit to yield greater ROI, conversion, and retention with less work for the business owner. Customers will feel the shift from focusing on your business growth to focusing on your customer’s deepest desires and preferences. It’s a small shift that makes a big difference.

Digital marketing savvy is only as effective…as your marketing team’s understanding of your customers is thorough.