Our mind = rider on an elephant
Picture your mind as a rider on an elephant (see above for inspiration). The rider is the conscious, controlled thought. Like when you need to pack for a weekend in Rome, and think through the days and situations you will need to have appropriate clothes for. Unfortunately, the human mind can only run one conscious thinking process at a time – and sometimes (often?) even this is switched off (think morning before the first coffee . To cope, most of our thinking is automated – that’s the elephant. The elephant includes our gut feelings, emotions and intuitions, and makes the bulk of our decisions. Although a simplification, the metaphor highlights the fact that the human mind is divided into parts that operate differently, have different roles and sometimes conflict.
Who is in charge?
It turns out that the rider evolved to serve to the elephant, not the other way around. This is a bit counterintuitive, as it goes directly against our perception (while we perceive the rider very clearly – these are our conscious thoughts, after all – we are only vaguely aware of the elephant). Such assertion also goes against what we are taught in business schools – you know, the rational “homo economicus” nonsense. We like to believe that we are in charge of our mind via the rider, but it actually has a mind of its own. Most (hopefully not all) of our actions and decisions are determined by the elephant, who uses the rider to create plausible justifications to be given to other people in case they ask. Have you ever argued with an Apple fanboy? If so, you’ve argued with his Apple-loving elephant, who used his rider as a lawyer to fight in the PC-Mac (Android-iOS?) case. The elephant decides what is good or bad, what is beautiful or ugly. Our gut feelings, intuitions, and snap judgments happen constantly and automatically, and unless modified by our rider or other people, determine our preferences and ultimately drive our behaviour.
The marketing implication is clear – we need to market to the elephant, but at the same time provide enough “meat” to the rider to be able to justify the elephant’s choice. But how do you market to the elephant? It might help to think about Apple, Snog, Innocent Drinks, Starbucks, or Lacoste. The elephant loves status and success on the societal terms. Most elephants like to belong and be admired by other elephants, and are therefore naturally drawn to products and services that help them convey their desired identity. The elephant also likes his ways, and it’s very hard for the rider to change the elephant’s direction (automatic, instinctive decisions). This is because the rider’s energy (willpower) is a limited resource, and changing some habits (have you ever resolved to exercise regularly? ) often requires more of it than is available. The rider can also be influencing only one decision at a time, if he cares to do so. For marketers, it’s better to bypass the rider completely when trying to influence the elephant, at least initially. Marketing to the elephant involves emotions, connection and time.
The Snog marketing
Snog (a UK frozen yogurt brand) is a great example of elephant marketing. Buying a snog is about status and identity – it’s an easy way for the elephant to express that he’s on trend, has healthy lifestyle and the disposable income to afford premium treats. It’s a way to both feel special and belong, if your friends have similar elephants. Of course a frozen yogurt has less calories than ice cream, but that’s just for the rider to tell other people and justify the purchase. Switching from ice cream to a frozen yogurt is also relatively easy for the elephant, as it’s just a minor modification of an existing (ice-cream eating) habit. Snog got the elephant marketing right.
You can read more about the elephant rider metaphor in The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science or Switch: How to change things when change is hard (affiliate links; Switch Idea Review is here). And yes, go have a Snog