We like to think that influences on our behavior are things of which we are aware. It makes us feel like we are in control. However, forces affect our behavior whether we are aware of them or not. Moreover, the non-conscious influences of which we aren’t mindful have more sway over our behavior than our control-freak selves would like to admit.
Non-conscious influences include the most common one that people talk about, subliminal messages. Subliminal messages come from things we sense, either from our eyes, ears, skin, etc., but of which our conscious mind is not aware. Even though our eyes saw something and it has registered in our brain as having been seen, we are not consciously acknowledging that our eyes saw something.
Many people associate subliminal messages with advertising. Here are a few good ones that are well known subliminal messages or images:
The Arrow in the FedEx Logo
It’s in the white space between the E and x, which is meant to indicate delivery from point A to point B:
The Dollar Bill in the KFC Ad:
This one is from KFC, captured by a sports fan, features a dollar bill in the lettuce for their Snacker sandwiches, which are priced at 99 cents:
An Homage to Toblerone’s Town of Origin:
Toblerone’s logo features a bear in the mountain graphic, which references the flag of the town where the candy originated:
All of the examples I shared here are benign. However, one need not dig deep in the Google search to find cases that are NSFW.
The Intuitive System Filters Non-Conscious Influences for You
I have written before about the two systems of thinking first introduced by Professor Daniel Kahneman and Dr. Amos Tversky, most notably in my latest book, The Intuitive Customer (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), co-authored by Professor Ryan Hamilton of Emory University. We have the Intuitive System, which is fast and emotional, and the Rational System, which is slow and logical. One of the jobs of the Intuitive System is to process all the stimuli that come into the brain, including the non-conscious influences, like subliminal messages. It filters all the information we receive—from visual to auditory, directional to temperate, and much more—so we only have what is most important to us.
An example of what I mean by this could be eating at a noisy restaurant. Imagine sitting in a loud café eating your meal with all the noise of the kitchen, the other patrons or the outside traffic as background. Even if you are engrossed in scrolling through your feeds, your Intuitive System is monitoring all the sounds around you (and the smells and sights, textures, etc.). However, the Intuitive system doesn’t alert you to anything until it’s pertinent, like when someone says your name or you get a text message. Then, the Intuitive System kicks it up into your consciousness, causing you to pay attention to the stimuli.
Subliminal information is all the stuff that doesn’t get kicked up to consciousness from the café. It could include the one-sided phone conversation of someone across the restaurant or the dragging muffler of the car as it turns the corner on the street outside. When something does get kicked up to the conscious mind, we call that superliminal, like when someone in the café said your name. The difference between them is whether or not we are aware of the information.
My regular readers know of my passionate hatred for Ryanair, but for those of you who don’t, Ryanair is a European budget airline known for their cheap fares. A couple of years ago, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary threatened to start charging passengers £1 ($1.33) to go to the loo. Now, his idea, which got a lot of press, might have been a tactic used to communicate that Ryanair is always looking for ways to keep fares low, no matter how ridiculous. (It also demonstrates that the airline doesn’t care a wit about the Customer Experience, but that is not the concept we are discussing at the moment.)
Non-conscious messaging either already has or is currently influencing your behavior right now reading this article. For example, if I were to change the font here to a different one, you might think that this is the most important bit in the whole article. Moreover, when it first appeared on your screen, your Intuitive System might have seen this sentence first because it looked different than the others (subliminal). Then, it read it because non-consciously your Intuitive System equates text in bold to the most critical part (influenced your behavior) and then kicked it up to your consciousness (superliminal). For the record, the bolded and different font does highlight the most crucial sentence in the article because it demonstrates how a little thing like a font change and a formatting difference exerts a non-conscious influence over what you read first.
The Little Things Mean a Lot
So, what does this have to do with your Customer Experience? These influences on the unconscious mind, whether you are aware of them (superliminal) or not (subliminal) affect your behavior. Moreover, these forces can be as simple as the words you use in your marketing copy or images you associate with your brand or even the environment that you provide for people.
Non-conscious influencing isn’t the key to your success, but it is one of many parts of your Customer Experience that affect its outcome. It’s the little things, all of them, meaning the ones you know you noticed and the ones you don’t. In other words, the things that influence people are subtle. That means constant vigilance is necessary on your part to ensure the things that influence people do so the way you intend.
Let us know in the comments below if you just realized, after the event, how you were affected by a non-conscious influence.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX