Consumer Archetypes: One Body, Multiple Selves (3/8)

By Phumulani Mngomezulu

Phumulani Mngomezulu is a Brand Strategist and an award-winning business author whose thought leadership work has been highly  recommended by business, marketing, brand and psychology experts across Africa and successful brands in Africa. Phumulani’s strategy and thought leadership work focuses on sustainable brand building and branding for purpose-led/impact entrepreneurial development.  

In this Article Series, Phumulani explores a framework for creating consumer archetypes/profiles for consumer segmentation and building the case for a purpose-driven entrepreneurial brand story.

In a previous article, Beliefs, I spoke of the importance of having our consumer’s reality in mind, and how that reality can help brands to become more empathetic and innovate from real insights that generate emotional responses. 

This article draws upon focus on how that emotionality comes alive in the way consumers make decisions, as we continue with the surface/below surface lens that we have been using in our discussions throughout this article series.

Just like story, brands mimic the way the brain creates our experience of being alive. Our experiences of life are a result of the unique cause and affect narratives that we carry. Cause and effect is how we fundamentally experience reality. It is how we think. When something happens in our environment, we attend to it, we look into what caused it and what could happen next. Out of that curiosity our actions are triggered and with each action triggering the next (like a character in a plot) our story takes shape. Everything that happens in the story becomes a product of the unique ways that the character thinks and behaves, characteristic to who they are.

Everything that happens in a story is caused by the character’s character. What storytellers seek to find in The Dramatic Question – the question that brings meaning to any story and the question that essentially propels us to ask: Who is this character? Who is this person? Are they a good person or a bad person?  is similar to what we search for in our quest to glean insights on our consumer: Who is this consumer? Are they a good person or a bad person? and how does that implicate the way we shape brands?

Our inner voice – all of the ways we are morally just

The answer is not simple to discern, and we can learn a lot from the findings of psychiatrists, in what they define as Confabulation. Confabulation is when we human beings tell a story that is fictional while believing that it is true. This is something we do all the time and we call it our inner voice. This inner voice, as neuroscientists say, is generated by our word and speech-making circuitry in our left hemisphere of the brain. It is the voice inside of us that helps us to justify all the ways that we are morally correct. It helps us explain why we do and say certain things or why we like certain objects and to a large extent; the inner voice also helps us to explicitly define who we are.  For example: “I am a good and generous person” or “I did that because I wanted to” or “I like that product because it’s nice”. However, this idea of ourselves is only a result of the word and speech-making circuitry of our brain and does not include the structures that influences our emotions and behavior, like the thalamus, hypothalamus and amygdala. This makes this idea only a half-truth of who we are.

Multiplicity – how emotional contexts reveal our otherness

Award winning medical and science writer who specialises in the human brain, Rita Carter, also helps us to understand this. In her compelling study on Multiplicity, she succinctly presents another view that who we are is in a constant flux. At different times, under different circumstances, a different version of us emerges. When that version emerges, it takes over the role of our confabulated idea of self, presenting its case so passionately and convincingly and usually even victoriously. The truth of this can be physiologically seen, for example,  in a condition called The Alien Hand Syndrome, where patients that have this condition experience a behaviour that would normally have been suppressed, take independent control of their limb. Such examples include a woman that was observed by neurologists, whose left hand subconsciously grabbed her neck and tried to throttle her and another example is a patient whose left hand started removing things from her handbag without her being aware.

Psychologically, this multiplicity is revealed when we are emotional. When we’re furious, we become a completely different person that comes with their own goals, values and ambitions, living in a different reality from when we feel sad, depressed or happy. We still maintain our core personality, which influences a big part of our confabulated self but this core personality is like a pole we can constantly move around. The way we behave is a combination of this core personality and the context in which we are in. Therefore, this implies that who we are constantly changes with our circumstances.

In stories, we usually see this interplay between the two levels that the story plays in – On the surface where the character is active in day-to-day events, and below the surface where those daily events trigger something in their emotional realm.

As a result, this tells us something about how we have to understand who our consumer really is. At one level they are led by their inner voice that tells them all the ways that they are morally right, and on the other level, they are inhabited by many different people who have different goals and values because, by virtue of their humanity, they have different emotions, including one who may be determined to personal growth and one who is determined to be happy.

That inside one body, the consumer has different versions of self that are constantly fighting for control over who they are, can explain why brand building is such a delicate and complex exercise. It can explain why a consumer may at one moment ask for a particular product, and shortly after that, change their minds or dispose that product altogether and request for something completely different. It can also explain why when given a survey or questionnaire, consumers may explicitly endorse particular brands but may not be willing to spend money on them. It is the difference between liking something on Facebook and actually liking it in real life. The nuance is one of irrationality.

The one thing that sticks with me is the finding that context or circumstances influence personality. Why is that the case? Is it because in these particular contexts, people come across sensory elements that evoke certain memories which trigger emotional responses? Because what we know for sure is that our emotional responses come from the reception of sensory stimuli. And in the case of consumers, we know that people buy because of emotional reasons. So, what does all of this mean for brands?

My biggest prediction is that the best chance of emotional engagement that brands have, is when they are built in congruent to the emotional contexts of the buyer. If personality and purchase decision making is influenced by circumstance or emotional context then surely that is the area where brands are or must be built. So, does the inclusion of the sensory elements of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell which we know will produce emotional significance; impact the way we define context in strategy? Lastly, does that definition of context help us define our consumer better in a way that makes them come alive, even in our own imagination?

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