Can You Measure Customer’s Sub-Conscious Motivations?

Can You Measure Customer’s Sub-Conscious Motivations?

Sub-Conscious Motivations

Sub-Conscious Motivations Are Hidden From Us:

Neuroscience suggests that up to 95% of our decisions are made by our emotional sub-conscious brain. Yet most research targets the conscious mind. To understand implicit (psychological) goals it is necessary to access the unconscious brain. It directs attention towards brands and is more predictive of purchasing behaviour than subjective likeability.

What are implicit research techniques?

Implicit research seeks to access the automatic and sub-conscious mind (see System 1) using techniques that do not rely on direct, deliberate or intentional self-reporting. As a result relatively few research techniques qualify as implicit. Many methods of research rely on conscious (intentional) thought and are unable to access sub-conscious motivations.

Image of table showing different types of research and whether they are implicit techniques

One implicit research technique that is becoming increasingly popular with marketers is the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It is scalable and can measure sub-conscious motivations and feelings towards a brand or product

What is the Implicit Association Test?

The IAT allows you to measure the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental concepts (e.g. Muslims and Christians) and evaluations (e.g. positive or negative) or stereotypes (e.g. extremists, don’t integrate). It does this by measuring how quickly people can sort words or images into categories each time they are “primed” to a stimulus (e.g. a brand logo or product).

Why does it work?

When you are primed with an image, sound or a word, the associations your brain has with that concept are much more accessible to you. It improves your cognitive processing and can uncover the strength of your feelings. It also monitors how each prime affects your mental processing speed and accuracy.

IAT achieves this by asking respondents to quickly sort words into one of two categories shown on a computer screen. Participants use the “e” key to indicate if the word is most strongly associated with the category on the left and the “i” key if it belongs to the right.

How is the data used?

By understanding users’ implicit or sub-conscious motivations marketers can design content and messages that are much more emotionally engaging and psychologically persuasive. By combining the findings with data from traditional methods of research, we can create a decision-making model that includes both emotion and reason. Such models can generate very accurate predictions of user behaviour which can inform campaign planning and value proposition development.

This allows us to measure the impact of the non-conscious on new product concept adoption, advertising response, brand image, packaging evaluations and more. IAT’s also allow you to understand the needs, interests and expectations of different customer segments. Enabling you to better marketing communications for different target audiences to generate a truly emotional response.

Agencies offering IAT’s:

Due to the increasing awareness of the limitations of traditional research more companies are now offering IAT’s to probe the non-conscious mind of the consumer. This includes companies such as Sentient Decision Science and marketing consultancy Beyond Reason.


The IAT offers a scalable and affordable way for organisations to measure non-conscious motivations and expectations. Implicit methods of research provide a more reliable and accurate measure of a user’s behaviour than traditional explicit research techniques. Like surveys and focus groups.

Indeed, studies have indicated that IAT results show good correlation with preference and purchase intent. So, if you want to understand true user motivations it is time to ditch traditional questionnaires and focus groups. They are probably doing more harm than good.


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