Traditional research techniques rely on the deeply flawed process of asking consumers to self-analyse their behaviours – Collective’s Adam Cleaver argues that we need to explore the subconscious.

There are two problems marketing has with technology and customers.

One: Traditional consumer research is just as likely to unearth falsehoods as it is truths. In fact, behavioural science has proven just how bad humans are at understanding why we do what we do, and has shown that most of the time consumers either don't know what they want. Or simply just don't care.

This is beautifully summed up in a quote from legendary adman, David Ogilvy. "People don't think what they feel, don't say what they think and don't do what they say."

Well, that’s a positive start, isn't it?

Two: More often than not, we see technology as the be-all and end-all of reaching our desired target audiences and making that all-important sale. But, in the real world technology is just a tool – a glorified hammer. It’s people’s creativity with these tools that is everything. And it’s the intersection of humanity and technology that leads to greatness.

Ideally, whether we’re developing new technologies or creating new marketing and media campaigns we must get better at putting human understanding at the heart of what we create.

The marketing and consumer electronics world is littered with products (read, failed products) that didn’t do this. Think iBeacons, Google Glass and the gesture navigation of Leap Motion. All great ideas, but failures because the customer experience was secondary.

On the flip side, one of the most successful and lauded ad campaigns in advertising history, Avis’s original ‘We try harder’ campaign from the 60s, was hated by consumers when it went into testing. And yet, Steve Job’s famous dislike of consumer research and ‘design by committee’ resulted in one of the most influential pieces of consumer technology ever produced: the iPhone.

But in a world so led by the consumer and what they want (to the point where you can look at any brand website in the world and switch the logos and not notice the difference), how can we break the shackles and insert human customer experience into what we do if we can’t really trust what consumers tell us, and therefore don't have a clue what they want?

It boils down to understanding how our brains work.

Firstly we need to move away from purely relying on focus groups and rely more on behavioural research and audience psychological profiling – seeing what customers do rather than just what they say –  to truly understand how they interact with products and services.

We (as consumers) don’t intend to pull the wool over market researchers' eyes, we’re just very bad at self-analysis. As behavioural science has taught us, most human decisions are strongly influenced by the emotional governors in the brain rather than the rational. System 1 fast thinking vs System 2 slow thinking. As a result, when we post-rationalise our decision making we can easily come to the wrong conclusions. And this is compounded by the fact that what we say is based on how we want to be perceived by others and how we think others perceive us.

Put simply, what a consumer says is important may actually be completely divorced from the real reason they said it.

As Adam Ferrier says: “Don’t listen to what people say, but hear what’s behind what they say.”

To do this, we need to factor in personality traits, world views and cognitive biases. And we also need to get better at understanding system 1 emotional responses.

There are now many neuroscience tools – from facial coding to eye tracking – that try to measure and understand our subconscious automated responses rather than just our post-rationalised reflection.

But perhaps more importantly we need to stand up for our brands and brand experiences. Because, quite simply, customers don’t care.

As automotive manufacturers and the likes of Nike and IKEA have long understood, digital immersion drives purchase. The more you allow customers to change your product, add personal touches or even place it in a living room, the greater the psychological attachment. This is pure brand experience.

The richer, more tactile approach to what’s now called ‘immersive commerce’ switches off our online autopilot creating cognitive space that facilitates the online brand differentiation CMO’s and businesses need. It’s why, according to Accenture, iCommerce can increase revenue by 21% and average transaction value by 13%. And it’s why 64% of brands are starting to invest in more immersive shopper experiences.

And finally, we need to be creative, to try out new approaches, to zig while others zag, to drive likeability.

Whether it’s diving deeper into behavioural responses and the ‘why’ of what customers do or say, bringing the brand to the fore via more immersive brand experiences, or simply applying some lateral thinking to turn perceived wisdoms on their head, we can be both customer-centric without being literal to what customers say they want.

Fundamentally we should be using what we understand about customers to lead them, not follow them.