Read My Mind.

Week of October 22, 2018

Like many of you, I was born to travel and, these days, I spend a good chunk of my week on a plane. There are few things as invigorating for me as the sights, sounds, and cultural nuances of a new destination or reconnecting with the history, geography, and people along roads previously traveled. That is . . . if this (sic) airplane ever leaves the tarmac.

At some point, air travel was glamorous, wasn’t it? Passengers dressed up, drinks flowed, and gourmet meals were served. It must have been an extraordinary experience. I wonder what a focus group comprised of airline customers from that time would make of our current day flying experience? If they weren’t already dead (due to their advanced age, of course), the security and boarding processes alone would surely shock them into blissful slumber.

What amazes me most though is that, in a world where the consumer wields such mind-blowing power, the airline industry on which so many of those consumers—including me—depend to meet their family, life, and work goals remains, at best, aloof to the experience served up every day to millions.

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I’m curious. Where is the disruption we hear so much about? Where is the demand for transformation that’s presently driving so many other industries and companies to change and improve? While most of us seek to make the customer experience our highest priority, we apparently need an Act of Congress to keep airline passengers from having to pee in plastic bags or crush their limbs to conform to ever-shrinking legroom requirements. There’s something severely wrong with this picture—especially when one considers the sheer volume of data available on the traveling public.

Hold on. The pilot just announced that we’re returning to the gate.

Ok, I’m back. Honestly, this isn’t a gripe session about airline travel. It’s about an organization’s—any organization’s—passion for serving their customers, inspiring them, and giving them reasons to come back for more. Isn’t that why we do what we do?

I mean, I get it. The airline industry in the United States is in a unique position. After all, are you seriously going to hop in the car or take an Amtrak from Dallas to Seattle for an afternoon meeting? Ever the marketer and altruist (no, that’s not necessarily an oxymoron), I believe every corporate leader should wake up in the morning with the goal of inspiring her or his employees to do what it takes to turn today’s customers into tomorrow’s advocates. How? It’s quite simple. Just read your customer’s minds.

Yes, I said, ‘read their minds.’ I firmly believe it’s the obligation of every leader to understand deeply the factors that drive their customer’s behaviors—whether the organization is large or small, regional or global in scope, or the competition is rampant or negligible (i.e. the airline industry). They must know what drives consumers to action, what constitutes a superior experience in the consumer’s minds, and what creates a nightmare for the consumer to which they will never return.

The challenge is that these factors are more-often-than-not rooted in deep-seated emotions. While a consumer may be able to recognize and articulate the fast, automatic responses that drive him or her to act, the vast majority of human thought occurs below the level of conscious awareness. Which is why—for too long— companies have based their entire portfolio of brand strategies on their consumer’s surface level reactions to surface level stimuli.

Behavioral science has rapidly transformed the ability of companies to measure the subconscious processing of brands, products, packaging, and concepts through what is known as implicit association—the level of awareness beneath the conscious mind. According to noted author and globally-recognized expert on the affect of emotion on consumer choice, Aaron Reid, Ph.D.**, “When combined with conscious assessment measures, implicit associations provide a more accurate prediction of what will be successful in the market while also going deeper than any other implicit technique as to why a brand, product, package, or concept will be successful.

In a business climate defined by increasing disruption and accelerated rates of innovation, the gap between winners and wannabe’s will widen rapidly—with advantage given to the competitor who owns the most clear, accurate, and compelling insights into both their customers’ minds (reason) and hearts (emotions).

And the best news for any business—large, mid-tier, or emerging—intent on reaching and staying on the side of the winners is that the technologies are now readily accessible and practical for use in developing fast, precise, and measurable predictions of future brand, marketing, and sales performance. That is . . . if you are committed to delivering nothing less than a superior customer experience.

Oh look, we’re pulling away from the gate. Again.

Until next week.

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*Image Credit: Tom Fishburne, marketoonist.com©

**Dr. Aaron Reid is Founder and Chief Behavioral Scientist, Sentient Decision Science.

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