Zen of Marketing


Coles College professor’s insights into consumer behavior challenge marketing canons  …

Georgia (Mar 27, 2012)

Coles College professor’s insights into consumer behavior challenge marketing canons


           Neale Martin has a Ph.D. in marketing and has consulted with top technology and consumer products companies. But his keen insights into how consumers behave have their origins elsewhere: his years working as a rehab counselor.

            Early in his career, while working at an alcohol and drug treatment center, Martin became acquainted with the neurological underpinnings of addictions. He was mystified by why addicts used drugs and alcohol again and again even as they were conscious that these addictions led to bad outcomes, such as losing their jobs or their families. The role of the unconscious mind and habits in human behavior stuck with Martin even as he changed careers.

            “It was much easier for me to understand how behavior can occur outside of conscious awareness, even sabotaging people’s intentions,” says Martin, a resident scholar in the Department of Management & Entrepreneurship at the Coles College of Business. “I had always been fascinated by brain physiology and neuroscience, and learning about addiction gave me insights into how consumers unconsciously form habits.”

            By bringing together insights from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics and neuromarketing, Martin has emerged as a leading scholar in the field of consumer behavior. Recent research into how the brain works, he argues, suggests that most human behavior is under the sway of unconscious habits and not the conscious, cognitive brain.

            Martin’s provocative views are rapidly going mainstream. His 2008 book “Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore,” is now in its second paperback printing in the U.S. and has been published in the United Kingdom and India and translated into Chinese, Korean and Portuguese. Martin’s unorthodox ideas have caught the attention of marketing execs at blue chip companies such as Verizon, P&G, Campbell Soup Company and Eli Lilly. The Coles College of Business has developed a six-day, executive education certification program in habit-based marketing based on Martin’s ideas aimed at marketing and product development specialists.

            “Professor Martin’s pioneering work has actually challenged some of the most fundamental tenets of marketing and product development,” says Mike Salvador, director of Executive Education Programs at the Coles College of Business. “He has redefined the principles of what drives consumer behavior.”

            Martin’s eclectic background  –– besides psychiatric health care, he has had jobs in hospital administration, journalism, technology and strategic consulting ––  has contributed to shaping his views on consumer behavior. His graduate studies analyzing consumer behavior crystallized some of his casual observations on habitual behavior. As a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech, he designed an experiment to analyze the relationship between a product and its retail environment to see how attitudes toward the brand and the store affected each other.

            His aha! moment came as he watched his teenage daughter, sitting on a couch next to the phone at home, pick up her cell phone to make a call. Martin observed that she used her cell phone out of habit, not thinking that the landline provided better quality for free. That led to a presentation in front of telcom execs reiterating how they need to become their customers’ habit instead of their choice. Further reading on new research on the influence of habitual behavior  provided more ammunition for his ideas. 

            “Marketing can now be updated with this new understanding of the consumer mind,” Martin explains. “The long-held concept that habits automate behavior out of conscious awareness explained much of what had puzzled marketers for years, such as customer satisfaction not predicting future behavior. There is a huge disconnect between what people say the will do and what they actually do.”


--- By Aixa M. Pascual





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