Searching consumers: If brains are like computers

In consumer research, a long standing set of assumptions about what people do and how they make decisions has been influenced by computer science. Mid-century researchers like James Bettman explicitly tried to model the processes that went on inside a consumer’s brain when they made a purchase decision. A key concept here was memory. It was argued that marketing communications helps to provide information about products and brands which consumers store in their memories and recall when making a purchase. Although these ideas have been heavily criticised, they continue to influence consumer researchers.

Ironically, though, more contemporary consumer research pay less attention to computer science. As anyone who uses dropbox will know, computers increasingly don’t store information. They access information stored “in the cloud”. Reading Lovink (2012) it became clear to me that this relationship between PCs and clouds is  or much current consumer behaviour. As Carr argues, we leave in a culture increasingly dominated by searching not memorising. We don’t have to remember much nowadays because we can search for it on a great big external memory – the web. Isn’t this the same for consumption. For many consumers purchase decisions involve searching for not recalling information.

What might this mean for marketers? Well it could mean that they increasing focus on making their products and brands findable. This requires them to understand how and when people search and how the  for product information direct their decision. eg, give one consumer Google and another Bing, will they find the same information. Short answer: no. Indeed, give the same person Google and Bing and they won’t find the same information.

If someone would like to provide me with funding, I will happily investigate this for you.

Originally published at socialstudiesofmarketing.wordpress.com

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