The power of the subconscious

At the recent German Neuromarketing Congress 2012, researchers demonstrated the impact of physiological reactions on what we think we experience versus what we actually experience in a neuro-scientific experiment involving a researcher on a rope bridge.

The results have made me very wary about whom I cross rickety rope bridges with in the future (unless it is George Clooney).

Allow me to explain this.

In this experiment, a female researcher stood in the centre of the bridge asking respondents questions on various topics and handing out her phone number, mentioning respondents could contact her if they had anything to add to the research.

Almost all of the male respondents interviewed on the rope bridge actually gave the researcher a call (many more than the control group who were interviewed on solid ground), with lots of them asking her out on a date. So what happened to cause such a response?

The neuroscientists discovered that the typical physiological mild panic reactions of being on a rope bridge – accelerated heartbeat, sweating hands and so on – were actually processed by the male subconscious as the feelings of ‘having fallen in love’ with the researcher. They couldn’t explain the real reason why they acted like they did as it was purely subconscious.

How is this relevant to business owners, brand builders and marketers (beyond saving their marriages)?

Well, our behaviour is influenced by many processes which we are not aware of and this has enormous implications for creating behavioural change.

In fact, up to 95% of our decision-making takes place below the radar of the consciousness. A quick look into the human brain explains why.

Our senses take in about 11 million bits of information every second, but only 40 bits per second can be processed by our conscious brains. On top of that, subconscious (or emotional) processing happens 200 times faster than conscious. Simply put, consumer decisions are made quickly and largely subconsciously, and then rationalised later.

There are many more examples of how ineffective it is to research and target only the conscious mind, or the rational consumer – from anti-smoking campaigns that actually trigger the want for a cigarette to posters in trains encouraging quieter carriages without any effect to marketing emails whose general conversion currently lies somewhere around 2%.

Despite the growing awareness of the power of the subconscious, most research and subsequent strategies still rely on the conscious mind, only 5% of our decision-making power – just the tip of the iceberg. The good news is that there are (non-invasive) tools and techniques available to brands now, which enable marketers to tap into the subconscious and understand how and why consumers will connect and resonate with your brand.

Thank you for reading my first Smart Company blog. I look forward to sharing further insights into the neurosciences, brand strategy, and consumer behaviour and targeting, and welcome your feedback and comments below or by email to

Happy mind diving and make sure your partner stays away from rope bridges!

Katharina Kuehn is director of RDG Insights, a subsidiary of Retail Doctor Group which provides retailers and brands with the missing link between understanding the real drivers of consumer behaviours and informing the strategic branding and operational implications at the point of sale. “Innovative consumer insights are vital to the development and implementation of a truly differentiated brand strategy. How we as humans interact with brands in a meaningful and loyal way underpins the growth and profitability of all businesses.”



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.