UNTHINKING: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy

UNTHINKING is Beckwith’s fifth marketing book and is the result of his lifelong fascination with one question: “What unique forces drive us to choose one product or service over another?”

His research stems from thirty years of working with hundreds of businesses worldwide, including 24 Fortune 500 companies. Unlike other marketing experts, Beckwith eschews technical models, statistics and theories of cost/benefit decision-making , but rather pinpoints three major sources of influence of human behavior that shape our unconscious choices.  These are

  • Our childhood
  • Our culture
  • Our eyes

Throughout his lively and eloquent narrative, Beckwith cites dozens of examples that illustrate various dimensions of juvenile, cultural, and visual forces and sources that help to explain why our human nature

  •  Loves to play
  • Loves to be surprised and delighted
  • Loves to tell and be told stories
  • Feels empathetic toward the underdog
  • Appreciates simplicity
  • Is most comfortable with what is familiar
  • Does not want to be told we “have to do” something

Among the questions he ponders is “Why does telling us that we will die if we don’t buckle up lead more of us to not use our seat belts, but the slogan Click it or Ticket resulted in a greater than 10% increase in adult seat belt usage?” It turns out that we don’t want to be told we have to buckle up; given a choice, though, it seems like the better course of action. Also, the slogan plays into our appreciation of simple messages.

One of my favorite stories here is that when, in 2009, the editors of Sports Illustrated asked NBA players “With a game on the line – one shot wins or loses – which player would you choose to take the last shot?” 76% chose Kobe Bryant; Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce and LeBron James each came in a ridiculously remote second at 3% each.  In reality, Kobe connects only 25% of his last-second shots, and the only player who is worse is Chauncey Billups at 16.2%. Who was the best? New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony. He connects with 48.1 of his game-winning shot attempts with fewer than 24 seconds remaining in a game – almost twice Kobe’s percentage.

The point here is that the NBA players in this case are just like the rest of us – they made their choice based not on statistics but rather on perception. Kobe is an NBA All-Star shooting guard. He is familiar. He is a veteran – a future Hall-of Famer – and the overwhelming choice of a group of consumers (i.e., NBA players) that illustrates the many observations Beckwith uncovers throughout this book.

This is a fun read, mostly because of the accounts of successful businesses who have figured out the way to find a few simple patterns in the complexity of human nature and to create a product or service that people love.