I spent 25 years of my life in Unilever, Diageo and T-Mobile trying to influence consumer behaviour in favour of my brands and products. In order to achieve this, we as marketers accumulate a huge amount of information and sophisticated analyses about our customers. Indeed, companies such as those for which I worked have developed models and processes that capture years of collective experience. These models guide our multi-million investments in product development and innovation, communication and research. However, the true reasons why we, as human beings, do what we do remain a mystery. Otherwise the failure rate of new products would be nowhere near the reported 80–90 per cent and advertising budgets would be totally efficient and effective.

But marketing life’s not like that. Sometimes my activities were successful, sometimes they were not, and based on my personal experience, and in common with many marketers, I built my own mental model of how consumers decide. I knew that this belief system was far from perfect, but no one had a better one to offer – each had his own belief system, which of course led to massive internal discussions (or arguments!), ending in decisions based on personal preferences, often dictated by hierarchy.

This is symptomatic of a more general point, and one that should concern all marketers – a recent study by the Fournaise Marketing Group among 1,200 CEOs across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific reported that 80 per cent of chief executives ...

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