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November, 2020

Neurolinguistic programming is a new consumer research paradigm

If you really want to understand consumer behaviour and what will ‘cut through’ in your communication and brand strategy that will appeal to customers, NLP unlocks behavioural attributes that will help you better attract your potential audience.

Consider for a moment that you awoke to find that you had slept in on a work day.  Would your first instinct be that you must have needed the rest, or would you be more likely to think that you will be behind for the rest of the day?

Think about a colleague you know. When they have completed a task, do they tend to pat themselves on the back or do they more tend to like their accomplishment to be acknowledged by others?

Understanding how people respond to questions like this provides insights into their thinking patterns, specifically, their neurolinguistic programming (NLP) Meta Programs.

Meta Programs are mental processes that guide and direct people’s experiences like perception and decision-making: they are often considered as the software of the brain.

NLP impacts what we pay attention to, what we respond to, what motivates us, how we engage with others around us and the tone or style of language that resonates with us the most.

As they run in the ‘background’ of our mental activity (that is, they are subconscious processes), they influence what we think and do.  Consequently, they are central to no less than how our very reality is shaped.  They impact what we pay attention to, what we respond to, what motivates us, how we engage with others around us and the tone or style of language that resonates with us the most.

They impact what we pay attention to, what we respond to, what motivates us, how we engage with others around us and the tone or style of language that resonates with us the most.

Just as with personality, people fall on a spectrum of Meta Programs, and, similarly, they are also widely understood to vary from context to context.  Whilst this is true, it is also important to understand that A Meta Program is actually a solidified meta state. That is, if you repeat the same way of thinking and the same type of behaviour over and over again (in the same context) then eventually it will become habituated and a part of who you are.  In this sense, Meta Programs can be likened to different personality types (such as Myers-Briggs).  In short, Meta Programs give us a tendency to perceive, think and do things in a certain way.

Meta Programs can provide insights into why people differ in these ways and the implications this has on their behaviour.

We all know someone who is perpetually late to meetings and events, and those who are persistent procrastinators while others are proactive doers.  Meta Programs can provide insights into why people differ in these ways and the implications this has on their behaviour.

Building on earlier research where he explored the use of Behavioural Economics to understand consumer rationality and intuition, Director of Research at TLF Research, Ben Wright says “When we look at most market research conducted today, we see that the focus of consumer psychographics and behaviours is content-specific.  That is, it is really about what people think, not how they think.  People’s thinking patterns is a significantly under-examined and under-utilised source of insight that can be applied to a wide array of marketing contexts.”  

Our idea at TLF research has been to draw on the psychological principles most familiar to Behavioural Economics by measuring people’s neurolinguistic patterns.  

While some research does look at what consumers’ value in order to try and identify the motivations behind their attitudes and behaviours, the missing link is how people handle their values.  While values are a fundamental determinant of the decisions we make in life, how we go about those decisions is based upon our Meta Programs.  

To access these psychological constructs and make them available to analysis, we measured consumers on a range of NLP Meta Programs to develop quantitative modelling of consumer thinking patterns.  And the results with our pioneering research in NLP in Australia is not only illuminating and also very exciting with what we can share to help organisations better communicate with their customers and ‘cut through’ with a message that resonates.

We used a select set of seven Meta Programs judged to have utility in research and marketing, as shown in the chart below.  We consider those who are more strongly (rather than marginally) associated as being truly reflective of a given Meta Program.  

One of the core Meta Programs that we explored is called ‘Towards-Away’, which is fundamental as it relates to how people are motivated.  At one end of the spectrum, ‘towards’ people are forward-thinking and goal-oriented, and are motivated by achievement: “If I work hard I will get this article written by close of business.”.  At the other end of the spectrum, ‘away’ people assess risk and tend to focus on what should be avoided, thus being more likely to be motivated by threats: “If I work hard I won’t miss beer o’clock.”

This is crucial insight to us in marketing, revealing the types of offers and language that will resonate among consumers.  ‘Towards’ people tend to respond better to ‘enjoy’, ‘gain’, ‘get’, ‘achieve’; ‘Away’ people will listen to ‘avoid’, ‘fix’, ‘prevent’, ‘don’t, and so on.  Brands will deliver much more powerful messaging if it aligns with how consumers are approaching their products or services.

The research found some fascinating insights around the Meta Programs and consumer behaviours and attitudes, including that:

  • There are different NLP patterns that are more prevalent at different consumer lifestages, and among different demographic groups
  • There are direct links between consumer Meta Programs and shopper behaviours
  • Different NLP patterns impact responses to the COVID pandemic

Almost twice as many females were identified as having an ‘In-time’ perspective compared to males, tending to be more likely to be focused on the ‘now’, or present moment.  The research also found that older Australians were much less likely to have an ‘In-time’ perspective.  

In terms of shopper behaviour, it was found that the more strongly goal-oriented ‘Towards’ consumers are more likely to be drawn to a brand/retailers website to help inform their purchase decisions – driven by the perceived value of the product or service features.  In contrast to those consumers, those who with a more ‘away’ thinking style are more likely to visit comparison or consumer review websites (in order to allay any fears that they may have about the product or service).  

This NLP profiling enables us to see a myriad of patterns in how consumers engage and respond to communications, including for example, that those with a preference for options (as opposed to consumers who tend to prefer procedures with clearly defined steps) are more likely to engage with email promotions and offers.  This is very useful information in terms of what to email content and framing.  

Also identified were different responses to COVID depending on NLP Profiles.  CEO at TLF Research and co-author of the book ‘How to measure customer satisfaction’, Rob MacDougall, notes that “Consumers with different Meta Programs have had a varied response in terms of their attitudes and behaviours in relation to COVID, and this has important implications for customer loyalty.”.  The research found that those who have a preference for ‘Options’ are 53% more likely to feel that companies could have been communicating with them more in the current COVID lockdown period. This is a very important finding for businesses as the natural inclination towards choices among ‘Options’ people may have made them much more susceptible to switch brands in the current environment, and particularly so if companies have not stayed in touch with them.

The research also identified hundreds of intriguing findings.  For example, have you ever noticed how some people love to have a wide range of options to choose from and have no problem navigating choices, while others have a preference for their daily rituals, routines and step-by-step planning?  The former are possibility seekers, or ‘options’ focused, whilst the latter are more driven by necessity or ‘procedures’.  The metrics can be used to profile consumer by this behaviour, and thus, those who are more or less prone to ‘choice paralysis’ when confronted with too many options.  The findings can also be combined with other consumer information to generate fascinating insights.  For example, males who don’t have pets are approximately 3 times as likely to have a preference towards procedures rather than options (30% vs 11% respectively).  In contrast, males with pets are equally likely to be possibility seekers (25%) as procedures driven (24%).

Just some of the advantages of our NLP insights include:

  • Creation of an NLP Profile of Australians as well as profiles of different consumer segments
  • Creation of multi-dimensional segmentation of Australian consumers based on their personal values, attitudes, shopper behaviour, demographics and their thinking patterns
  • Identification of hidden market dynamics in specific shopper categories

The applications of NLP are clearly very diverse and can help marketers shape and refine their messaging (through using language that builds rapport with customers) and drive behaviour change (through using language that will resonate and reduce resistance to change).

Meta Programs reveal unique insights that traditional profiling questions don’t elucidate.  The identification of different thinking patterns among different consumer segments the inclusion of Meta Programs in our research have enabled us to frame our segmentation thinking and drive creation of a unique consumer profiling approach.  Combined with traditional segmentation approaches, this adds another layer of insight to predicting consumer responses to product and service offers and communications.

Ben concludes “NLP Meta Programs are identified as a unique and powerful way to frame consumer attitudes and behaviour that can be applied to a wide array of contexts.

Specifically, this is extremely insightful information in relation to marketing, communications, advertising, and branding.  Indeed, how can you truly understand the voice of your customer without understanding the language patterns in their thoughts that they use to navigate the world?”.

For further information on this such as our NLP Consumer Profiling or other extensive insights from our Australian Pulse research please contact us.