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Amazonified Millennials: How to thrive via The 9 WHY’s of Context

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This article originally appeared in Greenbook Blog

Capturing the attention of Millennials and Gen Z is at the forefront of many countless businesses. Doing so in the age of Amazon requires attention to the 4 motivations that drive human behavior.

Amazon will soon rule the world and all physical goods (and most digital services) will be delivered within 1-hour of order. Right?

It can feel this way if you’re a brand that makes and/or sells anything to anyone under the age of… well, anyone. And though it’s futile to attempt to be faster or cheaper than Amazon, many brands see those as the only viable strategies. While out-Amazoning-Amazon is a fool’s errand, reframing your strategic worldview opens new horizons of hope and business potential.

Using the lens of neuropsychology, it turns out there’s a lot more to the cognition of decision-making than simply the conventional definitions of “price” or “convenience.”

An analogy: imagine you could peer into someone’s mind… you’d see a little boardroom table, around which are seated 4 members of the board. As the person moves through her day, a year, her life, the 4 board members in her mind take turns assuming the “chair” of the board; that is, one of the 4 will steer the ship based on whatever’s going on around the person.

The 4 Motivations

This is a simple explanation of the 4 Motivations that drive human behavior, and the crucial role of context in diagnosing—and predicting—what someone will think, buy, and recommend.

The 4 board members (aka the 4 Motivations), in their simplest form:

  1. Think

  2. Assimilate

  3. Experience

  4. Win

So taking these somewhat abstract Motivations, and envisioning them in real-life contexts…

  • When the person is doing their taxes, Think moves to the chair of the board.

  • When they’re deciding where to eat dinner with friends, Assimilate likely drives decision making.

  • When choosing personal care products, perhaps Experience calls the shots.

  • Planning their personal investment strategy, Win may take center stage.

These 4 Motivations emerge from a wealth of research and data publications by neuroscientists and psychologists on university campuses all around the world. And just as they simplify human behavior, they can empower brand practitioners to address what actually matters in predicting and driving behavior.

So back to our Amazon conundrum, and all of those who are trying to figure out how to matter to young consumers seemingly bent on ordering anything and everything with a tap of the cursor.

In our work, my team and I regularly measure the 4 Motivations that drive consumers, along with the 5 Costs that hinder them, across various populations in the U.S. and around the world. As such, we maintain a database, captured via mobile implicit measurement.

Drawing from that database, we see a ‘signal’ that sheds fresh perspective on how to zig where Amazon zags, and it reveals that the real currency of value among Millennial and Gen Z consumers is not money, or ease – it’s time.

The Value of Time

In the broadest sense, younger consumers feel a time cost. So, non-conscious questions flowing through a person’s mind – and being evaluated by those 4 little board members in her head:

  • If I do this, what will I have to give up doing?

  • If I decide to buy this, will it be worth the time invested?

  • Will I be able to enjoy this without feeling rushed?

And herein lies the key to competing with Amazon: as quick as ordering via Amazon is, from a cognitive perspective, it’s actually somewhat time intensive.

This is because the problem with Amazon relative to time is that it assumes you know what you are looking for. Amazon, as with virtually all eComm user experiences, is essentially just the front-end of a database. It’s the Google search pane, with more window dressing around the sides.

Imagine if Amazon were a restaurant… Imagine sitting down, and the server asks, “what would you like?” – but you haven’t seen a menu. You’d probably say, “well what’s good here?” at which point he’d say “oh, we have everything – just tell me what you want!”

Frustrating, right? If you knew you wanted a cheeseburger, that would, in fact, be the quickest way to get it: when he asks what you want, you blurt out “cheeseburger” and, voila, it appears.

But that’s not the reality in many dining contexts, nor is it a reality for many shoppers in various categories. Similarly, a grocery shopper generally is not thinking “I want to obtain the following 13 ingredients in specific proportions,” he or she or more accurately thinking “I want something for dinner.”

This is the convention that Amazon (and just about any other eComm site) perpetuates: type your query in the box, and we’ll fetch it for you.

However, the reality of human cognition – whether online or in the real offline world – is that the brands that win will make buying them less time-intensive; in other words, they let your audience search in the way their brains are most naturally pre-disposed.

In other words, you don’t have to be faster than Amazon. Or more convenient. You can win by making each millisecond of shopping engagement count in the ways your shoppers’ brains are naturally making decisions.

The Mental Boardroom

This brings us back to the mental boardroom, and the 4 Motivations. To empower decision making, in the way that – deep in their pre-conscious minds – is perceived as “less time costly,” you’d provide the right kind of information, in the right way that lets THEM easily find what they seek (even when they don’t consciously recognize what they want).

Think: Give them words & comparative data.
Assimilate: Give them a tribal endorsement.
Experience: Give them an immersive 5-senses experience.
Win: Empower them with something others can’t have.

So, if a young consumer were to be seated in the imaginary Amazon restaurant, and was asked “what would you like?!”, their pre-conscious brain likely begins cycling through one of four loops:

  1. Have I read all the choices and can now make an informed, rational decision? (Think Motivation)

  2. Did I find a popular ‘listicle’ that identifies the top foods in town, based on the experiences of people like me? (Assimilate Motivation)

  3. Have I looked at, smelled, touched, and tasted all the options and can ensure I’ll have a satisfying sensory experience? (Experience Motivation)

  4. Is there a secret menu that will grant me a unique food experience to which not everyone is privy? (Win Motivation)

Depending on which of these lenses your consumer is using, you’d make dramatically different choices on everything from brand strategy, to the use of verbal vs. visual communications, to claims, to design execution. In other words, you’d be able to hand her the ideal menu to make decisions that feel natural and effortless.

Stop worrying about the merely obvious hurdles of speed, ease, and convenience. Focus on what really matters between-the-ears by providing your audience with the decision-criteria that actually removes the perceived barrier of time – and watch young consumers form a line out the door.


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