Have you heard the phrase monkey see monkey do?
As human beings we like to think of ourselves as rational and self-sufficient. We can take care of ourselves, feed ourselves and keep ourselves warm and safe, go to work, and make money. We can remember the list of tasks that we have to do, we take care of our bodies and our souls, we watch movies and download music, we handle crises, which is inevitable in life, and we also get a little offended if somebody accuses us of acting irrationally.
Neuroscientists have shown that on average 85% of the time our brains are on autopilot, and this is because our subconscious mind is a lot better at accumulating and interpreting behaviors than our conscious minds are. Why is this? George Lowenstein, a behavioral economist from Carnegie Mellon University answered this the best when he said “most of the brain is dominated by automatic processes, rather than deliberate thinking. A lot of what happens in the brain it’s emotional, not cognitive.”
If you are into sports, have you ever wondered why when you’re watching your favorite team playing and one of the players does a very spectacular kick or catch, risking injury, you cringe? Or alternately, why when your favorite team scores a touchdown or a goal, you pump your arm up in the air with excitement? Have you ever wondered why when you’re watching a sad movie, you get tears in your eyes, even though what’s happening in the movie has nothing to do with you? You rationally know that, but your tears are still flowing. Or have you wondered why you have a rush of exhilaration when you’re watching an action movie, with good versus bad characters, and you feel this extra energy even an hour after the movie ends? Have you ever stayed and analyzed the feeling of contentment and beauty that takes you over when you’re attending a Ballet or a concert by one of your favorite musicians or groups?
All these emotions are created in our brains, by little particles called the mirror neurons, which are responsible for why we so often, without realizing it, imitate other people’s behavior. When we watch someone do something that means something to us, like our favorite player scoring a touchdown, or our favorite movie character crying, our brains react as if we were performing these activities ourselves. The same even happens when we read a good book, and through the power of our imagination we visualize the action in the book, and we feel the emotions that the characters in the book are feeling. This behavior of imitation is so inborn in us that it can even be observed in babies. Have you ever tried to stick your tongue out at a baby? The baby most of the time will try to do the same. Even when they are very small. Babies learn everything from imitation.
Have you ever had a conversation with somebody from a different country who had a thick accent, and without realizing you started speaking with the same accent as well? All of this is the work of the mirror neurons in our brains. The neurons make us absorb the energy around us and subconsciously we want to do what we see others doing, much like monkeys in the zoo. In fact, many studies have been done on monkeys to show these brain neurons at work and it looks like we share these neurons with them as well.
If you have ever found yourself in a public place, maybe somewhere in a store where everybody around you seemed down, even depressed, where nobody would return your smile, and you realize that unless you leave the place real soon, your mood will shift as well? You start to feel the same as those around you because physically and psychologically you started mirroring everyone else around you. Your mirror neurons are at work.
These mirror neurons explain why we often smile when we hear or see someone who sounds happy, or we cringe when we see someone who is in physical pain. Just as it happens with all these examples, based on emotional mirroring, the same happens when we go out and buy things.
Have you ever purchased something just because other people did as well? I bet you have because our mirror neurons make us mimic each other’s buying behavior. Apple Inc. and its clients is a classic example of brand loyalty and the fact that their customers will stand in line for days to get the latest gadget. The fact that more and more people are switching to Apple products from other brands shows how these mirror neurons are doing their job, and companies like Apple know all about this.
Have you ever seen a pair of fun looking, unusual shoes on someone’s feet and you wanted them too? Or, you’ve passed a store window and saw a pair of jeans on a mannequin, paired with what looked like a very comfortable, summery white top, and you thought that mannequin looked just fabulous? Your unconscious mind says: If I just buy this outfit, I could look like her too. In those clothes I too could have the freshness and the relaxed air about me. “
So, when your subconscious mind is telling you these kinds of messages, what do you think you will do in the next few minutes? Well, most consumers when they feel these emotions, are going to head into the store and buy that image and that attitude. Yes, the image and the attitude. It’s not necessarily about the items themselves. Yes, you pay for the clothes, but what you really want and are buying is not the clothes, but how are those clothes are going to make you feel.
How about a young man going to a store like Bass Pro Shops, and while he’s in there, he tries on the new running shoes and athletic equipment that Nike put on display right next to a big screen TV which is showing a man in great shape running, while wearing this equipment. What if this was you and you’ve always wanted to be an athlete, even though you have never been a runner. And you tell yourself that you have many other running shoes at home. However, when you try on the shoes and put on the shirt, while looking at that man running, it makes your brain think that it’s not too late for you to do it too, and in those moments, you feel invincible, and most of the time you will end up buying that equipment. Just as in the first example the woman experienced what it would feel like to wear those clothes she saw in the store window; the young man’s brain told him what it would feel like to live out his athletic dream. In both cases the mirror neurons were stronger than the rational thinking of both individuals and caused them to unconsciously imitate and purchase what was in front of them.
This is exactly how the “mirror neurons” work on all of us as consumers, not only when we are exposed in person, but also online – and this is even more so because online we are exposed to more video content, effects and filters, that make our brains get really absorbed into the wannabe image and in those moments we really feel our true potential to achieve those image goals as well.
The concept of imitation is a vital factor in what drives us to buy the things we do, and it often works right away, however, for those of us who’d like to believe that we have control over our purchasing actions, it may take a while longer.
Have you ever thought at first glance when you saw a new style of pants in the latest, seasonal color; I don’t like those pants, I think they’re ugly. Then you saw them again and again, a few times worn by a person you knew, and with no warning, your brain went from “those are ugly” to “I have to have those pants now”? That is because just seeing a certain product over and over makes the product more desirable.
We see models in runway shows and fashion magazines, and we want to dress like them or do our make up like them. We see celebrities driving expensive cars, and living in beautiful homes and we want that too. Maybe you see a commercial of a young mother and wife who has a beautiful family, and they all sit happily and chat around the kitchen island, eating this pre-made meal offered by an online service which can deliver directly at your door for only $150 a month, and you buy into that image and sign up for that service too. How about those online ads where you see somebody who looks great, smiles all the time, and is in the best shape of their lives and they tell you that it is because they started this new diet and a new workout routine and we find that we want that for ourselves as well.
Learning about the mirror neurons can explain the compelling decision we make to buy a product or to follow a brand on social media. Much of our purchasing behavior is based on our mirror neurons doing their job. Marketers, salespeople, and businesses in general are brilliantly using this knowledge to their advantage and now, you can too. As coaches and entrepreneurs who are working on perfecting their sales skills, now you know about mirror neurons too and you can use your knowledge and apply it to your business.
Author: Sanda Kruger
Sanda is an entrepreneur, real estate investor, health coach and professional dancer. Sanda is an entrepreneur with more than 20-year experience in business development and project management in the fields of life, health and fitness coaching. She is also a real estate investor and a banker, who learned outstanding adapted business strategies, sales and marketing techniques, communication, and goal setting skills, hands-on, through life and work experiences. She is a certified fitness professional and is the creator of two original fitness programs, called BellyCore® Fitness and AquaCor®.