Inattentional Consumer: Part 2

Understanding Consumer Behavior:

Navigating System 1 and System 2 Thinking

Understanding consumer behaviour is crucial for brands aiming to forge deep connections with their audience. This primarily pivots around two distinct yet complementary cognitive processes: System 2, known for its explicit, self-report questioning approach, and System 1, or Implicit Association Testing (IAT). Each system offers unique insights into consumer preferences and attitudes towards brands and products, providing a multifaceted view of the consumer psyche.

System 2: The Deliberative Approach

System 2 thinking is characterised by its deliberate, logical, and analytical nature. This is the domain of traditional market research, where explicit questioning techniques such as surveys and interviews are used to gather conscious responses from consumers. System 2 asks consumers to reflect, reason, and articulate their thoughts and feelings towards a brand or product. This method excels in capturing rational consumer responses to explicit questions, providing clear, articulated insights into consumer decision-making processes.

However, System 2 has its limitations. As it relies on conscious self-reporting, it may not always capture the full spectrum of consumer attitudes, particularly those that are subconscious or influenced by external factors beyond immediate awareness. This is where System 1 comes into play.

Yellow background with a paper cutout head shape with cogs as the brain

System 1: The Implicit Realm

In contrast, System 1, or Implicit Association Testing (IAT), delves into the subconscious mind. It explores the automatic, immediate reactions that consumers have towards a brand or product, often before they’re even consciously aware of them. System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional, governing the split-second associations and feelings that influence consumer behaviour in profound ways.


IAT offers invaluable insights that explicit questioning might miss. It reveals the underlying biases and subconscious attitudes that shape consumer preferences, providing a deeper understanding of the intrinsic values and emotional connections that drive consumer choices. This implicit data is crucial for brands looking to understand the unspoken, often emotional factors that contribute to brand loyalty and product affinity.

Combining Insights for a Comprehensive Understanding

The key to unlocking the full potential of market research lies in integrating the insights from both System 2 and System 1. While System 2 provides a rational, articulated understanding of consumer behaviour, System 1 offers a glimpse into the subconscious influences that drive decisions. Together, they paint a comprehensive picture of consumer attitudes, from the conscious to the subconscious.


For brands, this means a more nuanced understanding of their audience. By embracing both explicit and implicit testing methods, marketers can develop strategies that resonate on both rational and emotional levels, fostering stronger, more meaningful connections with their consumers.

Young woman shopping in a supermarket holding a basket

In conclusion, navigating the complexities of consumer behaviour requires a dual approach that honours both the deliberative insights of System 2 and the intuitive revelations of System 1. By leveraging the strengths of each, brands can achieve a deeper, more nuanced understanding of their audience, paving the way for more effective marketing strategies and stronger consumer relationships.


By Duncan Smith

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