#2 Executive Thinking vs. Habitual Thinking

Over the past few years, marketing researchers in the pharmaceutical industry have heard a lot about the subject of Behavioral Economics. Behavioral Economics posits that our choices are governed by factors beyond just rational considerations – including emotional, cultural, social and contextual factors.

One of the pioneers of the Behavioral Economics movement, Daniel Kahneman, describes two forms of thinking: System One and System Two. In his bestselling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he defines System One thinking as fast thinking – thought that occurs to someone automatically and effortlessly, like knowing how someone feels based upon facial expression. System Two thinking is slow thinking and requires deliberate effort, thought, processing, calling upon memory, and therefore more time. His example is a multiplication problem.

Marketers in the pharmaceutical industry assume that most decisions that health care providers make fall into System Two, by virtue of their gravity – they bear on the health of a human being – and by virtue of knowledge required to render that decision (training, etc.). We hope to overturn this assumption. Further, we hope to demonstrate that most health care decisions that are made on a day-to-day basis fall into the System One category, and are relatively fast. We would also like to bring a different dimension to the discussion, which is that of habit.

While Kahneman posits System One vs. Two, we would like to propose that there is ‘Executive Thinking’ and ‘Habitual Thinking.’ In Neale Martin’s book, The 95% of Behavior that Marketers Ignore… Habit, he defines Executive Thinking as decisions that require conscious, cognitive processing – much like System Two – while Habitual Thinking is a kind of ‘auto-pilot’ process in the mind. If someone approaches you to ask directions in a train station, that activates the Executive mind as you’re activating attention, intention, memory, and processing. Driving a car on a highway to work each day is the Habitual mind.

The Executive and Habitual minds work differently. We will be unpacking these differences across the course of this series. What is important to recognize, however, is that the pharmaceutical industry aims most of its marketing dollars, promotional resources and efforts towards the Executive Mind rather than to the Habitual Mind. At the same time, we know that successful products are those that ultimately become an unconscious, habitual behavior on the part of customers. Instagram is a great example of a product that has tapped the habitual mind.

For us, the first step in the process of targeting the Habitual Mind is in understanding which decisions are habit, and how strong are those habits, vs. which are actually conscious, thoughtful decisions. This is the type of research that companies need to start to do long before they develop their brand strategy.

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