Decoded – The Science Behind Why We Buy

Decoded: review by John Newton

Books about consumer buying psychology have been in abundance recently, from Martin Lindstrom’s ‘Buyology’ to Herb Sorensen’s ‘Inside the Mind of the Shopper’. In ‘Decoded’, Phil Barden promises to explain why people buy and how this can be applied to everyday marketing. It’s a big claim, and one that Barden delivers on, in the main.

Although the preface and close refer to ‘learnings’ and ‘paradigm shifts’ the main body of the book is thankfully free of jargon. The author introduces each concept using an incremental approach, explaining how we receive information, the value systems we use to process this information, and how we assess the usefulness of products in order to achieve our goals.

Barden describes how consumers make subconscious decisions based on periphery, experience and intuition (‘autopilot’).  He identifies the components of this autopilot, and how our brains make mental associations which we call upon when making purchasing decisions.

Brands become ‘frames’ that speak to this subconscious and whose worth equals the incremental amount consumers will pay above the intrinsic value of a product. As Barden writes, 90% of the stimulus our brains process is visual - and visual identity remains key to branding. Barden also reveals that the part of the brain that experiences pain also processes price information, and how brands therefore work to combat our natural aversion to spending money.  

Surprisingly, it isn't until halfway through that digital media is evaluated. Digital is the perfect test-bed for buying psychology as purchase behaviour can be tied directly back to messages received, as Barden deftly demonstrates in his deconstruction of a Groupon deals page.

Barden offers up a limited number of diagnostic tools the reader can apply to their account. The key tool given is the decode goal map™ which captures six motivational areas upon which consumer goals are based. Frustratingly, the method used to collect and populate the data on each map is not revealed.

Nevertheless, ‘Decoded’ is a fascinating book introducing a number of powerful concepts which are difficult to grasp fully in one sitting. Although he doesn't provide a complete guide to implementation, Barden has done the majority of the heavy lifting by interpreting key texts to create a powerful new work on the science behind consumer decision making.


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Read another review of Decoded by Vinay Golikeri, Global Marketing Director, Bacardi Global Travel Retail, here.

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