The question of who you are when no one is looking touches deep chords within us. Identity, self-awareness, the expectations of others and the ones we have of our self, knowledge, beliefs, confidence, they all come together in a cocktail that never fails to affect us.
This observer-created dynamic, it seems, is not limited to humans as a recent study found that seagulls also behave differently when they are being observed:
What does this mean for humans though? For a start a study focusing on the phenomenon clearly differentiated between the presence effect (or social facilitation) and a true audience effect where we, like the seagulls, are being actively and attentively watched by someone.
To better understand how the introduction of an audience affects our performance I have to now join quite a few dots as economically as possible, so bear with me. When researching The Sniper Mind I came across enclothed cognition studies that showed that participants who were dressed as fighter pilots and took part in a video simulation improved in visual acuity when compared with participants who also took par in the video simulation but did not act out the part by dressing up.
Beyond showing incontrovertibly that a lot of what we call vision is actually mental the experiments showed that the intangibles of identity and perception have a direct impact on tangible behavior which then feeds back into perception which shapes identity. Back in the 1800s psychologist Norman Triplett noted the same thing without however having anything beyond theory to guide him.
Our current technology is good enough to allow us to go deeper, bridging the physical with the mental and understanding how intangibles affect us so we end up behaving differently.
Bridging the Axon to Action Gap
What we can now see is that:
Being observed leads to cardiovascular changes, with increases in stress response when being observed during a difficult task and decreases when being observed during an easy task.
The reason that being actively watched leads to physiological changes which then affect our cognitive performance and change our motorskills is because we experience arousal. Arousal theory states that it, quite literally, is the activation of the brain and body; leading to a state of readiness so that we are then prepared to engage in adaptive behaviors.
This, incidentally, is also the foundation of Cooper’s Color Code which leads to the combat mindset (also detailed in The Sniper Mind) that determines survival in a combat situation and, outside the field of combat, leads to adaptive behaviors that deliver the desired outcome in difficult situations.
When being watched we become aware of the potential of making a mistake. Making mistakes affects our self-esteem which then affects our performance. This shows that when we are under observation we actively engage in one of three overlapping cognitive systems that hinge on our sense of identity which is guided by our beliefs and sense of values. These are:
- Self-presentation: How we present our public persona to the world (which interestingly raises the question of whether there is a gap between our public and shadow self).
- Reputation management: Which asks us to consider how we would like others to perceive us and what we would like then to think of us.
- Communication: Which suggests that everything we do in public is part of the social instinct to communicate and establish a common basis for communication so we tend to emote more and behave in ways that create communication lines.
All of this is part of the greater complexity of mentalizing theory which, in a slightly oversimplified format, says that everything external is guided by our internal world and our internal world is formed by external sensory input.
The Practical Side Of Our Inner World
All of this is of direct, practical importance. The always-on connection that has blurred the barrier between online and offline and made context collapse a thing is also challenging the way we approach marketing, selling, branding and even search.
Sniper marketing is about bridging the axon to actions gap by correctly understanding the motivation behind specific, observed, behaviors and accurately gauging intent.
Gauging intent and delivering on it is the Holy Grail of search and marketing.
Here’s a fact: the customer journey is fragmented, because it is full of what Google calls “micro-moments”, it is multi-layered and complex. Despite the fact that we can gather more behavioral data than ever before, understanding the customer journey has become harder than ever.
This is where all the different elements of mentalizing become practical. When nothing happens without a reason, the reason why something happens becomes key. By carefully correlating behavior to intent we can begin to better understand:
- Increased sales or sales dips
- Branding failures or successes
- The reason a purchase decision is made
- How market share and ‘mind space’ are gained or lost
- The reasons why we can command attention and how we can lose it
None of this is actually new. Intuitively, in small communities and face-to-face transactions we have been practicing it all for thousands of years. But now we have a working theory behind it all which can be generalized and applied, intentionally, in remote transactions. "Know your audience" is the most frequently given piece of advice in business of all types. But saying it is not enough when we haven't had a concrete means to understand how "knowing our audience" and our audience knowing us can be turned into a real business strategy via consistent behavior driven by an awareness of beliefs and values and their impact.
When, in terms of perceived brand values and business, we can be exactly what we want, not achieving it is a failure in our understanding of the dynamics that govern the new situation of the modern market place.