Imagine if sending an email would require as much thought and mental preparation as sky diving.  Imagine that if every time you came across a piece of information – be it familiar or new – you would have to start from scratch. Talk about a waste of brain power! 

Thanks to Cognitive Schemas, a set of processes defined by psychologist Jean Piaget in 1926, you can save precious brain power for other endeavors.

Cognitive schemas in action

The idea behind cognitive schemas is that the manner with which we receive, interpret, integrate and judge the value of new information is fundamentally automated to accelerate the whole process. If you’ve learned to hate a certain type of music, you’ll need only a second to recognize its first notes and get away from the shop playing it – this without even being conscious of it.

While this nifty, off-the-radar processing can save you a lot of time as a consumer, it’s an important process marketers need to understand when designing advertising (or just about any other marketing initiative).  There’s a pretty good chance that a consumer watching your ad, has already had the chance to process the kind of information that you are communicating.  As a result, the path the information will take and the final judgement the consumer will pass on the ad is already written in the “stars” (or should we say the “schemas”).   

The key takeaway:  If you are trying to attract a certain customer-type it’s important to know what signals they find pleasing, those that will get you “fast-tracked” onto a positive schema.  By positioning your product, advertising or other marketing vehicle, onto a path that consumers have already associated with a positive outcome, you’ll not only get their attention, but a genuinely positive reaction to top it off.

How can we tap into schemas?

Qualitative tools are probably the best way to tap into cognitive schemas for advertising concepts. Qualitative research is the equivalent of a GPS, allowing you to map a tiny portion of a consumers mind processes. Once the map has been drawn, the path to take to get to your destination depends entirely upon you.  Take the road less travelled and it could make all of the difference, however, as cognitive schemas suggest, sometimes the more travelled road gets you to where you want to be faster with a greater chance of success.