The following is adapted from Marketing to Mindstates by Will Leach.

A “mindstate” is a temporary state of mind in which we’re under high emotional arousal. When we are in an emotionally aroused mindstate, we rely on more nonconscious, emotional factors in that moment, thereby making us more susceptible to influence.  Mindstates drive the majority of consumer behaviors.  They’re more important than attitudes, beliefs or even preferences.   

As a marketer, if you don’t know your consumer’s mindstate, or you don’t align your marketing correctly with it, you risk losing your ability to influence that decision.

Your messaging is going to feel off to your consumers, who may ignore your brand and choose your competitor instead.


There are nine “cautious” mindstates, which means the consumer has a core motivation that is driving them, but they’re looking to minimize the chances of failure when choosing their solution.

For each mindstate, you’ll see a summary statement and a few of the key psychological characteristics that someone in that mindstate will exhibit. For a full list of these characteristics, and how to integrate these into your marketing strategy and tactics, visit this resources page.

Cautious Achievement

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Being successful is a goal we all have. Whether it’s losing that last stubborn ten pounds by avoiding junk food or not missing that deadline to get that bonus at work, we all want to feel the sweet success of achievement. The anticipation of reaching our goals by avoiding potential pitfalls is the basis of the cautious achievement mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics:

  • Driven to achieve a sense of accomplishment by avoiding mistakes that may cause them to not achieve their goals.

  • Prefer tried-and-true solutions with concrete reasons and examples of how your solution will bring them success in reaching their goals.

Cautious Autonomy

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In today’s world where choices can feel overly restrictive, finding ways to prevent a loss of self-autonomy is highly desired. The satisfaction we feel when we avoid limitations in how we choose to reach our goals is the basis of the cautious autonomy mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics:

  • Value the intrinsic feeling of uniqueness and freedom that comes from having self-determination. In this mindstate, affirming one’s ability to act/customize their solutions in the ways they personally desire is highly valued.

  • Behave by working slowly and deliberately in an effort to avoid anything that could limit their freedom of self-determination.

Cautious Belonging

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In today’s world where positive, long-lasting relationships are increasingly difficult to build and maintain, finding ways to really connect with others is highly desired. This desire is often so powerful that people will go to great lengths to avoid potential disharmony. The desire to connect and build relationships by avoiding potential exclusion by others is the basis of the cautious belonging mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Desire tools that help them establish and maintain social relationships by eliminating barriers to commonalities or camaraderie.

  • Believe in developing deeper connections to validate their sense of acceptability.

Cautious Competence

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The importance of becoming our very best is something that we learn as children and take with us in our daily lives. Becoming more proficient in an activity and the personal growth that comes with it is important. The desire to improve by doing our very best to avoid potential errors is the basis of the cautious competence mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Behave by working slowly and deliberately in an effort to avoid things that could cause them the chance to lose proficiency.

  • Prefer tried-and-true solutions with concrete reasons and examples of how your solution will make them avoid stagnation.

Cautious Empowerment

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In today’s world where choices and experiences feel overly restrictive, finding ways to increase our ability to control our experiences is highly desired.

This desire is a result of our drive to feel empowered—to feel capable and equipped to take on life’s challenges. The desire to avoid restrictions when making choices is the basis of the cautious empowerment mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Driven to feel empowered by decreasing variability and lack of control in pursuing their goal.

  • Desire tools that help them control important aspects of their situation to overcome unforeseeable challenges.

Cautious Engagement

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Avoiding the monotony of daily tasks to elevate everyday experiences is the hallmark of a happy life. Something as simple as choosing sushi over an uninspired sandwich for lunch gives us an escape from the norm. This desire to feel engaged in key moments by avoiding boredom and tedium is a part of the cautious engagement mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Value the feeling of emotional lift (or relaxation) that comes from having fully engrossing, sensory-based experiences. In this mindstate, balancing boredom and overstimulation across the entire experience is highly valued.

  • Prefer tried-and-true solutions with concrete reasons and examples of how your solution will help them avoid dull, lifeless experiences.

Cautious Esteem

woman on her phone

In today’s interconnected world, it’s difficult to keep from being marginalized.

Whether it’s our post being ignored on Facebook or not being celebrated for a job well done, many work tirelessly to not be overlooked. The desire to decrease our chances of being overlooked or disregarded is the basis of the cautious esteem mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Believe in products or experiences that can be measured so as to validate/maintain their social standing among others.

  • Behave by working slowly and deliberately in an effort to avoid things that could cause them to lose the admiration or respect of others.

Cautious Nurturance

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Some of us view the world as needing greater compassion and love, a place where people are more empathetic, cared for, and supportive of one another. This mindset is a result of a desire to feel protected, supported, and appreciated by the people we love. The feeling of appreciation and love is a part of the cautious nurturance mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Driven to achieve a sense of appreciation by providing care and support to others/themselves. When in this mindstate, people seek greater affiliation and cooperation by limiting conflict, often to feel greater peace and harmony.

  • Value acts of consideration, thoughtfulness, and generosity.

 

Cautious Security

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In today’s chaotic world, finding ways to feel more secure is desired by almost all of us. We work every day to protect the people and things we have from loss or misuse. The relief we feel being worry-free is the basis of the cautious security mindstate.

Mindstate Characteristics

  • Desire to focus on strong competencies that they feel will help them prepare to avoid risks. The trust and relief of knowing that every precaution has been taken to help them eliminate the threats from reaching their goal.

  • Prefer tried-and-true solutions with concrete reasons and examples of how risk is avoided by using your product.

 

Cautious Nurturance

These mindstates may share some similar characteristics with optimistic mindstates, but messaging designed to target optimistic mindstates will fail to resonate with cautious individuals. Now more than ever, none of us can afford to waste our marketing resources on strategies that don't work.

 

So what strategies are effective? Access our free online resources to find out. In addition to case studies, articles, and other freebies, you'll get instant access to Mindstate Marketing Blueprints for the three most common cautious mindstates seen in today's uncertain world.

 

Browse Our Online Resources

Topics: Shopper, Behavioral Design, Motivation, Management