Catalytic Thinking / Marketing Strategy


The future shape of marketing has been on my mind a lot. What a delicious irony…

The more I read and the more I learn, the wider and deeper the world becomes. This excites and terrifies at the same time… The possibilities are ever more endless, the opportunities ever greater. The problem is knowing exactly where to begin.

This week, I had one of ‘those moments’. I’d got a sheaf of research papers in my hand – and I suddenly ‘got it’ – the future shape of marketing.

Those of you who have read my BIIR Model will know that I’m trying to propose something new, something which will revolutionise the way that we think about marketing and communications.

And I think I have it.At least, I have the shape of it. I’m going lay some of that shape out below – the rest you’ll have to work for…

Let me begin with a hypothesis: marketers are in the business of changing behaviours, rather than selling product.

This isn’t to say that marketers don’t sell stuff – they do. But sales are the results of a change in behaviour.

For example: you’ve always purchased the same brand of detergent. You don’t think about it when you’re in the supermarket. You just pluck it from the shelf and have done with it.
You always pick up the green lettuce and the black blackcurrants – never the other way around. You don’t think about it.

A marketer therefore has to change your behaviour. He or she has to stop you carrying out preconditioned routines, to actively think about what you’re doing, and to pick up their product. Once you’ve picked it up, you’ll possibly buy it. But if you don’t pick it up in the first place, you definitely won’t buy it – you’ll stick with your previously conditioned purchasing behaviours.

Let me pose another hypothesis: behaviours are not solely dependant on rational thought. We don’t necessarily consciously decide to behave in a certain way – we are governed by those instincts which kept us alive long before central heating, managed farming and healthcare came along. Fight or flight is the most basic of these – but there are others. We don’t, for example, like sharp things instinctively – because sharp things such as rocks or thorns hurt when you’re running barefoot through a forest trying to throw a spear through lunch. That instinct hasn’t left us.

Blending the two hypotheses therefore gives us the statement that:

Marketers have to affect decisions made below the levels of conscious and rational thought in order to change consumer behaviour.

So that’s the basis from which I’m beginning (and this works within the ‘Integration’ element of the BIIR Model).

There are three theories which I would like to bring up at this juncture.

1) Approach-Avoidance Motivation Theory. Essentially, this is defined as the energisation of behaviour towards positive stimuli and away from negative stimuli. One interesting point I note about this is that the success of approach motivation means that you get something (the apple, the shiny thing or whatever) whereas the success of avoidance motivation means that you’re left with nothing (you’ve avoided the danger or negative stimulus, but haven’t actually got anything in return).

A brilliant research paper I read on this also has the most incredible definition of what a goal is that I’ve ever seen:

“…goals focus on a specific, cognitively represented end point, and serve to guide the individual’s behaviour toward or away from that point. Goals are conscious, intentional commitments, although once in place in the cognitive system, they may be activated and may operate in automatic, non-conscious fashion.”

2) Somatic Marker Hypothesis. This suggests that emotional processes guide behaviour/decision making – check out Wikipedia for more detail than I could ever give.

3) Reinforcement Theory. Within this theory (as so elegantly stated on Wikipedia) there are three strands: Selective Exposure, Selective Perception and Selective Retention. The overall theory states that people don’t generally like to be wrong and actively seek out things that reinforce their currently held views, are willing to tweak their perceptions of the world around them to provide congruence with their currently held views, and selectively remember those things which serve to reinforce those views.

The above three theories combined and blew my mind. This is the start of the future – only a small part of it I’ll grant you, but it’s the start. There’s so much more to come, so many possibilities. The above only scratches the surface, if that.

Probably annoyingly for you, I’m not going to lay out here and now exactly why they blew my mind. But, if you work through them in the order above, I hope you’ll have the same ‘moment’ I did. It’s a very exciting feeling…


4 thoughts on “Future-Thoughts

  1. Hi Neil,

    Someone recommended your article through Linked-in. Great post on Behavior Changing. It’s quite right that purchase and sales follow from changing behavior, much of which is influenced by branding. I liked your other posts as well.

    I’m going to add you on my BlogRoll and I invite you to check out my blog at and add me to yours if you are so inclined.

  2. Pingback: Community Network Marketing – making the global hyperlocal « interacter

  3. Pingback: Firestarting marketing. Are you ready to create the future? «

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