Events / live blogging

Four key take-aways from Marketing Week Live


Behavioural Economics is obviously the phrase of the moment – the Marketing Week Live show rang with people talking about it.

Here are four key take-aways from a seminar on that very subject, hosted by Rory Sutherland (Ogilvy) and Suzannah Kinsella (CoI).

1) Focus groups are flawed

Focus groups are a rational space where people are asked about their thoughts and feelings on a particular topic, product, brand etc.

The participants think about stuff. And therein lies the problem.

While we’re not exactly irrational beings, we don’t think about everything. Answer me this – and don’t think about it.

What colour ketchup are you going to buy?

The answer’s almost certainly red – green didn’t cross your mind. That’s why green ketchup was such a commercial flop; the mere fact of its existence took so much brain power that time-poor consumers stuck with what they knew and liked. Having to think about a green ketchup introduced time-sucking, energy sapping cognitive dissonance.

This was, however, against the experience of the focus groups which thought that green ketchup was going to be the next big thing. Because – rationally – it’s made of the same stuff, tastes the same, is the same price, from the same trusted brand and so on. Plus, rationally, it’s a bit daring and exciting to shake things up a bit.

Big flop ensues. Oops.

2) Behaviour forms attitude, not the other way around

Traditionally, it’s been thought that attitude forms behaviour. After all, if I believe this, then I’ll act in this way.

However, neuroscientific research is suggesting that the relationship is the other way around. Apparently, the brain rationalises actions that it took subconsciously after the fact.

I see this every day in my work. When people get caught driving above the speed limit, they might be offered a course instead of fines and points on their licences. When asked why they were speeding, they come out with a variety of excuses – late, in a rush, day-dreaming etc – for the behaviour which they committed without thinking at the time.

In the same way, we run down pre-set behavioural paths automatically because the brain doesn’t have the required power to consciously test each and every decision that comes its way.

How often do you think about the brands you buy in the supermarket? Or do your present behavioural patterns provide a heuristic shortcut that allows you to spend the least amount of time and mental energy in getting your food for the week into the trolley?

3) Persuasion is less effective than seduction

I’m really pleased that both Rory and Suzannah talked about this – after all, it’s the staple of my CSA brand build model.

But it’s not a new concept – Edward Bernays did it with his pianos back in the early 1900s.

Essentially, you can argue until you’re blue in the face, but you won’t change someone’s firmly held opinion. However, if you can seduce them into seeing things the way you do, then behavioural change is possible.

This seduction happens when the issue becomes cognitively consonant for the other person, perhaps when they find their own motivation for creating change, or the change is presented in an easily accessible framework that doesn’t require vast amounts of energy to enact (for example providing recycling bins for every household, rather than requiring the occupants to travel 10 miles to seek one out).

My version for consumer-grabbing and brand building is Captivation, Seduction and Activation. More to come on that later…

4) People will tell you about a maximal experience, then go and have a satisfactory one

When asked about a recent good meal, most people will talk about a truly excellent experience in an excellent restaurant where the food, service, wine and bill were all just so.

And then they’ll go and eat at McDonalds. Why?

For the simple reason that McDonalds satisfies the need for food reliably each and every time. That’s what their model is built on – no matter what McD’s you’re in, you’ll be able to get the same food cooked the same way and tasting pretty much the same.

However, your brilliant meal that you’ve just described comes fraught with danger. What if you go back and the food’s good, but not as exceptional. What if the chef’s changed and the quality isn’t there? What if the waiting staff aren’t quite as bubbly and perfect as they were?

The risks of not being satisfied are much greater with the maximal example and, seeing as we’re a species built on a high degree of loss-aversion, we prefer to be satisfied than disappointed.

So what people say and what they do differ again. And, apparently, we all like to be maximisers in focus groups, never satisfiers…

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in behavioural economics or neuroscience and the above is a cut down version of both presentations, along with a few of my own extrapolations.

What are your thoughts on BE and neuroscience? Will they show us the way to go with communications or are they interesting diversions from the main practice? Please, comment below and let’s get a debate going!

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