Sustainable sales tied to behavioral science
Early 20th-century Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanamaker was famously quoted, “Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted; trouble is, I don’t know which half.” His expressed exasperation has stood the test of time and remains relevant today. Are you confident your marketing investments are firing on all cylinders? Are you sure the levels of engagement you expect are being achieved, especially in an era of extreme uncertainty when consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting?
What Wanamaker didn’t have access to in his day were the significant achievements in insight into consumer mindset, an outcome of modern behavioral science. Now, we have a litmus test and series of steps that can be applied to design marketing programs that help erase the sense of gambling that can accompany consumer outreach investments.
- In this article we will map the journey to more effective marketing communication, a path that helps resolve Wanamaker’s dilemma.
The trouble begins at the front door of strategy when brands focus their messaging and tactics on themselves, their product features and benefits – and not on the aspirations, needs and wants of the consumer. Moreover, unless understanding of how people operate is factored in, the entire effort becomes more ‘luck of the draw’ than an informed, assured path to sustainable business growth.
The most important insight to consumer behavior that drives business results
Recent studies, including a report from Google on mastering consumer engagement, can be summarized in one over-arching conclusion that impacts how strategy is best formulated: Human beings consistently function on a predictable track to reduce or avoid taxing their brains. Researchers call this “releasing cognitive burden,” meaning people sidestep messaging that is perceived as complicated or too risky.
Marketing that is designed to help consumers with their DNA-driven efforts to make decisions easier and friction-free will lift the doubt – and help bring assured victory to outreach efforts. This is especially meaningful at a time when every single dollar spent on consumer outreach needs to perform like 10.
Understanding this path of least resistance, helps explain why emotion is more powerful than analytical storytelling to motivate outcomes and purchase behaviors. The remarkable processing that goes on underneath our cognitive radar is a form of editing that helps us preserve mental energy. The sub-conscious brain has greater influence over purchase decisions than we give it credit.
The recipe for engagement and improved outcomes
Three primary strategic components should be considered in planning, and three tools can be applied to ‘load the deck’ in your brand’s favor.
- Message simplicity and clarity
What is the consumer-relevant problem you solve and how do you solve it? Consumers prefer brands that help them, that provide utility and are useful. The caveat here is a tendency for brands to complicate this communication with lengthy explanations of technology and formulation advantages. On the one hand it might be presented as reasons to believe but in reality, this just stresses the consumer’s brain so they ignore it.
Moreover, this approach puts the brand in the role of story hero, which embeds an immediate disconnect for the consumer. People see themselves as the hero of their life journey and the brand’s role should be positioned as their guide and coach. This consumer perspective needs to be respected alongside the requirement to keep communication simple and crystal clear.
2. Power of social proof
Trust is an essential element of creating a relationship with consumers and moving from consideration to purchase. How trust is created has changed as consumers grow increasingly skeptical of promises and claims made by businesses. In sum, people believe other people first.
Social channel conversations and reviews are a primary driver of trust. This is why consumers will research product reviews and examine social channels to measure the veracity of what brands claim about their product attributes and benefits. The confidence they acquire from the endorsement of others works to simplify decision-making.
3. Authority bias
Alongside the importance assigned to consumer voices in social channels are the words and opinions of respected experts and influencers. Note the word respected here is extremely important. We have ample evidence that certain classes of influencer have grown less effective when they perform more like paid endorsements rather than authentic, independent guidance.
Editorial media, physicians, chefs/food experts, health and wellness gurus and others of similar credential can be enlisted to help educate consumers on the guardrails of how to define excellence and reliability. These views and opinions work as a form of believable shorthand to help remove risk and create comfort in moving consumers along the funnel.
Tactical tools to deploy alongside the strategic components
Behavioral research also confirms that human beings resonate to a small collection of tools that can work to help close the sale.
- Scarcity – we are hardwired for preference of anything that is in short supply and acquires greater perceived value because it is not abundant.
- Speed – a newly minted desire borne of the Internet age is our requirement to have needs satisfied quickly. If you can move from transaction to front door fast, that advantage helps close the deal.
- FREE – this is still a magic word. Engrained in our cultural heritage is respect for the concept of free. If you can include a bonus with purchase or some other value can be attached to the transaction at no cost – such that the word FREE is in the offering, it’s a compelling incentive.
The new age we are in and role of beliefs, values and mission
Another important strategic consideration is the emergence of shared values and mission as a component of preference. Research also confirms that consumers want their purchases to be a symbolic “flag” of their beliefs and what they think is important.
Higher purpose matters. Your ability to weave deeper meaning and a belief system into your brand promise and presentation is vital to sustainable growth. This is an evolutionary change that has been underway in earnest for more than five years. The pandemic has pushed the momentum under this cultural shift even further.
Prestige, wealth and other more materialistic attributes have fallen away while people now believe that brands have a role to play in making the world a better place. At a more personal level, they want to know how brands are acting in their best interests and helping them in tangible ways to achieve their life goals.
The rise of the “B” Corp is evidence of how this can play out when companies design their business to operate in service of others around issues of importance such as hunger, poverty and the environment.
Having a great product is table stakes now. Imbuing your brand and business with a higher purpose is a defining characteristic and quality consumers want. It is another piece of evidence that the company has a moral center, high standards, a value system, and thus can be trusted.
- All of these strategies and characteristics at a very human level operate as trust creators to ease the buying decision and dilute risk. This matters because human beings don’t want to burn mental calories with heavy analysis of information in order to get to a reliable decision to buy.
Your ability to remove risk and create trust is job one to build business. If you would benefit from guidance on how to bring these tools together for optimal impact and effect, please use this link to start a conversation about how we can help you do that.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.