Five Behavioural Science Principles You Should Be Using In Your Marketing Strategy

Five Behavioural Science Principles You Should Be Using In Your Marketing Strategy
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In this guest post, MercerBell senior strategy planner Claire Webber talks all things behavioural science and the integral role this plays in your marketing efforts…

I’ve always been fascinated by customer delight and how we can really put the customer/prospect/user/human at the heart of our marketing. And, by looking deeper and adopting behavioural science to understand how people make decisions, we can take customer centricity to a whole new level. It’s not simply putting our customers’ needs at the core of our marketing – but putting how they ‘think’ at the heart of our approach.

We all know that if you’re going to ‘do’ marketing right, you’ve got to be truly customer centric. Placing the needs of customers at the core of any marketing initiative will put you in pretty good stead. Finding that insight that makes them feel like you’re talking directly to them, and why your car/insurance/cat food is the right product for them is all great. But, there’s another layer that today’s marketers should be considering in every single initiative. An extra nudge that can really raise the game – and that’s the application of behavioural science – how people make decisions.

So, how do we make decisions?

Our decisions, 95 per cent in fact, are made with the more intuitive part of the brain. Our decisions are actually fast, guided by rule of thumb, past experiences and intuition. We are not as rational and calculating when it comes to decisions as we’d like to think. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this puzzle. Don’t try to solve it, but listen to your intuition:

A bat and ball costs $1.10 The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

A number came to mind. The number of course is 10c. But go back and do the maths, and you’ll find the correct answer is not 10c*.

So why is this important? Well it shows that we are intuitive thinkers and take short cuts in most of the decisions we make. And that includes whether (or not) to buy the product you are marketing.

Here are five interesting behavioural science principles regularly used in marketing, that tap into how our customers really think:

1. What if I lose out? 

Due to the bias of Loss Aversion, people feel losses more powerfully than the same level of gains. To prove the point, an energy provider tested two headlines: ‘Switch now and save $100’ or ‘Don’t lose $100. Switch now’. Which headline do you think worked better? It was the latter. The half that were informed they stood to lose $100. In fact, it outperformed by 45 per cent. A quite convincing and much more effective spend of the marketing dollar.

2. Why give to charity? 

According to the Bystander Effect, if we see mass appeals for charity we are far less likely to donate. The Bystander Effect is the idea that mass appeals for help suffer from diffusion of responsibility. People in groups are less likely to help. If we see someone in need on a busy street, we’re more likely to keep our head down and do nothing. It’s a tough one to admit, but it’s been proven time and time again.

So for charity marketing, people are less likely to donate if they see a mass appeal: “Why should I, when others have also been asked?”. We’re more likely to donate if the marketing appeals on a more individual basis. If you can’t target your campaigns 1:1, then at least make them more

local. The UK ‘Give Blood’ campaign saw a marked 10%3 improvement in cost per donation when they shifted their copy from: ‘Blood stocks are low across the UK’ to ‘Blood stocks are low in Birmingham/Brighton/Brentwood/insert city here.’

3. I want one too 

There’s a very good reason why Apple makes you stand in the queue for their next iPhone. Social Proof is one of the simplest, but most powerful behaviours we have in our marketing playbook. When making a decision, we look around at what others are doing, consciously or subconsciously. It’s an evolutionary thing. If others are doing it/eating it/wearing it then it must be OK/safe. We’ll do anything to avoid a catastrophe or making a wrong decision, and sometimes social proof is all we need to nudge us in the right direction.

It’s the behavioural science principle that inspired the tagline for Whiskas cat food, which claimed that ‘8 out of 10 said their cats prefer it’.

4. How did we do? 

An experience is defined by the most interesting thing that happens during the journey, and at the end. Our brain doesn’t faithfully record every detail. It’s called the Peak-End Rule, where people remember the most intense peaks (good or bad) and how it ended. Think about what you remember from your last hotel visit – you’re most likely to recall the high points and the end when you got the bill at check-out.

So when you’re planning your customer journeys, it’s important to keep this in mind. Most loyalty programs are designed around this principle. They aim to create more frequent pleasure points with the brand (to overcome the pain points of the bill/claim/complaint/long wait in line). The recent launch of Telstra Plus was not really about the points or tech bundles the customer could buy. It was more about the increasingly positive customer experience that the 8 million Telstra customers will have with the brand. Where increased commoditisation and creating differentiation is a challenge, engaging the peak end rule through regular touchpoints can go a long way.

5. We messed up – big time 

Finally, there’s the fascinating Pratfall Effect. Put simply, we like competent people more than incompetent people. But the people we like best are competent people who occasionally make a blunder. And, in the era of social perfectionism, it can be a great way for a brand to break through the clutter, be authentic and reveal a bit of honesty.

When KFC infamously ran out of chicken in 700 of its 900 outlets In the UK recently, they took to the tabloids with ‘FCK – we’re sorry’. And how did the UK public respond? Quite well actually. The Brits were quick to forgive and flocked to social media, even quoting the Maccas hashtag #lovingit

“Possibly the best apology ad ever #lovingit #kfc”

So you can see consumers are highly fickle creatures, and how we decide to buy (and therefore how we, as marketers, persuade people to buy) is highly instinctive. We are not the considered, factual people we like to think we are.

Some of this may just seem like commonsense marketing, but I believe in taking a more considered approach to behavioural science. So whether we are designing an ecomms site or a putting a new flavour of cat food on the shelf, we embed these insights into all our strategic and creative approaches.

When we’re planning our strategy and creative it’s so important to recognise the impact of behavioural science on purchase behaviours. It will never be squeezed out in research outcomes. It’s never going to be declared – because it’s subconscious and intuitive. People don’t even know they do it. And by putting how they think at the heart of our creative, we can really lift our marketing effectiveness.

* and if you’re still working it out, the answer is 5c. If the ball was $0.10, then the bat would be $1.10 = $1.20.

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