In this guest post, Dane Smith (pictured), Behavioural Strategist & Regional Consulting Partner, Ogilvy Sydney gives us all a timely reminder that business can really use a bit of behavioural magic in a post-pandemic world…
Why do seafood restaurants work better by the sea? How can deleting an unpopular menu item reduce unit sales by 19%? Can luxurious smelling soap help stop the spread of COVID-19?
When you are in the presence of some of the world’s leading behavioural scientists these are the sort of weirdo questions that get asked….and indeed they were asked at this year’s virtual Nudgestock – the world’s largest festival of behavioural science and creativity.
For the uninitiated, the festival was a timely reminder that business can really use a bit of behavioural magic in a post-pandemic world. Living through what might be the largest-scale social experiment of our lifetime, marketers, corporate bookies and policymakers alike are all desperately grappling to understand, predict and make plans for whatever the hell is coming next.
And the most slippery and unpredictable variable in this whole crisis equation is not even the virus itself, but people. As humans, how will we adapt our behaviours over time? And as brands and governments, how will we keep on the sunny side of those adaptations?
Here are three key out-takes from this year’s festival about what marketers can learn from psychology:
Give customers more than they ask for.
Paying attention to customers and their list of demands is never a bad idea, though as a strategy to grow both your brand and business, it’s scarily sub-par.
Sometimes, people just can’t articulate what they want from you. Researcher Luca Dellana spoke about our ‘extreme dishonesty’ when it comes to talking priorities. While we proudly demand a toothpaste with impressive plaque-busting Kung Fu, we’ll be secretly craving a minty one which make our mouths feel instantly fresher.
A more sinister kind of red herring – as consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier pointed out in his presentation – is investing in customer advice that directly hurts your brand. Instead of chasing remarkable distinctiveness, you might optimise for the category-generic. Instead of trying to embed yourself usefully into customer lives, you’ll idolise getting out of their way. Advertising itself is a hugely necessary part of growing a business, though it’s not something your customers will ever ask for more of.
Create confidence, don’t wait for it.
Anxiously skimming reports and awaiting the big rebound in customer confidence misses an important psychological point: confidence is something accumulated through empirical learning, not time. As restrictions lift, people will rely heavily on clues from their environment to determine what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
Many of these clues will come from hands-on experience. Dan Ariely, bestselling author of Predictably Irrational, spoke of our ‘fear-reality gap’ closing every time we come out of a bustling supermarket unscathed. By introducing a less threatening version of your total brand experience (e.g. limited bus capacity, spaced out café seating, short-haul flights), you can get people back in the door, while accelerating their positive learning.
While it took the US airline industry three years to recover after 9/11, Transport for London recorded a marked increase in tube passengers just one year after the London bombings. The reason? Jennie Roper, Head of Insight at Kinetic, observed in her keynote: people just don’t fly that often. Londoners were afforded more immediate opportunities to learn and regain their confidence.
Desires are easily displaced, not erased.
While legal and financial pressures are good at temporarily snuffing out some behaviours (goodnight, sweet handshake), they tend to leave our underlying motivations intact. Despite knowing the importance physical distancing, we’re still compelled to hug, to socialise at the pub, to travel. Despite facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Hermes Guangzhou enjoyed an all-time high in single-day store sales ($2.1 million in one day). It’s not easy to reason with desire.
That’s why Dr Chiara Varazzani, behavioural advisor to the Victorian Government, wants you to consider ‘substitution’ as a strategy. Look to provide people with alternatives that can satisfy their underlying motivation. Can’t visit a friend? Ring them. Can’t go to the shops? Do it online. Can’t go overseas? Tassie’s not so bad.
So what can psychology teach us in the time of COVID-19? To get better answers, we need to start asking better questions. Questions about the humans at heart of this unfolding crisis. What sorts of things will influence resilience, and how can I help? Which new habits will stick and why? What kinds of itches are in dire need of a good scratching?
As ubiquitous provocateur/Vice Chairman/scholar Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy Consulting put it at Nudgestock: “our businesses can no longer just be asking how can we run the most efficient commercial airline, but also how on Earth can we get people back on planes?”.
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