Marketing is a Discipline!
In a recent podcast, Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of advertising group Ogilvy and Mather UK, expressed the view that the second client marketing departments are “reduced to ‘MarComs’ marketing is almost lost”. So why do organisations think marketing is solely about communications?
Marketing communications is of course a fundamental element of the marketing mix, but marketing is a discipline and a way of thinking. Communications should be an integral element of the four P’s, not a separate silo. Turning marketing into MarComs inevitably changes the relationship between areas that were once part of the marketing department.
They establish their own priorities and see communications as a service rather than part of the same discipline. This risks turning marketing into a process rather than a creative discipline. Once this happens MarComs is in danger of becoming a factory that churns out content that follows the set templates and adheres to the brand guidelines but is unlikely to take risks or inspire customers.
Creativity is at the heart of the marketing discipline and it should be applied across all areas of the function to have maximum impact. A fragmented marketing function also encourages a tactical approach to marketing as MarComs have to respond to what product, pricing and the sales channels decide to do, often with little planning or discussion beforehand.
Can Behavioural Economics Save Marketing?
Rory also mentioned how behavioural economics (BE) has the potential to allow creative people, like marketers and market researchers, to expand their reach into other areas of influence. It won’t solve the organisational problems of marketing, but BE can provide a valuable framework and language to create strategies for behavioural change. This would involve coming up with ideas for better choice architecture or nudges to influence the decisions people make. Marketers could be well suited to this role because it requires a creative and analytical approach to problem solving.
Neither is this about persuading people to do things they don’t want to do or selling them unsuitable products. If we do that we have failed as marketers and people soon get wise to such unethical behaviour. It would not be sustainable either as companies would not want to risk damaging their brand’s reputation. No, this about understanding how and why people the choices they make, but not just limiting ourselves to marketing products and services.
Humans do not seek a perfect solution:
One of the most fundamental insights that BE gives us is that people seek to satisfy rather than maximise as we live in world of imperfect information and trust. Our goal with most decisions is to avoid a disaster rather than seeking a perfect solution. If this is the case then it should not be a surprise that messages often used in promotional material that refers to an “ideal” or “perfect” solution to “fully” meet your needs misses the mark?
Evolution has slowly created and shaped human decision making processes and so our cognitive machinery is little changed from when we first formed early civilised societies many thousands of years ago. As a result we still rely on many of the same strategies for determining who we should buy from and what to do in new and uncertain situations. This explains why people so often refer to their social networks to identify people who they can trust.
This approach is highly unlikely to lead to a disaster as long as the person selling the goods or services is aware that they could lose significant social capital if they sell something that is unfit for purpose. If, however, it leads to a satisfactory outcomes we may create a habit as we have learned to trust the person or brand concerned. Much of what traditional marketing refers to as brand loyalty is in fact habits. The insight here is that marketing is most likely to be effective when it focuses on habit formation or piggy-backs off an existing habit. Disrupting a habit is more important than the message.
Brands are also framed by how people interact with them and the stories they tell each other about their experiences. Trust is strongest when we learn through experience and the actions of the brand that they can deliver on their promises. The key relationships with a brand are the interactions between customers and employees. These define the brand relationship much more strongly than any advertising or social media campaign ever can.
“The product creates the experience.
The experience creates the reputation.
The reputation creates the brand.”
The context of our decisions and our underling emotions are also crucial to our decisions. We are much more willing to spend money and pay a premium price when we are searching for a last minute Christmas present that we promised to buy for our partner or children. We hate the feeling of regret and will seek to avoid it if we can. This is partly why scarcity is such a powerful motivator as people don’t like to feel they missed out on a bargain (i.e. loss aversion) because they were too slow to get to make a decision.
As a result communications that triggers an emotional response are often more effective at getting attention and influencing behaviour than a purely rational message.
“Showing personality in your app, website, or brand can be a very powerful way for your audience to identify and empathize with you. People want to connect with real people and too often we forget that businesses are just collections of people.” – Aarron Walter, Teamtreehouse.com
Other useful insights from behavioural economics include:
- We feel most comfortable when our behaviour conforms to recognised social norms relating to concepts such as fairness and social responsibility.
- Humans are not the selfish, independent thinking agents that economics would have us believe. We will often hold back from behaviour that we believes treats others unfairly or lacks respect for others.
- Although people usually have clear explicit goals when making a purchase (e.g. I want a new car), they do not have full access to their psychological goals (e.g. security and adventure) that help drive brand choice. For this reason there is no point using direct questioning to try to uncover these implicit goals. Our preferences also change over time and so consumer demand is continuously shifting in response to many influences.
Source: Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy – Phil Barden
- Intrinsic motivations, such as mastery and autonomy, can be more powerful at driving our behaviour than carrots and sticks, especially when the activity is not routine. Indeed, research has shown that extrinsic motivators, such as bonuses, often reduce motivation and performance when applied to creative tasks.
As you can imagine these insights can be employed in any environment where behavioural change is needed. This could be to tackle health and safety issues, reduce waste, improve compliance with good working practices, address employee motivation, or improve the effectiveness of communication.
So what next you might say. Well, Ogilvy and Mather, the global advertising and marketing agency, have already created a new business unit, Ogilvy Change, dedicated to the application of behavioural economics to deliver measurable changes in behaviour across a diverse range of environments. I recently attended the monthly London Behavioural Economics Network meeting where the team from Ogilvy Change discussed work they had conducted on behavioural change in a factory in South America for improving hygiene and the psychological optimising of a call centre in the UK. From small beginnings the team at Ogilvy Change are now working with a number of global businesses to press forward the application of behavioural science in the real world and maybe it is time we did the same.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked with brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com. He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback. The objective is to ensure the aim of each webpage is aligned with the organisation’s business goals. This helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.