Some food for Thought

A definition: Cognition, the mental process involved in knowing, learning and understanding things. Our thinking and approach draws on advances in behavioural and marketing science.

We live in the age of emotion…

As Daniel Kahneman puts it, “The answer to a simple question – how do I feel about it? – is an excellent proxy for the answer to a far more complex question – what do I think about it?”

Emotions and, as a consequence, our System 1 thinking, frame our understanding and responses, and drive much of our behaviour: 

  • The experience of emotion leads to a memory
  • Getting to the heart of the matter is more important than what people think, because what people feel is the basis of what they think
  • How we feel drives what we do and buy – the more we feel, the more we buy.

This means we should not ask what people feel about our brand, but what our brand can make people feel!

Category landscapes: Would you rather be marketing chocolate, or mortgages?

Brand strategy starts with the category landscape and it’s amazing how often it gets missed.

All categories evoke a different emotional array. Understanding the emotional landscape of a category should be the first question we ask, not the last! Getting to grips with these underlying customer needs for a category should frame our thinking.

The best advertising is about seducing, not convincing… if we are trying to persuade, we are probably getting it wrong

Robert Heath argues there are two modes of information processing.

First, the consciously engaged, ‘Explicit’, or ‘High level processing’ level, which is able to remember logical detail and recall limited amounts in detail very accurately, but only for a short period. This is where persuasion lives and recall is activity triggered.

Second, the unconscious, ‘Implicit’, or ‘Low level processing’ level, running in the background. This seeds memories that can be triggered involuntarily by external episodes that have some association. They are more emotional, last longer, and feel more powerful. However, they take longer to establish and can only deal with simple messages – repetition is key. Seduction takes place often without overt ‘rational’ reasoning – we just feel it’s right.

We need to understand the ‘explicit’ take-out from communications, but we need to be clear about what our ‘implicit’ emotional message and associations should be and if it is being is communicated as much, if not more so, than the explicit.

Behavioural science shows us that many of the historical tenants of innovation don’t always hold true…

Not too much disruption please. While ‘disruption’ is the chant of the day, there is increasing evidence that wholly novel, truly disruptive innovation is not only rare, but rarely works. In fact, acceptance of the new is largely driven by a large dose of familiarity, with a level of added uniqueness and differentiation. The cognitive fluency of a concept, the degree to which it both intuitively ‘makes sense’, but is also interesting (the new bit), is key. Familiarity in many ways is more important than new!

Delight, not surprise. The real driver of the adoption of new products is not being startlingly surprising, or the delivery of a unique selling proposition (USP), but making people feel happy. People are more likely to buy when they feel good (the Affect heuristic). We need to frame our concepts in this emotional ‘System 1’ context to allow our ‘System 2’ (rational benefits) the greatest chance of success of being heard and accepted.

We are not one self, but a number of sub-selves…

Evolutionary psychology tells us we are hardwired to behave in certain ways in certain contexts – ‘Kin Care’ =nurturing parent, ‘Mate Acquisition’ = show off as single and so on.

These underlying motives and their associated behaviours drive much of what we do within given situations. Understanding, these often hardwired, behaviours and needs help us grasp the social reference points our brand should speak to and help increase emotional salience. Shakespeare was right – “All the world’s a stage; And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” The only difference is there are more than seven.

There is no such thing as ‘real value’: Many elements of our lives, including our sense of value, are prone to irrationality

Anchors: Much of what we see as value depends on the context based on ‘anchors’ that have been previously established – this is priming.

Arbitrary Coherence: The notion that even though an initial price point might be random, or contrived, once established it will not only shape our perception of current prices, but future prices too. 

The decoy effect: Our mind’s establish value through comparative mechanisms. Further, we also establish value by comparing to the easily comparable.

In short, in many ways there are no absolutes in terms of value. It floats, slides and can be impacted by many variables. We help clients identify not only the drivers of value in the choices people take, but also the frameworks and priming they use to define value.

It’s still good to talk, but not always about behaviour:

It has been fashionable of late not to believe what consumers tell us, and that focus groups, or some other methodologies, are unreliable. Frankly, this doesn’t hold true. I’m sure if we asked you about your attitude to the environment, or how you were feeling about the Covid-19 crisis, you would be able to tell me. Your response would be valid and we could develop a brand positioning that appealed to you. It’s also the case that you could give me a valid view about how you feel about a new concept or advertising execution. The key is that we’re asking about attitudes and emotions.

The challenge comes when we want to understand behaviour, as it is certainly true that we are not always aware of what we do, or why we do it. Further, the vagaries of memory can be vague indeed. So the issue is not that focus groups don’t work, but simply that they are the wrong tool. Ethnographic and observational techniques are a key part of what we do. They help us understand peoples’ lives, optimise product delivery, and the shopping behaviour or customer experience that drives choice.

The trick is to understand when it’s good to talk, versus when it’s good to watch.

Not Everyday Life: Covid-19

The excellent Siamack Salari in the UK set up ‘Not Everyday Life’ which is a unique, crowdsourced initiative designed to understand how Covid-19 is impacting people around the world. The initial work covered some 176 interviews in 135 countries.

As contributors, we thought it would be good to pass on some learnings. To get a copy click on the button below.

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