“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there’s no need to do so, most of us get busy on the proof”

 – J K Galbraith

This blog is about recognising the potency of learning by doing. Though it’s often unrealised among most of us, that doesn’t mean we’re all exhibiting thought-out, rational, pre-meditated behaviour the rest of the time. It’s not just as simple as making the mental switch from procrastination to an active, effective new way of behaving.

Thing is, we’re not really built that way.

Behavioural Economics has harnessed ideas latent in psychology, economics and theories of social learning to highlight just how little conscious motivation most of us use at any one time.

Marketing has latched on to this, but disappointingly the discourse seems to be centred on how to assimilate the idea into its traditional armoury of persuasion. People think (or rather, act) using short-cuts. They think in relative, not absolute, terms. And they assess how much effort might be entailed in any choice they make. Given the chance, brands will seek to exploit this laziness for their own ends. Marketers, like most people, are getting busy on the proof.

So, it still sounds a lot like manipulation to me.

Far more powerful than the notion of selling brands, however, is the opportunity to use these insights to help people.

Last week I heard Simon Waldman talk about the challenges faced by businesses trying to adapt to the massive changes wrought by technological advancement. Of course, the biggest driving force behind the scale of these changes lies in how useful they are to people.

 Technology itself isn’t the problem, rather its utility, and its ability to help people circumvent the barriers put up around the products and services they want to access.

Waldman talked about technology’s capacity to ‘exponentially satisfy’ consumers. I think this meant that technology can make something you like more convenient to access, easier to use, or simply more enjoyable. Whoever enables this, in so doing they increase their value to the user of their services.

It’s by offering value to the buyer that we can add value to the brand, not the other way round.

Are marketers really ready for that paradigm shift?

Strange that we should be having to ask the question, when all around us we see the evidence that people (the ‘consumers’ who buy stuff) aren’t sitting around waiting for brands (the companies who sell them said stuff) to change.

They’re just going elsewhere, to a company that is.

Alan Mitchell’s fantastic blog, Reinventing Marketing, characterises this smartening up as the shift from seller-centric to buyer-centric marketing.

A shift that finally makes good on marketing’s supposed purpose: to identify and meet consumer’s needs.

As opposed to finding what those needs are, only to try and sell them something you can’t be sure they even want, let alone need.

In his latest post he suggests thinking about the customer’s metrics, rather than our own. By what criteria will they be measuring the success of the transaction? He recommends:

  • Understanding the time, effort and attention that customers have to invest in the making and implementing the decision, and 
  •  work out how to help the customer improve the points on this journey through a decision
I see this as a really potent approach. It’s not only a way assessing valuable buyer-centric opportunities, it also posits a new framework for evaluating success, by measuring how well a brand has been able to add value to their buyer. Or, as Mitchell says, how well a brand has helped generate customer ROI, as opposed to asking customers to generate ROI for the brand.

For marketers, it helps us focus on how, when, where and – critically – why a brand might intervene in someone’s decision-making journey. Nailing this highlights what sort of media will best serve the service the customer needs.

Which brings us back to Behavioural Economics. Loyalty to or preference for a brand or product only really remains loyalty or preference for as long as that brand or product remains a viable option. Do I choose not to buy a lager if my supposed first preference isn’t available? Probably not. Decisions, even about stuff we purport to care about, are as much about their context as they are about their content.

And technology, by collapsing the distance and time between customers and their favoured products and services, is making it ever easier for brands to fit with the context of people’s lives.

What an amazing opportunity for marketing and brands. Maybe some brands have already realised the potency of this idea. My guess is that most haven’t. I hope marketers realise the need to change their mind sooner rather than later