Imagine there was a way to not only understand previous consumer behaviour, but predict how these consumers might act in the future too. Now open your eyes. It’s called Behavioural Science, a discipline that is increasingly being harnessed as an alternative and complement to traditional marketing research methodologies.
Behavioural Science sounds like an intimidating field, conjuring up images of lab coats and clipboards. However, its principles have been fermenting in the public consciousness for years: any marketer who’s read Daniel Kahneman’s popular 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow will have been exposed to Behavioural Science thinking.
So, what exactly is it?
Broadly speaking, Behavioural Science draws on psychology, sociology, economics and neuroscience to understand why people make decisions, weighing up the blend of irrationality, emotion and unconscious impulse this often involves. While this can sometimes seem completely random, Behavioural Science teaches that these are the result of evolved cognitive processes that can in fact be predicted. Small interventions, or ‘nudges’, from brands can introduce new habits into this cycle.
Some of the significant contributors to the field include Daniel Ariely – who examined the systematic logic behind human irrationality in Predictably Irrational – and psychologist Robert Cialdini, whose work on influence identified social comparison as being a key factor in determining people’s choices. This insight was used by the UK government to encourage citizens to pay their taxes on time, underlining just how actionable this research can be.
More recently, author Michael Lewis revisited the topic in The Undoing Project, a biography of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Pioneers in Behavioural Economics, the duo observed that “no one ever made a decision because of a number – they [need] a story”. That’s a truth all marketers should heed.
Behavioural Science in Action
Getting representative audience data is one of the biggest challenges for any marketer. Methodologies like surveys and focus groups promote restrictive frameworks and unnatural environments that impede the study of true consumer behaviour. In contrast, Behavioural Science approaches – such as implicit questioning, phenomenological and observational studies – can provide a much more accurate picture of how people behave in their daily lives.. These insights can support almost every aspect of marketing, from determining product pricing, placement, communications and promotional activity, to identifying unmet consumer needs.
Some of the problems Behavioural Science can solve include:
- How can drinks companies convince customers to buy a more expensive bottle of wine?
- How can charities recruit new donors and encourage larger donations?
- What could make people reduce their energy usage?
At Catalyx, we’ve already embedded these behavioural science techniques to solve our client's challenges. For example, we worked with an oral care company to understand how oral care habits change between childhood and young adulthood, with the aim of creating a compelling communication strategy that would appeal to different age demographics.
To go about this, we recruited a CROWD consisting of mothers and children from three age segments, who we engaged in different activities designed to uncover factors that influence user behaviour. Rather than hitting them with questionnaires, we sent our participants small tasks to understand how they really approached oral care: for example, asking them to record videos and take photos of their dental routine, as well as capture their trips to the supermarket to stock up on new supplies.
After investigating a huge 22,000 data points, we were able to connect the dots between consumer types and formulate strategic recommendations that helped Oral B move forward and strengthen the bond between the brand and the consumer.
However, we’re not the only ones to see the benefits of this new thinking. More and more brands are experimenting with Behavioural Science techniques on both a strategic and tactical level.
For example, smoothie maker Innocent has embedded ‘Brand Budgeting’ – a behavioural principle referring to the ‘mental accounting’ consumers do when making purchases across different product categories – into its brand purpose. Instead of framing its smoothies just as a sweet beverage or mid-afternoon treat, Innocent highlights how its products help customers meet their 5-a-day fruit and veg quotient. As a result, consumers unconsciously assign greater monetary value to the drinks by identifying them as both a refreshing drink and an aid to good health.
Behavioural Science is also making its mark on the public sector via the UK government’s Behavioural Insights team, or ‘Nudge Unit’, which has been credited with bringing greater empirical rigour to the formation of policy.
Recent innovations from the team include reducing waiting times for NHS treatment by introducing a ‘traffic light’ system to GPs’ computer screens, cutting referrals to overstretched hospitals by 38% in a pilot study.
Making the Most of Behavioural Science
Now that you’ve seen how organisations are using Behavioural Science, what are the pros and cons of this approach?
Daniel Kahneman’s identification of the two cognitive modes, ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’, is one of the most useful principles of Behavioural Science. System 1 refers to the kind of intuitive, automatic thinking the brain does – like brushing your teeth or walking home from work – whereas System 2 is a slow, deliberate and analytical process. The latter could include deciding what to have for dinner, or weighing up the benefits of different job offers. Understanding which of these modes is at play is key to unlocking consumer behaviour and motivations.
Some consumer activity involves a combination of both System 1 and 2, and research methodologies can be tailored to measure this. Making a significant purchase like a car, for example, could see individuals harness System 1 thinking to instinctively narrow the list of brands they show preference for (perhaps based on unconscious bias) and identify the category of car needed, and then might use System 2 to make comparisons between offers at different dealers. The latter takes into account more nuanced variables such as customer experience and individual model specifications.
Combined, a proper assessment of how these two cognitive systems interact can provide an accurate picture of consumer journeys, helping future-proof marketing strategy.
We discovered this for ourselves when we helped launch Carlsberg’s Somersby cider in Switzerland. Rather than relying on existing consumption data, we engaged with a sample of Swiss residents directly to uncover their real drinking habits.
By examining consumers’ unstructured conversations, we were able to get an authentic picture of their receptiveness towards new drinks brands and build an effective launch plan.. In the end, a potential 1.5 million people were aware of Somersby, equivalent to 20% of the Swiss population. That’s the kind of organic brand-building that wouldn’t be possible without a little System 2 thinking.
Does your brand need a nudge in the right direction? Catalyx helps brands beat your consumer’s expectations by getting their thoughts, behaviour and ideas into your organisation, fast. We work with many of the world’s leading brands, including Ariel, Pantene and Gillette. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help your business discover better brand-building solutions in days, not months.