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What psychologists can teach marketers about marketing


What psychologists can teach marketers about marketing


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?

These are just some of the weird questions you might’ve heard at this year’s Nudgestock – the world’s largest festival of behavioural science and creativity. Hosted by Ogilvy Consulting with the help of resident provocateur/Vice Chairman/scholar, Rory Sutherland – this year’s Nudgestock looked remarkably different from its predecessors.

Facing ongoing travel bans and restrictions, the organisers decided not to postpone the big day, but turn it into something much, much bigger. Trading in the traditional conference digs in seaside England, Nudgestock 2020 took place on June 12th as a mass global broadcast, livestreamed via Youtube and LinkedIn Live across 3 different regions.

While the event usually caters to just a few hundred hungry minds, this year attracted over 120,000 global attendees and 25+ leading speakers, including Google’s Behavioural Science hub, Cass Sunstein (the bloke who literally co-invented the ‘nudge’), a former Cambridge Analytica psychologist and of course, loads of Rory.

As the day (and night for AEST unfortunates) rolled on, one thing became abundantly clear – business can really use behavioural science in the world of COVID-19. Living through what might be the largest-scale social experiment of our lifetime, marketers, corporate bookkeepers 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?

That’s what Nudgestock 2020 was really about – getting to know the human decision-maker at the heart of this unfolding crisis. What sorts of things will influence resilience? Which new habits will stick and why? What kinds of itches are in dire need of a good scratching? In other words, good psychology questions. As Rory puts it: our businesses can no longer just be asking ‘how can we run the most efficient commercial airline’, but also ‘how can we get people back onto planes?’.

For a full recap of the day, watch Nudgestock here, here, here…and also here. If you can’t find 14 hours to spare, here are 3 useful things psychology taught marketers at Nudgestock:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Desires get 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.

Jasmine Giuliani

Jasmine Giuliani was the Editor of Marketing Mag from March 2020 to September 2021.

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