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Unconventional wisdom: an introduction to counterintuitive marketing

Technology & Data

Unconventional wisdom: an introduction to counterintuitive marketing


In his ‘Unconventional wisdom’ series set for the next few weeks, behavioural and brand strategist at Ogilvy Australia, Dane Smith, will make the case for seemingly contradictory, superficially counterintuitive and sometimes non-sensical brand manoeuvres. Here, in his introductory piece, he explains the power behind the nudge.

Dane Smith 150 BWThe last few years have seen marketers and planning departments embracing behavioural science… at a philosophical level. Concepts like System 1 versus System 2, heuristics and reframing proudly ring out in pitch decks and water-cooler conversations everywhere.

And fair enough. As a theoretical framework, behavioural science allows us to confidently speak about a hunch we’ve already had for some time: consumers are not always a rational bunch and are heavily swayed by things like emotional appeals.

But beyond having a shiny new lexicon to win new business and defend our more daring ideas, we tend to relegate the application of behavioural science to one thing and one thing only: nudges.

Nudge bigger

While the readily growing body of thinking from behavioural science is enormous in both implication and potential, our industry has a bad habit of whittling its function down to something quite small.

Nudges, in the eye of the marketer, act like a kind of optional appendage – small tactical interventions that hang alongside a ‘proper’ brand campaign – almost like an effectiveness booster shot aimed at a very specific point-of-impact – a grocery store aisle, a website checkout page etc.

While nudging (in this ad hoc, ultra-targeted sense) is an important concept – and one that has demonstrated large scales of impact at minimal cost – it is definitely not the whole playbook. Rather than just looking at behavioural science as the tactical BB-gun, it should also be revered as the cannon – a weaponised knowledge base that can be used to steer your brand right away from the noisy competition and into fresh patches of psychological appeal.

This bank of less-trodden insights, the ones that defy economic ‘common sense’, provides a wealth of ways to differentiate and grow in market. They provide instances of ‘unconventional wisdom’.

If you’re KFC, this can mean growing sales by raising the price of your Original Recipe chicken. If you’re Blue Moon Brewing Co, perhaps deliberately wreck your beer’s flavour with an eye-catching orange wedge. If you’re Kayak, inject some lag into your lightning quick UX to make it feel harder-working.

This is the special power of ‘unconventional wisdom’ – knowing when doing the wrong thing is exactly the right for your brand to do.

Disclaimer: deviate responsibly

While this might sound like a rallying cry to abandon all conventional approaches, make no mistake: the traditional economic levers still do work. If you’re Shreddies cereal, creating big value packs or developing special new flavour variants are valid strategies to shift sales. The problem is, it’s unlikely they will amount to huge business growth – they’re expensive choices and everyone else in the category can make them.

Diamond Shreddies

But shifting consumer expectations of the product – making people re-evaluate square Shreddies as diamond Shreddies by rotating them – is an equally valid approach; one that makes use of psycho-logic, not logic – and one that ‘magically’ grew their market share 18% in only one month.

Increasing marketer confidence in these atypical approaches, by peeking under the hood at the behavioural phenomena that powers them, is the aim of this little series. In my opinion, a wider strategic playing field is a better one. Or, more eloquently put by Ogilvy UK vice-chairman Rory Sutherland, “In business the opposite of a good idea is not necessarily a bad idea, but perhaps an even better one.”

Stay tuned for lesson number one of ‘Unconventional Wisdom’: improving customer experience by adding in annoying points of friction.

Dane Smith is a behavioural and brand strategist at Ogilvy Australia.


Further Reading:



Image credit:David Marcu


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