Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts

Dec 14 2016

There are now many books about the application of behavioural science to branding and marketing (including Brand esSense). The Business Of Choice by Matthew Willcox is a recent edition is one of the more readable ones, summarising many of the core ideas of behavioural economics in a very business-focused and reader-friendly way. Uniquely, the coverage extends to thinking about the role of human nature and culture in shaping consumers’ decision-making.

The Business of Choice opens with a brief summary of the most recent thinking about human decision-making and the science of buyer behaviour. As the author points out quoting a character from a Woody Allen film, “we are the sum total of the choices we have made”. As the book continues he also points out that we more than this, but it is a great entry point into the impact of prior experiences on our decision-making. He argues that marketers think about purchase paths and customer journeys, but rarely think about how decisions are actually made in the real world.

The way that brands work to a large extent mirrors the way that the mind works and the way in which we make choices, based on networks of memories and the emotional triggers for those memories to initially form and then be recalled at the right time and place. They are heuristics or short cuts for more complicated (and time-consuming) calculations that we don’t have time or inclination to bother with. This is the mental equivalent of what designers call a “desire path”.

Rightly Matthew Willcox argues that the rational brain is simply following its name and rationalising what we have already decided to do. Therefore, marketers need to start thinking about brands using a “brain out” approach and base their strategies from the starting point of how people really make decisions.

In the second part, and main bulk, of the book, Matthew Willcox describes the practical implications of “brain out” marketing  and some of the highlight insights include:

  • the importance of being familiar with a “twist” (as in all great movie endings) - learn more about Storytelling here
  • understanding the difference between what people say (which is usually “rational”) and what they do
  • the importance of making things “feel right” (cognitive fluency in psychological terms, as BrainJuicer and others have argues) - this can be different from what is “rationally right” and is not always even the simplest choice
  • the value in setting your own frames of reference and leveraging the importance of comparisons in decision-making (just make sure that you use the right comparison)
  • using context as an important cue in decision-making (emotional and contextual) and aligning brands with the end goals of customers (as argued in Brand esSense)
  • thinking visually rather than verbally (the author cites an intriguing example of the differences between left-handed and right-handed people)
  • how metaphors act as powerful triggers to the implicit brain
  • the importance of adapting marketing to reflect cultural differences (and crucially the difference between independent and interdependent cultures, but others are important too)
  • using marketing to support the decisions that people have already made, rather than as tools of persuasion (“its not about your brand, but the [consumer's] decision to choose it” as the author says)

There is one framework that I found particularly useful, especially with TapestryWorks’ own focus on the importance of leveraging cultural insights to connect with customers. Matthew Willcox introduces the UIIA map (“Universal/Individual and Innate/Absorbed”) that links four drivers of decision-making and behaviour: human nature, genetic makeup life experience and culture. I find this a really useful framework for thinking about business challenges (you can see my version of the framework below). Much marketing and branding effort focuses on the “life experience” quadrant,  while in reality both human nature and culture are much more powerful as ways to connect with people in more universally translatable ways.

The final section of the book reflects on the future of marketing.  Overall this is a highly recommended read for anyone who wants to know more about human decision-making from a very practical and marketing focused perspective.


The Business of Choice: Marketing to consumers’ instincts by Matthew Willcox

Brand esSense: Using sense, symbol and story to design brand identity by Neil Gains

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