NEWS24 September 2021

Behavioural Science Summit highlights: Communication tips, honesty & listening to emotion

Behavioural economics News Trends UK

Behavioural science has become a mainstay of the research industry in recent years, and has provoked much debate in the process. We share some key takeaways from the Market Research Society’s Behavioural Science Summit.

Hedge maze

How should we speak to stakeholders about behavioural science?

The behavioural science discipline has gained momentum in the past 10 years, but there can still be communication difficulties for practitioners. “It can come across as a complex discipline requiring a new vocabulary,” said Simon Shaw, moderating a panel on how to communicate with clients and internal stakeholders about behavioural approaches. “So how can it be accessible and convey benefits without dumbing it down or scaring people off?”

It’s time for a more mature way of talking about behavioural science, according to Elina Halonen, chief customer experience officer, Lygg and behavioural insights strategist at Square Peg Insight. She said: “The profession is much more mature now. We should be leaving behind the oversimplifications and moving towards understanding the nuance and helping clients to understand how behavioural science can be particularly helpful for a complex issue, not just something simple, and moving towards a more systems based approach rather than promising silver bullets.”

Discussing frameworks and models, Halonen said: “You don’t need to know every theory and framework by heart but you know what the tools are and what you need to do. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Market research agencies in particular have a desire to do exactly that because there’s an industry need for a USP or a snazzy acronym.”

Cameron Belton, senior behavioural insights manager at Ofgem, said initial buy-in of behavioural science can be a challenge. “The popular science of behavioural insights is extremely powerful in communicating the potential of this field and it does it in an accessible, user-friendly way. But with that we have a responsibility, not just to ourselves and to the field, but also to manage expectations for clients. We shouldn’t undersell the scientific rigour that has to go into that.”

Communications should be tailored based on the stakeholder’s needs, according to Juliet Hodges, senior advisor on Bupa’s behavioural insights team. “Make sure it’s really relevant to them and you’ve prepared the business case for their specific context and challenge. Err on the side of simple rather than complex. It’s easy to overdo it with all of the science.”

Eliciting more honest responses from surveys

Humans are all susceptible to a tendency to be dishonest, said Crawford Hollingworth, but dishonesty has a huge impact on society – for example, fare evasion on public transport or sharing inaccurate information about health that could otherwise be used to inform better health interventions. Additionally, dishonesty can be damaging for the market research industry, impacting how people participate in surveys. 

“We can behave dishonestly and still believe ourselves to be honest,” said Hollingworth. “Whether someone is dishonest is determined by the trade-off between the external benefit versus effect on their self-concept – as long as it doesn’t affect our image of ourselves, then anything goes.”

How can researchers use behavioural design to manage the human tendency to be dishonest? Hollingworth pointed to research that has shown that lying once makes it easier to lie the next time, which has implications for how surveys are designed. He said: “We should separate questions which we know elicit greater levels of dishonesty. Include buffer questions – more normal general questions in between – then you are more likely to get the truth.”

When designing an intervention, it can be more powerful to frame a message as a behaviour rather than an identity, said Hollingworth. “Fare evaders don’t see themselves as cheaters. Nobody identifies with the image they portray.” Instead, practitioners could consider using social norms (for example, highlighting positive behaviours in others) or leveraging loss aversion (for example, highlighting the cost of fines).

Talk to the experts

Insights from customers also need to be backed up by information from other sources. Reusable nappy company Bambino Mio carried out research to look at how to convert customers from single-use nappies, examining modern parenthood and some of the behaviours and also challenges for the reusable nappy market.

Bambino Mio specifically wanted to examine what it saw as the “addressable middle market”, according to head of marketing Joreen Singh – customers who were neither converts to reusable nappies nor refuseniks or loyalists to single-use products. The company asked C Space to run an online community of 60 to 100 people to get an insight into the realities of modern parenthood.

“We found it was really hard for parents to be honest about what was going on in their homes,” said Neha Viswanathan, practice director at C Space. “People tended to have rational reasons for not using reusable nappies – they take too long to dry, they don’t know how to use them, they are too expensive.”

To get additional insight, the team also interviewed a variety of experts in various fields, from government and retailers to parenting and sleep experts “to get a more rounded perspective of what modern parenting actually feels like”, said Viswanathan, adding: “When you go into a brand new category, it can be quite difficult to open up. And while we were getting good feedback from the community, we were also talking to experts.”

Listen to the emotions

Behavioural science has been, overall, a positive for marketing, said Anthony Tasgal, trainer, author, strategist at POV Marketing and Research, and David Penn, founder and managing director at Conquest, as it took marketing away from more science-orientated disciplines into something that appealed more to people’s emotions.

Discussing Daniel Kahneman’s system 1 and system 2 thinking theory, covering the logical conscious (system 2 ) and emotional unconscious (system 1 ) parts of the human brain, they argued behavioural economics had focused attention on emotions to a greater extent than before.

“We have a system 1 and system 2, and if we’re not appealing to system 1, you are missing a trick – you are missing more than half of people’s thinking,” said Penn.

Tasgal added that behavioural economics was a “boon” when it first arrived as it provided the terminology needed to redirect attention to the emotional core of advertising and branding. “When I used to work with clients, whether they knew it or not, they were very system 2 orientated – they were about facts, figures, information and messaging, as opposed to system 1, where emotions live. We know from behavioural economics that a lot of who we are and what makes us do what we do, choose what we choose, and like what we like, lives in the unconscious, implicit system 1.”

He also said that it was crucial not to make marketing an exact science. “Often we take how brands affect human behaviour, and we try to reduce stuff that is quite complicated, messy and unpredictable, and human, and we try to turn it into physics,” Tasgal said. “For me, there was a drift into the wrong science – too many people tried to make marketing like physics. Physics is about maths, linearity, where an atom is and what forces apply. It is not how human behaviour works.”

Penn warned against allowing the focus on emotions to overshadow the other, more scientific benefits, of behavioural economics. “A lot of it is terminology – how do you define behavioural economics? If you are strict about it, the predecessor was a parallel discipline called cognitive neuroscience. Emotion is certainly part of behavioural economics, but there is quite a bit more to it than just emotion. My concern is we don’t lose sight of a lot of that good stuff that was done in the neuroscience sphere.”

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