NEWS20 October 2021

Should marketers focus more on what has stayed the same?

Behavioural science Media News Technology Trends UK

UK – Marketers should place more attention on understanding the fundamentals of human behaviour than the latest fads, according to speakers at the Festival of Marketing.

Video calling conferencing remote working_crop

The pandemic has prompted many discussions on how consumer behaviours and purchasing have changed radically, but understanding the foundational drivers of behaviour and how context shapes decision-making can help marketers to understand what to focus their efforts on and whether things have actually changed significantly in the long-term. 

The underlying traits influencing how people make decisions have not changed, said consumer behaviour consultant Philip Graves, speaking at a panel discussion yesterday ( 19th October) moderated by Shazia Ginai, chief executive of Neuro-Insight.

Graves said: “What we’ve seen with the pandemic is the context has changed extraordinarily quickly and significantly. And so it’s understanding the context in which that decision-making process that we have operates, and how those two things interact, that’s interesting.”

The simplest changes emerging from the pandemic in consumer terms are that people’s attention on digital channels and the loss aversion associated with digital channels has now been flipped around because people have been forced to use them, said Graves.

He added: “As a result of that we have seen a huge shift in consumer behaviour but not one that’s been brought about by people acting in a fundamentally different way – it has just been as a result of the context changing.”

“As much as we are preoccupied by our ability to think consciously because we’re aware of it, it’s not driving most of what we do because it’s far too energy-intensive and cumbersome. Those underlying processes provide a framework through which we can understand any human behaviour that we see and understand what’s really driving it.

“One thing that gets in the way of that is the tendency to ask people why they’ve done things. People don’t understand why they’ve done things because they don’t have access to those processes.”

Rather than viewing historical studies on consumer behaviour as out of date, marketers can learn a lot from the past, said behavioural science consultant Richard Shotton.

“The best advertisers have long realised that the drivers of behaviours are fundamentally the same. Creative director Bill Bernbach said: ‘It’s taken millions of years for human nature to develop and it’ll take millions for it to vary. As communicators we should be concerned with the unchanging man.’ What behavioural science does very well is look at those fundamentals – why we notice things, why we’re persuaded. Those are remarkably static.”

Shotton recently came across research by Ian Begg, a psychologist at the Unviersity of Western Ontario in the 1970s, who read out two-word phrases to a group and asked them what they remembered, finding that they were more likely to remember concrete phrases like ‘white horse’ than they are abstract phrases like ‘subtle fact’.

“That study is nearly 50 years old so I think the danger is that marketers think that’s out of date and they ignore it. We re-ran the same study earlier this year with essentially the same results in 2021. People don’t remember abstracts – that’s something that’s lasted. We should be spending more time focusing on fundamental truths, rather than the latest fads.”

Discussing the world of gaming and the rise of the ‘metaverse’ – a digital environment that users can interact with – gaming entrepreneur and investor Roberta Lucca pointed to how people are spending more time in virtual spaces.

Despite the novelty of these spaces, however, Lucca said the drivers of behaviour remain the same within such contexts.

“Certain things stay the same. People want to belong – they want to create communities. They are triggered by FOMO (fear of missing out). We can see by how people engage with each other inside of a game or outside of a game, that they want to be seen as part of a tribe. However, the key change is speed – everything they’re consuming now is getting to their hands and eyes and awareness so much faster.”

Despite this, marketers can focus on certain foundations that remain the same regardless of context. Using an example of a very popular player in a “post-apocalyptic game” in the metaverse, Lucca said marketers can focus on “self-expression” as a foundation that marketers shouldn’t lose sight of.

“I asked my community manager to talk to this player to find out who she was and why she was so loved,” said Lucca. “It was a 65-year-old lady based in Texas, a grandma, living a pretty normal day-to-day life. She had a completely different identity online and felt cared for and loved and that she could have an impact on the world. She was extending her meaning of life inside the game.

“The more we observe those snippets of behaviour inside of games, outside of games, and in the metaverse, the more we will find the meaningful connection we crave as human beings.”