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Joining the Dots

The fate of the modern consumer is often lamented. Bombarded on all sides by too many messages and too much choice… but spare a moment for the modern marketer, writes Chris Upton.

Never before have we been so continuously bombarded with advice and information. Books, gurus, podcasts, articles… all telling us what to do and what not to do. With constant updates, frequent contradictions and incessant rehashes, our ‘must read’ pile keeps getting larger, as our time to consume it all gets ever smaller. And yes, I appreciate the irony of saying this in an article.

I have found that the only defence is a good offence. Achieved by using tried and trusted curators to help navigate the content maelstrom, and I don’t mean bots or algorithms. I mean people. Actual human beings. This curation role is very much at the roots of the Marketing Society of Ireland. When the society began almost 50 years ago, we were at the cusp of a revolution, or at least a revelation, in marketing in Ireland. Marketers were returning home after honing their craft abroad. They brought with them a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the importance of modern market research and wanted to share this knowledge. The original members, led by John Lepere, established the society. Today, the society is still dedicated to their role as champions of thought leadership. The challenge these days however is not just disseminating the knowledge, but also curating it to ensure it is of the utmost relevance and benefit. And so, in the spirit of this legacy, I would like to share some learnings from our most recent events.

A Changing Landscape

I think it is fair to say that many aspects of marketing have changed. But its strength as a growth driver may still be determined by how effectively and efficiently it can create demand by growing awareness, driving consideration and influencing decisions. Achieving cut-through and awareness has become an increasingly complex challenge for marketers. The disruption of traditional channels and the eruption of digital platforms has turned capturing attention into the new gold rush. Needless to say there is no shortage of advice and opinion as to how to succeed in this new environment. The added complication though is discerning between fact and fake news.

We were delighted to have Professor Karen Nelson Field help address this challenge. Her research raises questions around a number of assumptions that many of us had taken as fact. As we scramble to grab attention, she asks us to consider the difference between active and passive attention. Why should we care? Active attention, brought about by active viewing, is more memorable and her research shows a high correlation between active viewing and product selection. So it is more effective at moving consumers from awareness to consideration to purchase decision. When considering your channel, you should consider how your message will be consumed – as an accepted interruption or an annoyance.

Viewing on small screens was also tested, with a focus on mobile. Professor Nelson Field found that the Short-Term Advertising Strength (STAS) of small screens delivered more sales across all platforms. This makes intuitive sense, as we are so actively and intimately engaged with our mobile devices. But it should be considered in combination with the last key finding relating to coverage. Coverage refers to how much space the advertisement occupies on the medium. As Professor Nelson-Field outlined, “coverage is an artefact of clutter, so the bigger the ad on screen the fewer ads that can sneak around the edge”. The research demonstrates that coverage matters for both attention and sales. So the greater the space you occupy the greater the sales uplift, and the longer the period of time on screen the greater the effect. This very much challenges the pervading wisdom that shorter ads are better.

Another common claim is that an always-on strategy is required in order to dominate share of mind. Although you could argue this is supported to some degree by Byron Sharpe’s work, it may only be telling us half the story. What Professor Nelson Field found was that different media suffer different rates of decay in terms of how long they last in the viewers memory. What she found was that Facebook decayed 2.5x as fast as TV and YouTube decayed 3x as fast as TV. So an “always-on” strategy may not actually need to be constantly on if the rate of decay is slower.

Valid Decision-making

I think what is important about this research is that it challenges us to question the validity of the information we use to make our decisions. And this leads me to the other event I would like to share with you. Scott Young, CEO of BVA Nudge Unit UK, explained how behavioural science can give us insights into how consumers make decisions. It turns out we are not the rational agents set on maximising self-interest that we thought we were. We are in fact humans driven by emotions, habits, biases and context.

Why is this important for marketers? It means that appealing with a logical argument seldom leads to the outcome we desire. In the words of Daniel Kahneman “The brain does not establish an average value, but uses particular moments to create an overall evaluation”. Marketing has a greater influence on decisions when it is emotional appealing as opposed to appealing with facts, features or prices. This is supported by the research conducted by Binet & Field and presented at a Marketing Society event last year.

Understanding Biases

Another important learning was that understanding biases, both our own as marketers and those of consumers, is important if we are to make the most beneficial decisions. Two biases to consider are the Status Quo Bias and Confirmation Bias. Status Quo Bias was described by Dan Ariely as the fact that “people generally avoid changes, even if they are minor and even if the other path is clearly better.” This has been the frustration of many a marketer when they try to convince customers to switch to a product or service that is superior to the competition. The second bias discussed was Confirmation Bias. It is best described as when we actively seek out information that confirms our preconceived view, in favour of all other information.

The final learning Scott imparted was about nudging behaviour, a term made famous by Richard Thaler. While marketing creates desire and influences decision, nudging is seen as a means of ensuring action. As you will appreciate, there have been many ethical questions raised on this subject. Scott was keen to assert the premise of “nudging for good”, where brands help consumers adopt positive behaviour changes that are better for them or better for the planet. He identified three guidelines to identify nudge opportunities. Firstly, that the goal is a specific behaviour change. Secondly, that rational approaches have limited success. Thirdly, that the intent or openness to change exists. What remains true though is that information alone is not enough to change habits.

So what does it all mean?

I believe curiosity and critical thinking are cornerstones of marketing, but have we been giving them enough attention? We need to start asking ourselves what will make a meaningful difference for our customers and, in turn,18 our brand. We need to question the validity of the information we base our decisions on. And we need to remain open-minded about human behaviour and how wonderfully irrational it can be.

Chris Upton is chairman at the Marketing Society of Ireland and CEO of Havas.

To find out more about the Marketing Society of Ireland or indeed to discover details about the next insightful event visit HERE

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ July 2019)© to order back issues please call 016611660