I went to the APG event last week, which was rather good, so maybe it's worth doing a bit of a report type thing.
If you can't be arsed to read my long spiel try this.
It was called 'Head, Heart or Herd' and in a nutshell:
Picture from Andy Smith
Science and consumer thinking evolve. New models emerge explaining how and why consumers do the things they do, and new techniques arise to better understand them. But there's still no real consensus: if anything, there are more views than ever as to what makes us all tick.
Each panelist stood and gave us our point of view before a bit of questions and answers from the floor
John Kearon of Brainjuicer
Mark Earls: Former Head of Planning at St Lukes and Ogilvy, author of ‘Herd’
Rory Sutherland: President of IPA, Chairman of Ogilvy
Nick Southgate: Former head of planning at Grey and IPA Behavioural Economics Consultant
Gemma Calvert – founder or Neurosense (they scan actual brains in the name of research)
The premise of the night was that most traditional research isn't much good beyond a comfort blanket for clients - – most research is a waste of time. Quant research just proves a point you hope to make and focus groups, no matter how good the moderator, are really lots of people agreeing with the a minority say.
What follows is a summary of what each panelist said, with running commentary and paraphrasing from me.
First up was John Kieron:
His first premise was that quantitative research is basically arse covering. It doesn’t really tell you anything, but can be useful to give clients the numbers they need to feel confident in what they’re doing.
It’s an imperfect science though, where the answers direct questions depend as much on the phrasing and order of the questions as much as the mind of the consumer.
Qualitative techniques are much better than that, they can get to depths of emotional knowledge, and this is essential since it is ‘emotions that drive us’ – according to most behavioral scientists (this a direct quote from Paul Ekman who is worth Googling)
We make decisions based on how we feel far more than any, so called rational basis – although we might ‘post rationalize’ this after.
Essentially feelings boil down to the following:
And if you really want to understand how a brand, idea, creative concept etc is REALLY working, you need to uncover how people feel about it.
There’s even a way to apply this to quantitative studies…
A new technique is to show people facial expressions with the above emotions and ask people to pick the one that most represents how they feel at the time (it has to be at the time, people don’t remember correctly and are useless at predicting how they’ll feel- for more relevance see Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness) - incidentally HSBC use this technique (using Brainjuicer I presume).
Now here’s some evidence that this is a good approach. The Gorilla ad is claimed by Cadbury to be their most successful campaign ever (now I could rant that since it was aimed at impulse where the hell was the instore?) contributing to 9% market share, but it failed Millward Brown’s pre-testing, which is unfortunately, the gold standard for many brands. It’s based on rational responses like ‘persuasion’ ‘brand consideration’ and ‘brand preference’. Perfectly rational, reasonable things to ask people of course, if you’ve done any pre-testing or ongoing tracking, these are the usual measures.
You can understand why – most people would SAY, I can’t understand any message; it won’t make me buy Cadburys etc. But when it was tested for emotional response – basically feelings of joy - it was off the chart .
The IPA has built up a Databank of Effectiveness Award winners over the last 20 years and found, consistently, that campaigns that that provoke a strong emotional response are the most commercially efficient (I might add that THE most efficient are the ones that have ‘fame’ at the heart of their strategy – quite literally getting talked about, it creates quality perceptions, increases frequency, encourages trial etc really well – and is usually created by created a strong emotions around what the brand stands for and what it’s point of view is).
Focusing on rational persuasions messages actually gets in the way of feeling – and emotions are actually what makes consumers act according to science – and action is what we really want, we’re here to make people change their behavior, it’s just perverse that the most commercial sense is the fluffy stuff the bean counters hate the most.
So….work out what you want people to feel and then makes sure you devise the appropriate method to find that out.
In other words, whatever tactic, medium or idea you’re working on or in, know how it needs to make people feel and make it sure it delivers that.
Gemma Calvert was up next:
She cited the split brain research done by Roger Sperry which (correct me if I’m wrong) isolated the right brain hemisphere as the intuitive emotional spontaneous side and the left brain as the rational ‘planner’ (no pun intended).
Humans have two thought points of view at the same time – these two sides usually in some form of conflict. In many ways, we’re not really conscious of our deepest desires and how they influence how we make decisions and how really act; as opposed to how we believe we do. We believe we’ve listened to our rational side but don’t notice (or refuse to accept) how much it was based on how we feel…our intuitive, instinctive side.
Lots of stuff happens below our awareness, like the way someone else must have driven the car for us when we arrive at work and realize we haven’t paid attention for the last ten miles, or when ideas pop into our head when we have stopped thinking about a problem.
Our rational conscious thought evolved hundreds of thousands of years after our emotional instinctive side – which is good of course, it deals with lots of stuff below our attention, like responding to the opposite sex’s pheromones or scouring motorway for hazards (Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink explains how our intuitive side is much cleverer than our rational side – which is why first impressions are usually right).
So her suggestion is to use brain imaging to find what is going on because it happens below people’s awareness. But of course this costs a fortune. In my view, she’s only proving the point for measuring feelings as in the first point and focusing on techniques that expose how people really behave rather than how they claim – i.e. researching with people as they go through the process and more observing and forensic methods which brings us neatly to:
Rory Sutherland and Behavioral Economics:
He started with the argument that marketing people and agencies base their processes on a model of crafting messages and basing decisions on brand persuasion – basically become someone’s preferred brand and sales will go up.
This IS important but it isn’t the only game in tow. For example I’ve researched orange squash and found that while most Mum’s prefer Robinsons, many will shop from a repertoire and make decision based on what’s on offer.
As an analogy, gravity is massively important and the main reason we’re all here as we are (according to Stephen Hawking anyway) but there’s also the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism.
In fact, gravity is pretty weak – think about it, you can beat gravity just by a half hearted jump in the air. We just notice it more because it acts on very big stuff. The strong nuclear force is actually much stronger, but we don’t think about it since it only words on tiny distances - inside an atom basically. To beat gravity, just lift your hand, to break an atom in your arm and beat the strong nuclear force you need to heat it to 10,000 degrees.
Anyway, our basic job as marketing people is turning human understanding into business advantage – and that means both the ‘long range’ measures like brand preference and the short range stuff like what happened at the actual decision to make a purchase.
Humans don’t make decisions rationally; they’re affected by all sorts of irrational influences – that are actually quite consistent. We need to bake more of this thinking into long range comms as well as what we do online and instore.
For example, all decision making is relative. We will choose something of there is something similar to compare it against over something without anything to compare.
A neat trick is understand the basis of comparison and even redefine it; for example, the AA made people compare it with police and stuff by calling itself the 4th emergency service for exactly this reason.
Offer a choice and people will choose something – red or white wine, coffee or tea.
Decisions are also sequential; strengthening brand preference can be a waste of time if there are more pressing decisions. A bed retailer needs to deal with brand preference of course, since most people who enter the market have no idea where to start and a default choice would be commercially helpful since people just want to get it over with – but most people actually put changing a bed off since it’s a pain in the neck to get rid of the bastard old bed you have. Dealing with the most pressing problem first would actually bring more people into the market and straight into your door or home page.
Another tack: Eurostar is spending millions to upgrade the infrastructure to make the trains faster. However, that’s only because they’re comparing speed with speed. With the money they have budgeted, they could afford to have every passenger served vintage wine by a supermodel – which would probably have people begging for the trains to actually go slower!
In other words, look at the close range stuff as well as the long range and use both to influence each other.
There’s masses of psychology books to read to help, including stimulus on research techniques – start with ‘Nudge’ and ‘Predictably Irrational’ and carry on from there.
Then up came Mark Earls to talk about Herd Culture
In essence, it’s a mistake to see us all as individuals – we’re social creatures. If you want ideas to spread, don’t ask people to make an individual choice, don’t merely persuade them about product quality –work on social meaning and making it feel like you’re joining in with a group.
All the science points to the fact that we’re social beings. We learn by copying other people (that’s how infants develop – they copy Mum and Dad and why adopted kids oddly seem to resemble their adoptive parents, they take on their mannerisms). We’re advanced monkeys and have evolved to exist in a tribe.
As a mad example, think about Star Trek. The heart of it wasn’t sci fi, it was about people – the tension in the relationship between the emotional Kirk and the logical Spock.
Humans can handle all sorts of challenges and pain, but what drives us mad the most of being lonely (that’s why solitary is the worst punishment in prisons).
If you get the chance, read Connected by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis (have a lend if you like).
Here’s some scary facts – you’re 57% more likely to be obese if a friend is. A teenage girl is far more likely to be pregnant if a friend is. Our preferences, decisions and actions are profoundly affected by those around us.
So rather than just understand people, understand the social context, what happens between people in your given subject and how the in-between is structured - so you can be in those connections and perhaps even change them.
I’d like to add here that cultural inspection is a useful tool. Find out what is REALLY going in culture, find a problem or a tension in the lives of real people, that they talk about and go through together and help them resolve it – do it with them or on their behalf.
Like Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty invited you to join a group of women who wanted to be celebrated as beautiful as they were and fought the unrealistic images of the beauty industry on their behalf.
Or Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign that resolves tension between Mum’s wanting their kids to play but discourage them to get out there and get dirty, incidentally, it only began to really work when it targeted the interaction between parents and their kids and helped parents remember how to play with their kids
Then Nick Southgate talked about the value of basing insight on your own experiences:
A fundamental question – why don’t you know what you want to know about a particular consumer group?
The sad truth is that in most cases, you do consumer research because you can’t be bothered to go through their experiences yourself (out of interest, the CEO of Unilever regularly hires a minibus full of recruited consumers and goes shopping with them to understand them first hand)
We’re all people and it’s bollocks that we’re all different (see Herd argument above) – humans are 99.9% alike, but most western civilization pretends that the 0.1% matters more than it does. We all react to different situations in pretty much the same way.
So you can practice empathy thinking.
Imagine you want to sell £4,000 bags. I’ll never have the money to buy the wife one of them. But you can safely assume it’s a big ticket, one off special purchase for most of its target audience. It’s something tied up in status too.
We all have gone through those. Could be a designer dress, an expensive suit or a flashy flat screen telly – think about how that felt, the stages you went through and you’ll soon learn what it feels like.
Just go out and watch them or be cheeky and talk to them – your mirror neurons will fire and you’ll be in your mindset. (It works in the same way as when you play a song you love someone else and you immediately hear it through their ears).
So if you work on public transport stuff, you need to get the bus or train from time to time
If you’re selling suits to bankers, go for a drink where they do after work and watch and listen
And as a quick one to one research technique – get people to talk about other people rather than themselves – the empathy kicks in quick and you get a truer picture. People find it hard to talk about themselves truthfully.
So there you have it.
On the day, if people had to choose one, they chose Behavioural Economics – but do what is tmost appropriate for what you’re doing, your budget and the time you have.
Broad conclusion on everything though, would be that getting insight about feelings, how people actually behave and how a group interacts are all a blend of the same approach – build learning around the fact that we’re irrational, we don’t do what we claim and we’re most influenced by other people and want to belong to someone.
Constantly try to get under the skin of culture around the product/brand, by reading lots of stuff of course but mainly doing what you’re audience does, and that includes online experiences, actually meeting them and even just relating there experience to yours, if you have no time and no money when a project comes in, you can do a pretty good job of getting insight – all that’s missing is the proof (hello quant research).
Traditional focus groups and quant are slow and expensive, being an amateur psychologist that actually goes out and meets real people outside of rooms with one way mirrors is not, and if you’re constantly building up a bank of knowledge, it’s there, ready when you need it. That’s the beauty of all those online conversations sloshing around; you just need to tap into them.
“Two thirds of paid for research Franklin’s Gambit - is proving what you’ve already decided”
“Most planning and strategy is really pre-emptive post rationalization”
“Agencies built models of brand persuasion because they were easy to sell to clients, but the problems started when they forgot it was a selling tool and started to actually believe in it”