the illusion of choice
4 ways behavioural science can make marketers more successful
If there’s one bias Richard Shotton probably doesn’t mind admitting to, it’s that he believes marketers can become more effective by leveraging behavioural science insights.
Shotton, the author of the acclaimed The Choice Factory, recently joined thinktv to share insights from the newly released The Illusion of Choice, which describes several psychological biases that influence consumer behaviour and outlines how marketers can use them to improve their marketing strategies.
Shotton explained that the broad theme of behavioural science is that people – whether in their personal or professional lives – have too many decisions to make, and rather than weigh options in a fully considered manner, they tend to make snap decisions. From Shotton’s point of view, “The question for marketers is, why wouldn’t you draw upon 100+ years of studies that show how behavioural science can make them more effective?”
Here are some practical tactics marketers can apply today:
- Take a Lateral Approach to Social Proof
Brands want to be popular, and consumers want to buy popular brands. Not popular already? Use “social proof” to imply that you are. Shotton cited several examples, including the ubiquitous “four out of five dentists recommend…” TV commercials and companies like Zoom that tout the vast numbers of customers it serves. These examples make us feel comfortable in our choices (knowing others have done the same) and also feeds into our bias of wanting to follow the crowd. It is not the only way to use social proof, however.
Shotton pointed to brands like Amazon, which swapped a “Sold Out” notice on empty spots in a vending machine with “So Good It’s Gone!” This helps shift the focus from being disappointed with the company for being out of stock to feeling good about our original choice – and it encourages customers to keep checking back. A more guerilla-style example was Red Bull, who filled trash bins outside London clubs with empty, crushed-up cans. “If you want to harness social proof, you don’t have to directly state that you are a popular brand or that the behaviour you’re trying to encourage is widely adopted. You can imply it,” said Shotton.
- Remember That Seeing Is Believing For A Reason
It was a simple enough quiz, but Shotton knew that most people attending the virtual event would do poorly. The exercise was this: Shotton verbally listed a string of two-word phrases and asked everyone to try and remember them. After a minute, the audience was encouraged to write down as many of the phrases they remembered in the chat.
While most of us forgot “common fate” and “better excuse,” the chat was filled with phrases like “square door,” “rusty engine,” and “flaming forest.” The connection? We are more likely to remember things we can visualize (alliteration and rhyming help too).
This is a good reminder of how to take advantage of an inherently visual medium like linear TV, where the “show, don’t tell” rule can work particularly well. Shotton said clever marketing can also compare products with strong visual cues to tap into our relative perceptions of price and value. He showed a store display that compared the cost of Trojan condoms with the price of diapers to drive the point home.
- Find Your Champagne Button
We deny ourselves coveted luxuries sometimes because we feel it will be too much bother, rather than simply the cost. Ordering champagne at a restaurant is a good example, Shotton said. You have to flag down the waiter, interrupt the conversation with dinner companions and choose a brand. At Bob Bob Ricard, a fine dining establishment in the U.K., all this friction in the customer journey has been removed: each table is equipped with a button labelled “Press for champagne.” Not surprisingly, the vast majority of diners can’t resist trying it out.
“Don’t ask, ‘How do I make people want to change the behaviour?'” Shotton advised. “Think instead of what is stopping them, and remove those barriers.” Sometimes that’s as easy as pre-populating online forms or offering subscriptions; sometimes, it means installing a “press button for champagne” in your restaurant.
- Find Cues And Trigger Moments
A marketer’s job is to drive an action; sometimes, it helps to connect intentions to that action. This is another area where timing can be everything, Shotton said.
The Snickers “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” campaign is a (very good) attempt at making hunger trigger thoughts of a Snickers. A campaign promoting smoke alarms connected checking your smoke alarms with the changing of clocks – the time trigger promotes behaviour, in this case, changing the batteries in your smoke alarm. Champagne (we’re back to champagne!) has successfully associated itself with celebration – even people who don’t like champagne can feel compelled to drink it on anniversaries and New Year’s Eve.
Many attempts to change behaviour fail because they’re not associated with a time, place or a specific motivation, but connecting a behaviour encourages change. “What is the cue or trigger you will use to confer intention to buy your product into action? It doesn’t have to be that complicated.”
Summarizing the tips reviewed in the webinar, Shotton advises marketers to follow the “EAST” method: Make it Easy, Make it Attractive, Make it Social, and Make it Timely.
Richard is the author of The Choice Factory, a best-selling book on how to apply findings from behavioural science to advertising; his new book, The Illusion of Choice, is out March 28, 2023. Richard started his career as a media planner 20 years ago, working on accounts such as Coke and Lexus, before specialising in applying behavioural science to business problems. He is the founder of Astroten, a consultancy that applies behavioural science to marketing. He regularly runs training sessions with brands, big and small, using insights from behavioural science to help solve their problems.