Brands need to keep up with new thinking about human behaviour

Sensemaking / Brands need to keep up with new thinking about human behaviour

David Hall, Founder and Executive Director of Behaviour Change, argues we’ve moved beyond the time where every new initiative had to be a brand.

By Anna Simpson / 29 Oct 2014

David Hall: Many brands are sleepwalking into a completely changed future, armed with old tools. It’s hard to keep track of all the disciplines: marketing, advertising, PR and so on. Many of those things are not necessarily the answer any more.

Anna Simpson: Are there any new tried and tested new methods?

DH: Agencies have always been very good at consumer insight, but there are barriers for that insight to get implemented in a meaningful way. One is that agencies tend to operate as a relay race rather than a rugby match. The person who comes up with the insight passes it on to the creative people, who come up with a piece of advertising and so on. So there’s often a mismatch between the creative and strategic thinking and how that gets turned into a piece of communication. The second barrier is that marketing of all types still sits essentially in a world of communication, which is no longer such a powerful tool.

AS: So do you see a role for brands beyond communication?

DH: What I think agencies have not done is keep in touch with developing thinking around human behaviour: how the mind works and the rules of thumb of how people tend to react in different situations. Which means that the broader range of ways in which you might influence someone’s behaviour, which is fundamentally what marketers are trying to do, has been often ignored.

AS: Has concern about the scientific credibility of neuromarketing put agencies off?

DH: Yes, I think that’s right. When I worked in advertising everyone thought that we had all these clever ways of getting people to do stuff. Actually that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The stuff I’m talking about is less psychologically derived it’s more that whole world of nudge, and a lot of it’s about social norms.

AS: Can you give an example?

DH: In Leicester, we recruited a group of ambassadors to encourage people to take the bus. We worked with local radio stations and we also did some on the ground engagement. We had street teams, the kind of people who would try to get you to give money to charity, and we deployed them in strategic places where people might be feeling a bit negative about their car journey: car parks, petrol stations, people stuck in traffic jams. We got the route from the council where traffic wardens were going, and followed them round as well. We basically spoke to people who might have been thinking, “Actually taking the car wasn’t a smart move today”. We offered them a free ticket to try the bus next time. But to validate the ticket they had to fill in the contact details and tick the form of the transport they would have taken otherwise that day.

AS: Was there any evidence of lasting change from that campaign?

DH: There was. We ran a test against those involved four weeks after, and found that a significant people who had never used the bus, or rarely, before the promotion had taken the bus again since.

AS: You’re working with some fairly big brands – Kingfisher and John Lewis – on a project relating to home energy efficiency. What’s in it for them?

DH: The fundamental reason for them to engage with the energy project is a deeply commercial and rational one. Essentially in energy, there is a very clear business case for a wide range of organiz ations to invest in growing the market for energy efficiency. In the case of Kingfisher selling LED light bulbs or loft insulation, or John Lewis selling efficient appliances, it’s in their interest for those markets to be vibrant and dynamic and growing. Our initial research demonstrated that there were barriers to consumers engaging with energy efficiency and energy control which were too significant for one organisation or one sector to tackle alone – but that needed tackling to unleash huge benefits for everyone, such as a lack of understanding of the benefits and how to make the most of them. We are helping to create consistency in how we talk about energy control. Using less, wasting less and spending less is fundamentally the three things we are asking people to think about.

AS: So you’re interested in a creating a common culture around energy use?

DH: Yes, but we’re deliberately trying not to create a new branding space. I think that would be quite unhelpful. Finding the right word for what we’re doing is very difficult. At various different times we’ve called it a linking mechanism or a platform; campaign isn’t the right word either, with connotations of political activism. It’s basically a set of shared messages and some materials and
content. We think we’ve got a new name now which is The Energy Vision, but that’s not a consumer facing name: it’s for our partners to talk about it. The name, the website, certain areas like that become quite contentious because partners like to sign up to something identifiable and they like to belong to something, but they don’t necessarily want to divert people away from their own journey.

AS: You mean they want the value of shared messages, without the brand?

DH: There was a time where every initiative had to be a brand. It limited the potential of some of those ideas. Of course, we are relying on the power and trust of the brands we are working with in order to get messages to their customers and supporters.

David Hall is Founder and Executive Director of the social enterprise Behaviour Change. During a 13 year career in advertising, he created a series of step-changing campaigns, including a multi-award-winning strategy for Skoda that helped transform perceptions of a car that had long been the butt of jokes.


Image credit: Tristan Ferne

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