Getting Your Brand to Behave

The ever alert Jonty Fisher (follow him on Twitter) tweeted this recently, an article by Alan Mitchell for Marketing Magazine in the UK. I haven’t seen Alan for many years but remember him with respect. One of the best writers and commentators on marketing in the UK, he has always been quick on to latch on to the latest thinking, especially if it debunks popular ‘brand manager think’. This one is about ‘Behavioural Economics’ and how it debunks some of the best held tenets of marketing.

A lot of marketers (myself included until I looked it up) would not associate Behavioural Economics with brand marketing but they should because it is effectively a definition. BE integrates economic decisions and choices – like which brand to buy – with the latest insights from psychology – why people do the things they do.

Alan believes BE is ‘setting the cat among the pigeons’  by challenging all we believe about building brands. He cites three ground breaking insights that BE has delivered:-

Most brands are bought because we copy other people
There is a bias towards the familiar status quo
We rely on heuristics (little short hands) to make decisions, like which brand to buy

Well, Alan, whilst I might agree that a lot of marketers do not pay enough attention to these realities, this ain’t exactly new insight.

Jeremy Bullmore, in his seminal (I use this word very deliberately) article “Posh Spice and Persil” centered his argument on the insight that we are attracted to brands precisely because they are famous i.e. familiar, seen to be the status quo, leading etc. Mark Earls has spoken and written a great deal about how humans are the ultimate social ape and rely on copying other peoples’ behaviour based on a genetic desire to avoid unnecessary risk. He points out that amazon use this insight very successfully and give us no less than 16 opportunities on their site to see what other people are doing, and therefore to copy others.  I have never spotted all 16 – bit like spot the difference, you always miss the last couple – but I think he has in mind reader reviews and numbers of copies sold.

Malcolm Gladwell (who Mark Earls takes to task for introducing the idea of ‘tipping points’ whereas the reality has more to do with copying and weight of numbers than opinion leaders or market inflexions) wrote a book based on the use of heuristics called Blink. We sum up situations, people and yes, brands based on pattern recognition. Those people with amazing memories who can recall thousands of numbers base their technique on creating a visual shorthand for a set of digits (e.g. 77 = two old men bending over).

I have commented in this blog that scientists now understand more about how the brain stores and retrieves memories and associations. Sensory mnemonics and consistency of messages play an important role in reinforcing a bunch of associations (which is all a brand is).

That’s why good marketers like consistency and invent catchy jingles and distinctive logos.

So I’m not seeing much new in this Behavioural Economics but I do agree that a lot of marketers are either slow on the uptake or downright contrary (totally changing a familiar logo is a double whammy of stupidity).

I don’t know whether BE includes this thinking but as regular readers know I am very partial to momentum, the feeling that a brand is the becoming more popular. It generates future growth and is a key health measure. But it is really only a twist on familiarity. We are attracted to what everyone else seems to buy – we are even more attracted to what we believe everyone will be buying.

I’ll tell you what I do like about Behavioural Economics – it covers my two most favourite things. Understanding how to make money by better understanding what makes people tick. These are two things every marketer should focus on to get their brand to behave.

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