When buying a new car, a new phone, a new mattress, most of us can’t claim to be experts. Navigating countless features and benefits tests our patience and analytical prowess; we’re lay people and choosing is tough.

What’s the process to compare the best battery life, the most comfortable or the safest? Companies muddy the water further with advertising: if every phone is the best, how do I decide what to buy?

On many occasions consumers don’t know what their genuine motivations are. They’re not lying; they’re confabulating.

This was demonstrated in an experiment by the University of Leicester, which alternated the music in the wine aisle of a supermarket. The nationality of the music played was proven to have affected the nationality of wines bought; yet consumers denied it had any effect on their decision. Instead they said something like “it was the right price” or “I liked the label”.

If we don’t quite recognise the reason that we have chosen something, it’s easy to see why many brands themselves don’t know either.

While a car or sofa sales person may have the opportunity to ask the customer in front of them why they favour one product over another, in ecommerce this becomes slightly trickier. You may have an idea of how and why they arrived at your website, but it’s unlikely you’ll know why they bought a particular item.

But if brands do understand why people choose them, the chances are they’ll capture more custom.

Is the answer in behavioural science?

Behavioural science has historically sat in the world of academia and Nobel Laureates as it became evident that early “nudge” theories could encourage people to do the right thing.

Its commercial application in the spheres of marketing and advertising came much later when experts such as Rory Sutherland and Richard Shotton unravelled complex theory to share tips and tricks that would help marketers boost the effectiveness of their communications.

So it’s relatively recently that behavioural science has been marketed to the marketers, and many brands are yet to jump on-board. They should.

Born out of academia and science, these theories have been rigorously tried and tested; behavioural science is robust and can be relied upon to make marketing more effective by really understanding consumer-buying decisions so that we can leverage and influence them.

It’s also a timeless classic. To navigate the myriad of choice we are faced with every day we are often guided by what we’d describe as gut-feel or instinct – or what behavioural scientists would describe as cognitive biases. These biases are rooted in our psyche, so behavioural science transcends fleeting fads and trends.

A shortcut to behavioural science in marketing

There are more than 170 biases informing our behaviours, such as anchoring and herd behaviour, and for better or worse they subconsciously steer us towards the products and services we let into our lives.

At The Behaviours Agency, we’ve sifted through the most relevant to marketing and grouped them into seven shortcuts that could be steering people towards or away from your brand:

  1. People buy what they know: We fear loss and are prone to going with the default option to avoid disrupting the status quo, even if other options are available or potentially better.
  2. People buy with their heart, not their head: We have little time to calculate pros and cons of all the decisions we make every day. We resort to autopilot, driven by irrational instinct and emotion.
  3. People buy the simplest option: We shy away from too much choice, mental effort and complex decisions, looking for shortcuts. We have an irrational trust and overvalue the judgements of ‘experts’.
  4. People buy what the crowd buys: We look for reassurance and think the crowd knows more than we do – their faith in a brand provides a reassurance that it is a good choice.
  5. People buy what will gratify them now: we value today more than tomorrow.
  6. People buy what makes sense in context: We lack objectivity, choosing based on context – comparison to other options and relative price, availability and scarcity.
  7. People buy brands that match their ethics and values: We will buy into brands that we’ve invested time and resource into, those that do nice things for us and that commit to values and causes that match our own.

Outing these prevalent behaviours in customers takes us some way to understanding why certain products sell better than others. It can also help identify opportunities and new ways to position a product, which may not have previously been considered.

Transform your marketing

Brands can use this structure to map current consumer behaviour and the behaviours that they are currently tapping into with their marketing as well as where it could perhaps leverage them or even identify a gap.

The approach is particularly effective at creating an opportunity to differentiate by entering a new territory that your customers are crying out for. For example, you may find that consumers in your category are very emotionally led, yet neither you nor your competitors are doing anything remotely emotive, so perhaps there is an opportunity to dial-up the emotional tug of your marketing.

Sports is particularly emotive and Nike was one of the first brands to stir-up feelings and needs in the consumer towards buying its products. From hard-core athletes to couch-to-5kers, we’re inspired to “Just do it”.

As well as applying behavioural science to new campaigns, marketers can benefit from using it to supercharge existing communications too. Messages can be tweaked to make something more prominent or salient on a page or pricing can be structured to nudge someone to buy a more expensive product or one with increased margins.

Behavioural science offers a proven way for marketers to achieve all of this and more. For relatively little cost and time investment brands can significantly uplift sales and achieve the growth they desire. If you’re not putting behaviour first it’s time to rethink your marketing.

Consumer Neuroscience and Digital Marketing – Guide