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Brain Matters: The one psychology principle every marketing strategist needs to know

Brain Matters: The one psychology principle every marketing strategist needs to know

Brain Matters: The one psychology principle every marketing strategist needs to know
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By Moneycontrol News Oct 27, 2022 4:58:50 PM IST (Updated)

Every business is fundamentally in the business of changing behaviour. Understanding behavioural truths of consumers is the first step to success.

One of the beauties of life is that the secrets to understanding the complex world lies in a few simple truths. While recently in London for a series of conferences, I met with fellow Behavioural Strategists and some two dozen CBOs - Chief Behavioural Officers from USA, Europe, Australia and South Africa, across diverse industries. A powerhouse of behavioural change and consumer knowledge, the group shared its findings and experiences of implementing Behavioural Science led solutions in their own organizations, or for client products, brands and people. 

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Now, back home, when I sit down to distill four days of intense knowledge sharing and experience to a basic truth, I find it says only this much. 
 Everything in the world is what we think it is. Everything is what we compare it to – A basic truth that the best marketers and strategists have intuitively always known. 
 Zhuge Liang knew he could not fight the 150,000 strong invading force with a bare hundred men at his disposal. But he knew perception is reality. Legend has it, Liang ordered his troops to throw open the city gates, take down his flags and hide. He himself then took a seat atop the most visible part of the city’s wall and lit some incense. 
The attackers came in to find the great strategist in flowing Taoist robes, calmly strumming his lute. They were flummoxed. Surely, Zhuge Liang was luring them to their death with a well concealed army. They decided to retreat. Perception became reality. That was 2000 years ago.
Power of reframing 
Last year, the Heineken-owned beer brand, Tres Cruces, solved a potential marketing disaster using the power of reframing – by turning a silly typo into an opportunity.
While launching Tres Cruces Light in Peru, the team found a printing error in the packaging. Instead of the company slogan ‘Disfrute’ meaning “enjoy” in Spanish, the cans had ‘Difrute’, with the S missing. 3 lakh cans had already been shipped to retailers. Recalling them back was an option to avoid embarrassment. Was there a better way? Could a new reality be created instead?
Tres Cruces did some creative thinking with their agency and turned it into a game. Spot a can with the faulty slogan and you stood a chance to win a prize. Between 1 April and 30 April 2021, those finding cans with the missing ‘S’ were asked to post their details on a dedicated microsite with the code printed at the bottom of the can. Prizes beginning with ‘S’ (such as speakers, smartwatches, scooters, sex toys, and six-packs of Tres Cruces Light) were to be announced in May after a raffle.
The results? Tres Cruces, which sells about 1 crore liters of beer a year, sold the same amount of Tres Cruces Light in just one month!
The campaign also generated 24 million impressions on social media, 90 per cent of which was positive, according to reports.
From ‘Do this’ to ‘Don’t do this’
In another interesting finding for an Indian unicorn, Poorni S and Pavithra S, two behavioural strategists from India, discovered that when it came to products based on complicated logical decisioning like say taxes, or insurance, people ignore the message ‘Do this’. Reframing communication to take action by using a ‘Don’t do this’ message resulted in a 55 percent jump in engagement. Framing creates perception. Perception is reality. 
We’re always trying to attach the right meaning to things, to make better sense of them. It's why things are always what we compare them to.
BOGO – buy one get one 
When it comes to perceiving value, the human love for anything free is well documented. It is hard to resist BOGO – buy one get one. But we also assign great value to things that are expensive. 
In 2018, social media was abuzz with the news of British fashion label, Burberry, destroying unsold clothes and merchandise worth £28.6m, just to maintain the premium appeal of the brand.
We like free stuff. We also like expensive stuff.
What is going on here?
One answer lies in the way our brain processes information to quickly arrive at a decision – it does so by using a set of rules referred to as biases and heuristics by cognitive and behavioural scientists. These biases are hardcoded in us due to evolutionary biology and are displayed by all humans (with additional influence of our culture and context). The system 1 process of deciding value involves our minds making a superfast calculation by seeking the answer to – compared to what?
If you have two options for buying popcorn at a multiplex, small at Rs 400 and a large at Rs 700, you might choose either one of them.
Add to it a third option, a medium at Rs 650 and suddenly things get interesting. Your mind races quickly and tells you that the large at Rs 700 is the ‘best’ option here. The introduction of a ‘decoy’ option means your mind gave a different answer for ‘compared to what’ , skewing the decision towards one particular option.
It is for this same reason it makes sense to sell an expensive car worth Rs 3 crores in a luxury yacht show where the starting prices of the yachts might be Rs 50 crores, as opposed to a corner showroom. 3 crore is a tiny amount in this context. 
In general, folks love saving money. In interesting research for a fintech firm, Priyanka K & Prahlad B discovered that there exists a threshold beyond which the promise of significant savings actually backfired. After a point, a major drop from the anchored price via discounts was just too much to rationalize for the mind and triggered a stressful emotion.
Instead of the desired “Wow! This is so cheap”, the comparison led to ‘Wait, why is this so cheap?”  
Another study of 19,978 Groupon deals found that after a point, when the discount hits a certain threshold, it can actually hurt sales. According to a follow up lab experiment the magic threshold is ‘60 percent discount’, after which quality perception plummets. 
This effect is particularly true for credence products i.e. products for which it is hard to judge quality even after using them (e.g. medical treatment, automotive repair, expert services, health and organic food).
What does this mean for marketers and strategists?
Most of us will agree that solving the human challenge, the way the mind perceives and decides, is the prime task. 
But the frantic pace of brand building, developing and selling inside modern corporate life, both in startups as well as established blue-chip companies, means we are tunneling most of the time. “Like running with your eyes closed”, as an old timer put it to me, once. 
We operate under a scarcity mode, driven by the pressures of quarterly results. We’re always adding the next shiny feature, latching onto the latest trend and creating a new store on Metaverse. While we do all this and deal with our own cognitive overload, there is often just one big risk. 
 We forget the basics. And the most basic of those truths is that everything is what we think it is, and what we have propped up against it, to let our consumer compare it to. 
As Andre Gide said, “Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens, we have to keep going back and beginning all over again”. A good place to start is to remind ourselves that every business is fundamentally in the business of changing behaviour. 
And maybe begin each strategy meeting with a simple question: “What behavioural truths do we know about our consumer, with certainty?”.
 
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