Monthly Archives: July 2009

6 Consumer behavior

Predicting consumer behavior: Or the whacky, random ways people buy.

BNBranding logoCorporations spend billions every year predicting consumer behavior. (Or at least trying to.) Market research firms have sophisticated modeling protocols, ivy league PHDs and multivariate analysis to help them make sense of what is, inherently, nonsensical behavior.

Take, for example, the time my dad decided to replace his rusting Ford pick-up truck.

He drove two hours to the Big City so he’d have plenty of truck dealers to choose from. He went online to do some research, then he spent the weekend kicking tires, braving the onslaught of salesmen and test driving every make and model.

He came home in a Toyota Matrix. He was 70 at the time.

Consumer behaviorGod only knows what possessed him to switch from a Ford pick-up truck to a little urban pocket-rocket. The Matrix is more suited to base-thumping car stereo blast-a-thons than my dad’s easy-listening coastal lifestyle.

No amount of big data could have could have predicted it.

In hindsight, I suppose you could say it was consistent with his car-buying history, which is even more erratic than his golf game. I challenge anyone to find a pattern in this list:

1968 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

1970 Chevy Caprice Station Wagon

1972 AMC Hornet (In order to torture his son)

1974 Chevy Vega

1976 Ford LTD 4-door sedan.

1980 Mazada 626 (below)

predicting consumer behavior

1985 Volkswagen Golf Diesel

1991 Ford Taurus

1994 Ford F-150 Pickup

2001 Toyota Matrix

2006 Ford Taurus

2010 Toyota Camry

2017 Toyota Camry.  (Wow, a repeat purchase. He’s getting predictable in his old age.)

I’ve decided he buys cars the same way he buys fruit… Whatever looks good, smells sweet and is on sale at that particular moment.

You might think that’s a little weird, but research published by University of Iowa neurologist Antonio Damasio shows that most purchase decisions are almost as random as my dad’s car buying. Predicting consumer behavior is not easy.

Damasio says marketing messages are processed outside the conscious mind. Emotions push us toward decisions we think are best for us, and we often bypass reason because experience endows us with what he calls “somatic markers in the brain.”

Somatic markers are the most likely biological basis for intuition. These pre-recorded behavior guides are based on inherited behavioral traits and formed by experience. When making decisions, somatic markers are triggered, often making reason irrelevant.

So it’s intuition and emotion that drives real life purchasing decisions. Not logic.

As Dr. Dean Shibata put it, “If you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it’s impossible for people to make decisions in everyday life.”

On the other hand, when people are asked hypothetical questions about purchases, as in a focus group, the brain works on a much different, analytical level.

predicting consumer behavior“Instead of the real reason for buying, researchers get a rationalization based on the respondent’s idealized self-image. If they don’t account for this bias, researchers are left with a model based on how people think they ought to be motivated, rather than their actual motivations.”

So beware of market research that demands a rational explanation for irrational behavior.

And here’s another thing that makes predicting consumer behavior so difficult… Many times we aren’t “qualitatively conscious” of our motivation.

“Consumers have limited knowledge of their own values, needs and motivations that affect purchase decisions,” says Neurologist Richard Restack.

So my Dad probably doesn’t even know why he made that decision to drive home in a Matrix. It wasn’t really because the garbage cans would fit in the hatchback.

The point is, all purchases are emotional purchases.

So the next time you’re throwing together a sales presentation, or putting together a Facebook campaign, you might want to spend more time trying evoke an emotional response, and less time building charts and graphs.

Reason certainly does play a vital role in some stages of many buying decisions. But in the end, the actual purchase is entirely emotional. The rationalization for the purchase is what’s rational.

Here’s an example from my own, personal experience…

I recently purchased a new driver, which was said to guarantee at least 20 more yards off the tee. (Don’t even get me started on those tired golf industry promises.)

Predicting consumer behavior

Here are the reasons why I pulled the trigger, now, on a new driver purchase:

  1. It’s been 8 years since I purchased a new club. I was due. I deserved it.
  2. A client of mine in the golf industry couldn’t shut up about this club. And he gave me a deal.
  3. I couldn’t find any consistency with my current driver.
  4. It was market research for this article.

Not exactly a rational decision, when all was said and done.

It had nothing to do with the features they tout in the golf industry magazines. I wasn’t searching for more distance. “Ten more yards” was not a relevant message for me.

The point is, people are unpredictable. Even old people who are brand loyal are unpredictable.

As marketers, the minute you start thinking you really know your audience’s hot buttons and can predict their behavior, forget about it.

Just when you’re sure you’re going to sell another Ford pickup, they throw you a curveball and go for the Matrix.

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If you’re wondering what your brand story should be, try this post.  If you want my personal advice, click here.   Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. John Furgurson.

 

1 waste in advertising BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Garbage In, Garbage Out — How to avoid waste in advertising

BNBranding logoI took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising…

There are mountains of it.

Despite all the analytics that are available, and the digital targeting, and the plethora of marketing options, waste still happens. Often it’s due to a lack of strategy.

waste in advertising BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogAs an agency copywriter I spent months — years even — working on poorly defined assignments and campaigns that went nowhere.

It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had lots of good ideas. The problem was lack of strategic direction. More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on, which in turn produced waste in advertising budgets and manpower.

Many small ad agencies simply don’t have the personnel to provide insightful strategy. Or the client doesn’t want to pay for the research and planning that is really necessary. So the creative teams have to come up with a strategic nugget of their own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something would stick.

Not a good arrangement for either party.

So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work with your ad agency,  digital marketing firm, or whoever’s handling your marketing communications in order to reduce waste in advertising.

If you want the creative product to be effectively memorable, you’ll need to do your part as a business owner or Director of Marketing. Most importantly, you should provide concise strategic input and stay actively involved in the planning phase of the advertising process.

Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.

Avoid the advertising landfill with a good Creative Brief.

Every ad agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief.

Jon Steele, the strategy guy on the famous “Got Milk” campaign says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:

“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.

Emphasis on realistic. Honest. Authentic.

Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address. It should include some real insight on the target audience, not just a one sentence list of the demographic group.

And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”

In other words, Be Relevant.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog In a nutshell, Steele says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”  When it’s done well, the strategy and the creative execution are perfectly aligned. When it’s not done well, it produces a lot of waste in advertising.

Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.

It’s perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the sexy stuff, ASAP.

Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people heading in the same direction.

Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”

Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions.

Brand Insight BlogIn the case of “Got Milk”, the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. The creative team took it from there.

So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free in the right direction.

Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.

You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”

Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy.

But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication. “What are we going to say, and how are we going to say it.”

If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.

It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset.

It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.

For more on positioning and how to avoid waste in advertising try this post.

To get some of your own, call us. 541-815-0075

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