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4 Mistakes Brands Make About Human Behavior


4 Mistakes Brands Make With Human Behavior

Recently, University of Chicago professor Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the decision-making habits most people are prone to when it comes to making purchase decisions.

The common mistake his fellow economists make, according to Thaler, is the way they view human behavior. In essence, his study deals with the real intersection of psychology and economics. As USA Today reported, Thaler observed that it is “about the way actual people behave as opposed to the way economists think people behave – (like) people who are highly rational, unemotional creatures — kind of like Spock in the Star Trek TV series. The people I study are humans that are closer to Homer Simpson.”

As brand marketers, we understand well the two sides of decision-making: the “rational side” (Spock) and the “emotional side” (Homer Simpson). And just as some economists erroneously base their market projections on rather unrealistically rational, analytical and logical behavior, some marketers do the same and are often disappointed with the results. On the other hand, brands that communicate the emotional, visceral simplicity of the promised benefit to the target audience succeed, and often surprisingly well.

We describe those campaigns as “touching a nerve” because they work. And they work because the brand’s promise and the way it’s communicated are in complete synchronization with the behavioral psychology of its customer.

What are some of the common mistakes we make in brand marketing? Taking a cue from Thaler’s work, here are four applications:

1. Homer Simpsons Are Everywhere, Even In B2B Marketing.

There is a tendency among B2B marketers to appeal to the rational side by default in advertising, as if their audience were populated with nothing but “Spocks.” There is a fear that treating their target audience as human beings will make their brand seem less credible, when the unintended result makes their brand less appealing. Even when pitching technology that may run into the millions of dollars, the emotional connection of the brand to the purchase decision maker is paramount.

2. We Should Strive For The Reductive Power Of Simplicity.

Steve Jobs was famous as a presenter of Apple’s complex, innovative products because he told simple stories, punctuated in most cases with a one-word slide on the screen behind him. He connected with his audience by appealing to their emotions, even though the average IQ of everyone in the theater was likely to be extremely high. This principle applies to most every form of communication. Distilling a message down to its three most salient points has the greatest likelihood of retention and persuasion.

3. Creative Executions Must Always Be Sensitive To The Emotional Climate.

As marketers, we are trained in the “Three C’s”: Company, Category and Customer. Most brand strategists have added a fourth “C”: Culture. In the U.S. for example, the current climate of racial sensitivity is one of many cultural and highly emotional factors brands must be sensitive to. As a recent Dove soap video campaign demonstrates, a creatively clever execution can have enormously adverse consequences when turning a blind eye to the emotional climate.

4. Ogilvy Was Right All Along.

Sounds very sexist nowadays, but David Ogilvy was known to have observed, “The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife.” Or, as in Thaler’s case, Homer Simpson. Keeping the message simple and appealing to the target audience emotionally should never been done at the expense of providing the essential reasons to purchase – the benefit. We’re all Homer Simpsons, but you still have to give consumers a reason to purchase your brand over competing brands.

The Blake Project Can Help: Accelerate B2C and B2B Brand Growth Through Powerful Emotional Connections

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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