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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

A gift to marketing: better hunches

Last week, business partner and friend Paul Fishlock wrote a piece on what behavioural science's gift to marketing is for Mumbrella. I've posted again below as I feel the learnings and takings from it are universal, and not just for marketers who read the trade press. Regardless of your role, industry or interest, there's something in this for everyone.

"Our industry’s best, both client and agency side, have always been brilliant intuitive behavioural scientists – even though most of them are totally unaware of it.

Some ideas just feel right; you just know they’re going to work. Others tick every box on the brief but …  it’s just not doing it for me. Pick any famous and effective campaign from ‘I still call Australia home’ to ‘Think Different’, and, at its foundations, you’ll find the intuitive application of the principles of behavioural science. It’s usually why it worked.

So if we’re already applying behavioural science (albeit unknowingly) why does marketing need to embrace it in a formal sense? (i) There aren’t enough great people with great instincts to go around; (ii) even great people get it horribly wrong sometimes; and (iii) if you understand where your great instincts come from you can make them even better.

Marketing is not a science and never will be. The magic will always come from leaps of imagination based on creative hunches. Where behavioural science earns its place at the table is giving you better, more informed hunches that help you get it right first time, more of the time.

The good news for any marketers and agencies that want to build credible, proven behavioural science into their process is there’s no shortage of material. Behind the much quoted behavioural science best-sellers and dinner party anecdotes lie long-term, large-scale, peer-reviewed academic studies. Not many of them specifically about marketing (there are too many variables in marketing for it ever to be real science) but most of the behavioural insights uncovered and explored couldn’t be more relevant to the problems marketers face every day.

It’s like a deep well of oil that just needs to be brought to the surface. Suddenly you’re knee-deep in the fuel of better hunches that can lead to more effective marketing. You still haven’t got a great creative idea but you have got a much better idea of where to find one.

To the true believers, every marketing problem is a behaviour change problem and needs to be approached that way. Why spend a dollar on marketing if you don’t want people to do something different from what they’re doing now? Shifting the dial on awareness and attitudes alone is a waste of time and money if that’s all that happens.

So what’s it going to take for the application of behavioural science to become standard practice in marketing? One poster-child case study should do it.

A marketer who tackles a big, hairy, familiar challenge as a behaviour change problem, rather than a communications problem, and arrives at a simply brilliant idea you would absolutely never have got to with conventional thinking. Never.

Everyone stands up and applauds, wishes they’d done it and watches as it works its butt off in the market with results as watertight as marketing can provide. Then watch the floodgates open.

Clients will start asking what behavioural science foundations underpin the creative hunches in the agency’s recommended campaign and the agency will need to have an answer.

Being heavily invested in this area, I’m obviously biased; but there’s no doubt in my mind that marketing will be better for it, and marketing dollars will work harder."


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