Clients are human too

Behaviour changer, change thyself

The recommendation slide is a to-do list. Launch the strawberry flavour. Reduce the price. Target your communications to younger heavy users. Develop copy that makes them excited.

But for a recommendation to be implemented, someone has to take a decision and then drive the decision into action. We think it’s our job to ensure that the right decision is taken and implemented, not just that we tell them what the right decision is.

How do we do that?

Well, despite the AI revolution, businesses are still largely led by humans. So we apply our consumer behaviour change thinking to help ensure that our recommendations lead to decisions and then to action. There are two elements to this: taking account of cognitive biases when trying to shape decision-making and creating a context that favours action being taken.

Shaping decision-making through content

First thinking about some of the cognitive biases that influence decision-making:

  • The affect heuristic explains why people make fast and firm decisions on limited information in a way that feels instinctive (“go with my gut”).
  • Relatedly, the availability bias means that people tend to be drawn to and value communications that are particularly memorable and dramatic.
  • Running slightly counter to the affect and availability biases, the effort heuristic says that people instinctively value things that are the obvious result of a lot of hard work. Effort is used as a signifier for quality.

This means that the information that is used to shape decision-making must be concise, clear and emotionally engaging to ‘talk to the gut’. But it must also be perceived to be robust. We say perceived robustness for a reason – a few typos or cluttered slides can completely undermine a super-robust and expensively compiled argument. Robust does not mean a big pile of data.

Getting decisions implemented

The ‘Decision frame’ is Incite’s term to describe the situation or context in which a decision gets taken and has three distinct elements:

  • Firstly, the intervention (in this case the advice itself) – the right content, as explained above, but also delivered by the right person.
  • The moment needs to be right. This is really the big one.
  • It’s helpful to exploit social dynamics – make it feel like it’s the sensible decision that a reasonable person would take.

In practice what this usually means is that the pitch to the end decision-maker needs to be made by the person best qualified to do it. This is usually someone at the client, but not always: a trusted agency partner who has been working on the business for a long time sometimes has more credibility.

Plan backwards from a decision-making event that is already scheduled. It makes no sense to try to create a one-off process to get things done when the right process already exists. A lot of strategic research projects lack impact because they are communicated at the wrong time to people with no pressing need to act (and so they don’t care and sometimes don’t even show up). Virtually all companies have a formal annual planning cycle, so work within this to give your initiative much more chance of happening.

Lastly, make the final decision a rubber-stamp. What this means is that as far as possible you get everyone on board with the decision before the key meeting takes place. No surprises, no loose cannons in the audience and a decision-maker who can look around the room and see nothing but supportive faces helping him get to the right place.

So by all means apply behaviour change thinking to consumers to drive more effective marketing. But don’t forget that it applies to us too.

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