Retail

Behavioral science can change the way marketing is done: Christopher Graves


As the president and founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science at Ogilvy Consulting, Christopher Graves’ focus is to understand the real ‘why’ of human behavior for brands that want to boost their marketing effectiveness. Graves wants agencies to view the world multi-dimensionally and advises brands to use data wisely to make a difference in consumers’ lives.

In your opinion, what’s the impact of behavioral science on marketing, especially at a time when consumer sentiments have hit a new low?


Behavioral science can change the way marketing is done – from taking a targeted approach to being empathic. Marketing as a function is known for being aggressive in nature. What behavioral science shows is that humans are ruled by forces beyond our own awareness. It helps at looking consumer minds at a deeper level, almost like making sense of DNAs. Brands have been targeting and personalising ads for consumers using data, but not necessarily the data that matters, and not always in their best interest. Behavioral science has the power of empathically decoding consumers’ mindset.

Let me give you an example. I have been working on projects around vaccine hesitance for a while now. Earlier on researchers thought vaccine hesitancy is because of information deficit syndrome. A year and a half ago The Global Wellcome Trust found that countries that have enough information and are affluent were more vaccine hesitant. The whole premise of vaccine awareness needs a different approach. It is important to understand the ‘why’ factor from people who are hesitant than bombarding them with information that may not change their decisions. It’s the same case with brands’ relationships with consumers.

How do you think brands can use behavioral science to push consumers around the globe to get vaccinated for Covid-19?


Firstly, brands should stop the hunt for finding that one killer tagline for their public service ad. Agencies sometimes tend to not be super diverse, and I don’t mean racially or ethically. They tend to view the world in the same way. If agencies create global campaigns with the theme, “we’re in this together”, technically not all countries are in this together. That kind of messaging will not resonate. Theories like individualism versus collectivism and tight and loose cultures help in understanding consumer minds differently. Brands can’t push a cool ad to talk about vaccine hesitance or drive the vaccination movement. It may fetch them a Cannes Lion, but it may not make people step out to get their jabs. Brands have to use analogies to inform consumers about the vaccine, why it is needed, and how it works. Behavioral science often is effective in the area of medicine and nudges people if they are given the right information.

Many in the industry believe that behavioral science is an extension of market research in advertising and marketing. Your thoughts on this comment.


Behavioral science is not an extension of traditional marketing. That’s because traditional marketing most of the time doesn’t give brands answers to the ‘why’ questions. However, behavioral science has the power to discover the deeper consumer understanding that help brands get the right insights and answers without making any biases.

Critics may use the word “manipulative” to describe the use of this science in marketing. Your views.


I think a lot of things in marketing should be regularised. If brands are surveying consumers, they should know about it. Brands’ goals should be aligned with consumers’, if not that is manipulation. The other important thing is data collected by brands should be anonymous. Companies have to be transparent about these exercises. Brands shouldn’t be targeting consumers with the data they collected without telling them. That then becomes an ethical problem.

In many ways, the use of intrusive technology has eroded consumers’ trust in brands. How do you think marketers can use science to win trust?


According to social giants, their terms of service give the consumers the right to choose their privacy levels. However, the fact is that consumers at large often don’t know what to do with these terms of service. In behavioral economics, the concept of choice architecture states that as humans we stick to what we are given, we like to choose the default mode. Unless the models are reversed. If brands decide to gather data from their consumers only if they opt-in, and don’t keep data with themselves, then that could build trust. There are also experiments done by several startups on rewarding consumers when they get access to their data, but that has a long way to go.

The writer spoke to Graves on the sidelines of Nudgestock 2021, a global festival curated by Ogilvy Consulting, which brings the worlds of creativity and behavioral science together.

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