Behavioural Science For B2B Marketers’

Published: June 29, 2017

“Behavioural science should become B2B Marketers' (Nudge)Stock in Trade, to give a better understanding of how people think and act and improve campaign impact.”

Forget Glastonbury, the biggest festival in June was Nudgestock, an affectionate homage to the power of choice architecture, framing and social norms. From motivating sports stars through to picking sexual partners, the event highlighted that there is seemingly no challenge that can’t be addressed with the elixir of behavioural science.

Despite its entertainment value, however, the event left at least one editor questioning whether any of the ideas will “directly direct and determine… B2B marketing strategy for the immediate future”.

An understandable position, perhaps, given the heady mix of speakers and content. But a view that misses the underlying insights from an exciting new discipline that can be applied to improve the effectiveness of B2B campaigns both now and in the future. Behavioural science provides:

1. A set of tools to assess the likely impact of campaigns, with a focus on outcomes, not just awareness. Despite best intentions, many marketing campaigns remain a hit and miss affair. While the days of a bunch of suits working up a campaign in isolation may be on the wane, there remains a reliance on focus group feedback and marketers’ instinct. Using randomised control trials in real conditions, behavioural science allows marketers to test different approaches before scaling the best approach to produce the maximum return on investment.

2. A model that helps to explain how people really behave. Decades of research show that most people use relatively simplified forms of thinking to make decisions, including important ones. The principle holds regardless of whether we’re wearing a business or consumer hat. We make fast decisions using predictable short-cuts; for example, basing decisions on what others similar to me do, or simply choosing what we did last time with no regard for changes in circumstances.

There are ways to jolt people into a more deliberative mode of thinking rather than relying on short cuts, but many B2B marketing campaigns are destined to fail if they assume that people always act on the detailed information being presented.

3. Insight into how B2B campaigns are likely to work online. New research shows that our tendency to rely on simplified forms of thinking are amplified in a digital setting. Such are the advances in technology that the typical online experience – be it a website, blog or insight paper – is often so smooth that people fail to commit enough of their thinking capacity to reading and understanding the communication. This may be fine if we’re trying to speed through a simple transaction, but less useful if we want people to engage with more considered content, including thought leadership insights. See our Daft Punk blog for more.

In its worthy attempts to be entertaining and accessible, Nudgestock may have been a little too eclectic. But the ideas and underlying theories can and should be used to inform B2B marketing strategy.

Nudgestock’s effervescent host, Rory Sutherland, believes that “psychology will become more important than technology in driving innovation and progress in business marketing.” A bold statement, but one that deserves careful consideration.

Simon Maule

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