For you and your sales force, the past six months have been an absolute whirlwind. The company has been developing a longer-acting and safer alternative to a widely prescribed medication. On the heels of a highly successful clinical trial, a notice of compliance is just around the corner.
Needless to say, your sales force is fired up. Appealing to the evidence-based practitioner should be a breeze, given that the team is armed with a wealth of promising facts and figures from the recent clinical trial. Many on the force feel that the benefits of this medication are so self-evident that it will practically sell itself. The marketing team has also been firing on all cylinders and the result is a carefully crafted brand position and highly evocative messaging. Based on the marketing team’s thoughtful insights, this campaign is poised to resonate with a large majority of physicians. However, as the first wave of sales representatives report back from the field, you’re hearing an all too familiar story:
“Physicians understand that our drug is measurably superior. They also recognize that they have patients for whom it could be an exceptional fit. However, the sales numbers show that, despite their interest, they just aren’t prescribing it!”
Your efforts to propel what could otherwise be a highly beneficial medication into the mainstream are falling flat. What is going wrong? To understand this issue, we need to carefully re-examine the factors that influence physicians’ prescribing behavior.
Rational vs Emotional Pathways to Impacting Behavior
Conventional wisdom tells us that there are two primary pathways to impacting prescribing behavior: (1) the rational path and (2) the emotional path. The rational path involves using facts and figures to appeal to a physician’s logic and their drive to maximize treatment efficacy and safety. The emotional path means building a positive and well-differentiated brand that enables physicians to connect with the product on a personal level.
New learnings from the field of behavioral science, however, have shown us that the rational vs. emotional model represents a false dichotomy. Emotional and rational influences are not mutually exclusive but rather they interact in predictable ways. More importantly, there are fundamental barriers to changing prescribing behavior that must be addressed before any combination of rational or emotional appeals will have an impact. These fundamental barriers are rooted in the need for cognitive ease. For many physicians, it’s not a matter of which treatment is measurably superior. Instead, it often comes down to which treatment requires the least amount of cognitive resources to implement. With that said, the question becomes why would any self-respecting physician prioritize cognitive ease over quality of care?
The simple answer is that they’re human. No matter how brilliant physicians are, they have a limited pool of cognitive resources at their disposal and, unfortunately, this pool is already stretched impossibly thin. Primary care physicians are increasingly expected to maintain a working knowledge of a broad range of therapeutic fields. They also contend with exceptionally high patient caseloads. It is well established that when our mental resources are depleted, we tend to rely on mental shortcuts to make the load more manageable.
When cognitive resources have been depleted and we are forced to make important decisions, we tend to do one of the following in order to ease the burden of choice:
– We rely on existing habits
– We do what others are doing
– We avoid doing anything at all
Taking what we know about human decision-making, consider a physician treating an ailment where there are multiple classes of drugs to consider, each with distinct mechanisms of action. Within each class there may also be tens of specific medications whose composition and functions differ in such small increments that they are difficult to differentiate. To avoid being paralyzed by the sheer volume of available treatment options, physicians must use the mental shortcuts outlined above.
Recent research on prescribing behavior has shown that to work around their dearth of cognitive resources, physicians often rely on ready-to-wear treatments (Frank & Zeckhauser, 2007). This means that rather than carefully considering each treatment option for each unique patient, physicians will prescribe treatment X which, through a combination of established best-practices and their own experience as practitioners, they have learned is good enough for the vast majority of patients who fall into the same broad class of therapeutic needs. While it is clear that ready-to-wear treatments stand to reduce the cognitive resources, physicians need to expend on a daily basis, it may nevertheless seem alarming! Yet from a behavioral science perspective, this practice is highly adaptive as it enables physicians to overcome indecision and to improve efficiency. As discussed, depleted cognitive resources can lead the decision-maker to avoid doing anything at all. In that vein, previous research has shown that when physicians are forced to compare too many similar treatment alternatives in an experimental setting, the cognitive difficulty associated with making an informed choice can lead them to advise against any medication at all, despite the potential benefits (Redelmeier & Shafir, 1995).
While the ready-to-wear treatment strategy may carry benefits for both physicians and patients, unfortunately, the need for cognitive ease spells bad news for your new medication. While your product, treatment Y, may be optimized to a particular subset of patients, it may ultimately be the 7th product in the 5th class of drugs. Moreover, from a functional standpoint, it may only offer marginal benefits over the established alternatives. To better differentiate treatment Y, you may feel compelled to lean in with supporting facts and figures. We understand why this compulsion is so strong. Clinical trials are very expensive and they are the culmination of years of research. Nevertheless, this is a perfect example of the sunken-cost fallacy. We often pursue fruitless endeavors simply because of the time and money we’ve already invested. The reality is that, for most physicians, facts and figures are not persuasive because the cost in terms of the cognitive resources necessary to consider both treatments X and Y will outweigh the potential benefits.
The good news is that behavioral science has given us the tools to understand and to thereby penetrate the day-to-day constraints that drive physicians’ decision-making. By shifting from old models of decision-making (rational vs. emotional) to a new model that encompasses the cognitive and behavioral barriers to prescribing behavior, it is possible to cultivate highly impactful sales tactics. Here are three key steps that you can take to greatly enhance the effectiveness of your sales tactics through the application of behavioral science:
Step 1: Educate
Arm your team with a critical understanding of human decision-making. Physicians, like all humans, utilize cognitive shortcuts called heuristics to make decisions as quickly and as efficiently as possible. As we discussed, many physicians rely on the ready-to-wear heuristic. Teaming up with behavioral scientists to help your team to understand this and other common heuristics will give them the tools that they need to build more impactful sales initiatives.
Step 2: Co-Create
Your sales representatives are a monumental resource when it comes to understanding the types of communications that will resonate with physicians. Rather than taking a top-down approach where your marketing team develops your materials and tactics in their own silo, foster a collaborative approach that fuses behavioral science expertise with the wealth of experience and tacit knowledge of your sale representatives. A collaborative effort will lead to sales initiatives that are a stronger representation of the types of interactions that representatives have with physicians on a daily basis. Involving the sales representatives in the development process will also give them greater confidence in the materials, thereby empowering them to deliver their message with even greater impact.
Step 3: Iterate
The landscape is constantly evolving and you must evolve with it. At predetermined intervals, regroup with your sales representatives to learn from their firsthand experiences with implementing your sales tactics. Use this opportunity to identify ways to further refine your tactics for maximum impact.
Ultimately, physicians shouldn’t be characterized as primarily emotional or rational beings, they should be viewed as humans with the same fundamental strengths and limitations as the rest of us. Using behavioral science to build sales strategies and tactics that are sensitive to these strengths and limitations is the only sure way to succeed.
Cognitive Neuroscience PhD
In increasingly crowded and competitive spaces, businesses often turn to innovation as the key to differentiating and success. But calls for innovation can often reveal themselves to be rooted in a preconceived vision of the types of solutions an organization wants to build. For example, innovation is often conflated with a shift to digital solutions and services or the launch of a specific new product or service. Innovation thus becomes more like invention—a project of designing and building a particular solution assumed to be differentiated and to add value for the business. Within this solution-focused mindset, we forget the importance of identifying, understanding and framing the problem itself. When we don’t spend time sitting with the problem(s) facing our customers and unpacking the assumptions built into our solutions, we risk solving the wrong issue. What would happen if we stepped back from solution-focused innovation and spent more time truly understanding the problems we’re trying to solve and people we’re solving for? An innovation agenda that takes a design approach to put consumers’ needs (and the brand’s voice) at the centre can also result in some surprising, previously unimagined areas where true innovation lies hidden.
Experience design thinking can be a powerful tool in helping teams shift to a problem-focused, human-centered approach. Taken from the world of design, it uses an iterative process to continuously improve existing products and services and create totally new ones based on uncovering problems and areas of need in consumers’ lives. So, what might this look like? And how might this be different from a solution-focused approach?
We were recently approached by a non-profit working in the education space. They wanted to innovate their offerings and partnered with us to help them design an education program for their target users. But what they couldn’t tell us was the problem they were tackling and why another education program would be the right solution. We drew on an experience design approach to help them take a step back, question their assumptions, and sit with the real underlying problem.
Experience design calls on us to start from scratch and take a bottom-up approach to innovation. It starts with deep human exploration and empathy— “deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for,” as explained in IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit. To do this, we need to set aside preconceived notions of ‘consumers’ and their needs and look at people holistically. We need to understand their environments, as well as their roles and interactions within it. Once we understand the people we’re aiming to reach, the next step is defining the problem. Putting aside the solutions we may have in mind, what’s the real problem we need to solve and are well-positioned to solve it? What are people really struggling with, and where could their lives and experiences be improved?
In the case of our education client, we learned that a lack of education wasn’t a challenge for their users. What they were really struggling with was keeping up to date in a fast-moving space; lacking access to the information they needed to make tough decisions; and lacking guidance on how to navigate day-to-day issues in their field.
Once we understand people and have identified the right problem(s) to solve, we can start to think about designing the right solution(s). In a traditional approach, user research is often the beginning and end of user involvement. But experience design recognizes the value of moving from solutions that are built for one group by another to those that are built with or built by the group the solutions aim to serve. We led a collaborative design workshop for our education client, pulling in a cross-functional group from across their organization, as well as their users. While their core team had initially assumed that digital transformation of their education model was the key to unlocking true innovation, the workshop revealed that some of the most transformative solutions that consumers valued lived in solutions that connected people, that created spaces of sociality and sharing, and that moved away from education (which is experienced as didactic and one-way) and towards learning (which is collaborative, social, and hands-on). In the end, while digital solutions and familiar formats were part of the most impactful solutions, they were not the focus—a significant shift had occurred towards thinking about creating spaces that would foster connection and community.
Designing in collaborative groups of internal and external stakeholders (from internal teams to front-line employees to target users) enables the emergent solutions to be creative, sustainable, and to lead to exciting new value for their users. A major added bonus is the excitement co-creation generates within organizations, enabling buy-in and alignment across an organization rather than within a specific team.
Once solutions have been co-created, an experience design approach focuses on testing and iteration. Rather than building fully-fledged solutions right away, the short-term goal is to rapidly prototype low-fidelity solutions, gather user feedback, and iterate. Ultimately, testing, ideating, and iterating can form a powerful loop, allowing quick feedback on solutions to serve the development of truly impactful solutions.
This process is iterative, it can be messy, and it can be tough. It can be uncomfortable to challenge our assumptions, to take a step back, and to sit in problems when all you want to do is move forward. But the solutions that emerge are worth it. And there is another gift within the process, because thinking in an experience design, problem-focused mode can create the capacity for iterative innovation within organizations, businesses that embark on such a process will see value created both at the consumer level but also internally. As teams are given the tools and permission to focus on problems, sit with their messiness, and to keep exploring they will continue creating, and iterating in a human-centered way for the company again and again. That is where the magic lives.
Dearbhail Bracken-Roche, MSc.
It’s a timeless tale in the world of consumer/patient research. We work with our clients to help solve their most integral business challenges. We use a human-centric research approach to uncover the insights that will point to the strategy – the one that will radically change how our clients engage with their customers. With our core clients on board, we can’t wait to get into the boardroom to ‘wow’ other key stakeholders with a ground-breaking strategic direction.
But what’s this? Push back? We are ready to embark with our core clients on a journey to transformational change, but other key stakeholders sit silently or offer remarks of resistance, clearly reluctant to take this journey with us.
There are sensible reasons why situations like this occur. People are inherently risk-averse – we avoid putting ourselves in situations where the outcome is uncertain or unknown. Transformational change is risky. New insights often lead to new ways of tackling a problem – and though this is exciting, we are asking for a leap of faith (albeit evidence-based) into the unknown.
This scenario is not uncommon, and it dampens the value that exceptional market research brings, which is effectively bringing our clients and their broader teams through insights to strategy to execution. Just like insights are not useful if they don’t reveal a clear strategy, clear strategies are not useful if they are not well executed. Strategies that are not well received by key stakeholders, won’t be well executed.
As strategic consultants, then, not only must we understand the consumer’s world, but we must also understand our client’s world. A critical first step is to immerse ourselves in our client’s business by engaging with key stakeholders to unearth the internal networks and dynamics in the organization. These dynamics inevitably shape how solutions and innovations are implemented. With this deep understanding, we can then leverage core psychological and behavioral science principles of change management to ensure that transformational change is comfortable for all people involved.
Principle #1 – Stop blaming the resistor(s)
When resistance to change occurs, we are all too quick to blame the resistor. Because of this self-serving bias – the tendency for people to shift blame onto others in order to maintain a positive self-image – we don’t always acknowledge that perhaps resistors have a sensible reason to resist (they often do), or that we ourselves may be contributing to resistance in some way (we often are). Being empathetic is an important first step to managing change.
Principle #2 – Don’t get defensive
It is poor practice to get defensive in professional settings, but it is also natural for people to have a visceral need to defend their work. It may be easier to fight off this natural instinct by recognizing that resistors of change are often engaging in the act of sensemaking – the process of making sense of a given situation. As part of this process, stakeholders deliberately think through both the positive and negative implications of our recommended strategy for themselves and the organization.
When genuine concerns are dismissed as stubbornness, it risks exacerbating the issue and perpetuating a vicious cycle of resistance. For example, it is not uncommon for people to ignore counter-arguments for fear of giving them a platform and making themselves look bad. However, a more powerful way of dealing with counter-arguments is actually to acknowledge them, label them as credible, and identify that they are a crucial part of the change process.
Principle #3 – Encourage debate but be prepared
With Principle #2 in mind, it is necessary to be comfortable opening up the floor to questions, evaluations, and scrutiny. When getting everyone on board is especially difficult, it can be useful to schedule a working session for the sole purpose of this type of discussion. But come prepared! During the sensemaking process, people will be quick to reject points that are not well justified.
The good news is that the inverse is also true – people in the sensemaking process are also likely to accept strong, well-developed rationale. This means that we must work with our primary client to align on not only why our insights are meaningful and grounded in good research, but also how these insights will lead to personal and organizational benefit.
Principle #4 – Build trust through early and frequent involvement
The best way to tackle issues of resistance is to be proactive. Whenever possible, relevant stakeholders should be involved in the research process. First, we work with the primary client to identify who the key stakeholders will be. These stakeholders can be looped in at critical touchpoints throughout the research process (ex. insight downloads, workshops, client calls). Trust is necessary in this process and can be built through transparency and a genuine interest in the opinions and concerns of others.
The road to transformational change can be rocky, but with a deep understanding of our clients’ world and an empathetic and inclusive approach, it doesn’t have to be. Pulling-in at uncomfortable moments, moments where there is a desire to push back, is a crucial skill in creating meaningful business growth.
References & Additional Readings
Decoding resistance to change. (2009). Human Resource Management International Digest, 17(6) doi:10.1108/hrmid.2009.04417fad.008
Ford, J. D., Ford, L. W., & D’Amelio, A. (2008). Resistance to change: The rest of the story. The Academy of Management Review, 33(2), 362-377. doi:10.5465/AMR.2008.31193235
Ford, J. D., & Ford, L. W. (2008). Conversational profiles: A tool for altering the conversational patterns of change managers. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 44(4), 445-467. doi:10.1177/0021886308322076
Klonek, F. E., Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., & Kauffeld, S. (2014). Dynamics of resistance to change: A sequential analysis of change agents in action. Journal of Change Management, 14(3), 334-360. doi:10.1080/14697017.2014.896392
Tormala, Z. L., & Petty, R. E. (2004). Source credibility and attitude certainty: A metacognitive analysis of resistance to persuasion. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14(4), 427-442.
One of the most consistent questions we here at Fresh Squeezed Ideas receive from our clients is, “What do our consumers value?” The answer is… it depends. The question we should be asking is “What is truly driving a decision at the moment of purchase?”
Take the example of a global restaurant that conducted research to find that consumers valued having healthier options. Thinking healthy product innovation was the key to their success, they created a healthy options menu. Yet when it launched, it wasn’t as successful as research had predicted. Sure, consumers valued healthier options in an broader sense, but is that the frame of mind they are in when making decisions at that particular restaurant? What do consumers truly value from that experience? It’s perhaps not the healthy option — it’s the feeling of nostalgic comfort they get from eating a good ol’ fashion burger and fries.
There are few blanket statements about what consumers value — it is complex, multi-faceted, and contextual. In an earlier blog, we go into depth explaining how we can unpack these complexities using Codescaping, a powerful tool that uses both behavioural science and anthropological techniques to reveal what “matters” to consumers in a particular category. The Codescaping method solves an important piece of the contextual puzzle — what is the brand’s relative positioning within the broader category on key attributes in the mind of the consumers? Equipped with this insight, the next question becomes — how are these key brand attributes being activated in the moment of making the decision?
The in-the-moment value judgments consumers make are difficult to capture in traditional surveys and focus groups. Ask someone if they like ice cream and they’ll likely say yes, ask them if they want ice cream on a cold day, and they’ll likely decline. Point is, when you ask consumers their values directly and out of context, you don’t always get the answer you need.
That is why at Fresh Squeezed Ideas, we strive to engage with consumers in context, observing all the elements of how value perception is built and decisions are made. If we were to simply ask someone to reflect on why they would purchase something, it triggers System 2 thinking — the rationalized, slow, and conscious processes. It would fail to capture implicit or contextual behaviors and pain points, missing the big picture and ultimately leading to flawed executions. Instead, we use creative ways to mimic real-world decision-making contexts (think, observational shop alongs, priming, and behavioral audits) in order to tap into System 1 thinking — the fast, associative, unconscious decision process that plays a big role in shaping our value perceptions.
The power of the decision context makes context the perfect thing to manipulate when thinking of execution strategies and increasing value. System 1 relies heavily on cues from the environment to allow the fast and automatic decisions to be made. Using System 1, consumers look to reference points to help them form value perceptions. This is especially true with price. By controlling the reference point consumers use to measure value, we can influence value perception as well as purchase decisions. One example involves using a decoy. Let’s say you were at the movie theatre and wanted to buy some popcorn. Your options are: small for $3, medium for $7. Which is the best value to you?
Now, let’s introduce a decoy and see how it can influence value perception. Your options are: small for $3, medium for $7 and, our decoy, $7.50 for a large. Which option do you see as offering the most value?
Perhaps you see value in the large popcorn for only .50 cents more than the medium? By introducing a third decoy option, we can control how one values the cost and benefits of the offering and, therefore, influence purchase decision.
So what is value? Well, just like value is heavily contextual, so is the answer to the question. The answer changes depending on what you’re talking about. I value the unparalleled flavour of Häagen-Dazs ice cream enough to spend upwards of $6.99 on a small tub, and I will still run with excitement to buy an overpriced swirl ice cream cone from the ice cream truck. That’s what value is — it’s malleable and heavily shaped by the situation.
This past spring I attended a workshop titled, “Getting the Job” as part of an event tied to an academic extracurricular I was involved in with my University. The workshop was put on by an HR representative from a large firm and was meant to offer us tips on resume writing and interviews. During the presentation, I found myself a bit irritated at the narrative of the discussion. They were telling us that in order to maximize our chances at landing a job, we should scrub our social media accounts, tailor our resume to include the same buzzwords from a given job description, and write a phoney cover letter.
To me, the presentation came across as a guide for how to market yourself as some caricature of an ideal, but inauthentic, candidate. The spirit of inquiry resides in genuine curiosity—we should be inclined to ask the questions that we are genuinely curious about, not to ask what we think we people want to hear. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but it seems a bit hypocritical of the corporate world to champion diversity, and then tell you to be someone you’re not.
Fortunately for me, I was able to avoid this culture by landing a summer internship at Fresh Squeezed Ideas. This fall, I’ll be heading to the UK to get my Master’s in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and couldn’t have landed a more fitting gig than with the behavioural science team at FSI, also known as, “Brainium.”
When I walked in on my first day, I could tell things were a bit different from the previous companies I had worked for. Music played in the background as Oso, the office bulldog, welcomed me into the vibrant work area. Structurally, of course, there is a hierarchy within FSI, but socially there is little. Snacks and tea in the cupboard and food in the fridge are for whoever is hungry or thirsty. Wellness walks down to the lake with Oso are for whoever has time. And brainstorms and collaborative work sessions are for whoever has insights to share. Before the internship began, I didn’t expect to be able to offer a valued perspective in a firm full of Master’s degrees, PhD’s, and industry experience. But when I had a thought or idea, people were extremely open, actively listened, and subsequently discussed.
It is this form of comradery and openness that instils a distinctly different creative work environment at FSI. With virtually zero inter-office competition or politics, everyone is able to work together and take advantage of each other’s personality, and area of expertise. As an aspiring behavioural scientist, I’m aware that we all have an ego. But it is the conspicuously cynical ego, the popular term people refer to when they say, “check your ego at the door,” that is nonexistent at FSI. This allows us to collaborate on challenges by coming up with methods for how to solve a given problem as a group rather than asserting our own individual anecdotes. Our ideas, after all, are freshly squeezed—refined, tested, and crystallized. We don’t just take the low hanging fruit and run, we make juice (and occasionally, super cheesy analogies as well).
This wouldn’t be possible without a team, high in intellect and curiosity—the same curiosity that sparks myriad questions and strives to find their roots, however nuanced and ambiguous they may be. It is why FSI’s fusion of Cultural Anthropology and Behavioural Science works so well. By embracing both evidence and equivocalness, and by applying both the scientific method and empathy, we are able to think about challenges more creatively.
What did I learn this summer at FSI? Well, too much to write in one blog post, to be honest. But I would say one of my biggest takeaways was not to take anything for granted. Academia always preaches acknowledgement of ignorance, but it is one thing to think that’s what you’re supposed to do, and another to genuinely practice it.
At FSI, I never felt compelled to be somebody I wasn’t. Because of this, I am grateful for my internship time with Brainium and with FSI, for I am not only able to think more creatively about business challenges, but also about the world.
I do question whether the narrative of this post is a manifestation of my very own criticism—an attempt at signalling my way of thinking to impress others. The answer is probably not unambiguous, but some blend of cultural and psychological forces. I am comfortable in saying, however, that these are thoughts I wouldn’t have had four months ago.
Written by Makail Johannesson, Behavioural Science Intern at Fresh Squeezed Ideas, May – August 2018.
You can use Design Thinking too! If you are an empathetic human being this makes you a design thinker already.
The word “design” often triggers people to imagine that Design Thinking requires some kind of exceptional creative skill. This thought keeps many of us from believing that we too can be design thinkers! The irony is that by simply being an empathetic human being, we perform design thinking every day.
At its simplest it’s problem-solving. The creative part of it is problem-solving using Empathy. I’ve often thought that the people who created the term chose the word “design” to give it an exclusive, elitist status. But it’s is a human thing. We all do it every day, throughout the day. When a someone at work pops by to talk about a problem, or when we meet for coffee with a friend who’s struggling with something, or our child or partner tells us a story about a challenge they had that day, our response is to ask questions about their story to give us a better understanding of their experience. It is at this moment that we are engaged in the first phase of Design Thinking. We are developing empathy for that person and their struggle. And we go on to use that empathy to brainstorm solutions with our colleague, family member or friend. That person, in turn, reacts to the ideas being generated and modifies them to better fit their need, and eventually, we land on a potential solution. The solution may or may not work, and they may come back and continue to discuss their experience and explore new ways to approach the problem. This is Design Thinking! Or more appropriately, the process of using Empathy to find meaningful and impactful solutions.
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Behavioral science is exactly what it sounds like – the scientific study of behavior. And like all sciences, it is rooted in the scientific method. Yet with its rapid uptake in the marketing world, there are many versions and understandings of what the field is. The biggest challenge is an understanding of the discipline as a set of ‘quick-fix tools’ that are easy to sell and quick to execute in a research initiative. Buzz words like implicit, subconscious, nudges, and randomized controlled trials dominate the vernacular of behavioral science in industry, and while these individual components are important, applied piecemeal they lose their value. We need to bring the science back to behavioral science and understand that without the rigor of the scientific method, we risk missing a big part of the picture in understanding consumer behavior, and ultimately lead our clients astray.
Let’s explain using a real example. An electric utility company in the United States wanted to reduce energy consumption by implementing a nudge initiative with 35,000 costumers. To leverage the power of the social influence bias, consumers were told that they were less energy efficient than their average neighbor. The execution worked well for liberal consumers who were nudged in the desired direction. However, conservative costumers actually increased their energy consumption. The problem? The nudges were selected from a menu, and the executions weren’t based on tailored insights. The electric utility company didn’t have a deep enough understanding of their consumers to know what would work and for whom.
Unlike in industry, in the academic world researchers have a rich, multi-level understanding of their areas of study. Academics eat, sleep, and breathe a very specific section of understanding and collaborate with others everyday who do the same, allowing them to generate useful hypotheses that they then test. As market researchers we often have only several weeks to bring our clients through insights all the way to strategy and execution. The challenge therefore becomes applying the mantra of rigor that the scientific method is rooted in, to our clients’ challenges. But how? We must adapt the scientific method for application to industry, and the first step is becoming fast experts in our clients’ challenge. This can be done by using a multi-disciplinary and multi-method approach to gaining insights. So that in addition to understanding the drivers of behavior, we are gaining an understanding of the cultural forces that impact those drivers. The best way to do this is to combine the academic disciplines of behavioral science and cultural anthropology to achieve a multi-disciplinary lens from which to view client challenges. Secondly, by using multiple methods we can leverage the principle of converging evidence to ensure that the insights will lead the client to the solutions that will best serve them and their consumers.
By putting the science back into behavioral science, we ensure that all the value the discipline has to offer is harnessed. In the long-term this will serve to ensure that the application of behavioral science to marketing is not just a short-lived fad, but a powerful approach for commercial impact.
This integrated multi-method approach is the best way to understand and change human behavior, in all of its’ complexities. We will be exploring this topic in more detail during our talk at IIeX Behavior 2018 in London UK on May 10: ““Keep it simple complicated, stupid: A holistic approach to unrealized brand potential.”
At its core, the purpose of Marketing is to reach consumers in the moments where we can have the most influence on their decisions. When companies and brands turn to market researchers with this purpose in mind, they often think about identifying consumer touch points (the individual transactions through which consumers interact with a business and its offerings), with an ultimate goal of acting inside these moments to drive a desired decision or behavior.
Identifying touch points is certainly an important first step in understanding when and how to connect with consumers, but it’s not enough. While such an approach may generate a list of touch points to consider, these touch points and the way in which they’re often presented can be dry and divorced from context. Ultimately, they miss the bigger and more important picture of consumers’ complex experiences.
An experience-focused approach produces a better, richer, and a more accurate picture of how and where consumers can be meaningfully influenced. What’s more, focusing on experiences gives companies and brands the opportunity to walk in their customer’s shoes in order to deeply understand your brand, product, or service through their eyes.
Enter the Consumer Journey: a powerful tool for empathy that challenges market researchers with representing all of the richness, messiness, and nuance of consumer experiences. Most journeys that aim to build a deep understanding of the consumer experience are approached through the lens of Cultural Anthropology and methods such as Ethnographies. This discipline provides a solid foundation of theory and methods to understand and map human experiences. Ethnography has become a staple of market research when we need to understand a particular slice of social life, and for good reason. It allows researchers to immerse themselves in a space or group of people as cultural detectives, understanding their particular social reality, norms, practices, and experiences and ultimately making sense of this for outsiders.
Journeys are powerful tools for empathy, but how can they be powerful tools for behavior change? How can we use them to shift behaviors and shape decisions? This is what the integration of Behavioral Science provides.
Behavioral science is an exploration of the human decision-making process. It helps uncover key decision points and their underlying psychological motivations. Using a Behavioral Science approach, we can build on the deep experiential insights from Cultural Anthropology to identify how emotional and cultural factors trigger psychological biases and heuristics at key decision points. With a better understanding of the common mental shortcuts and quick-thinking processes that guide consumer behavior, we are better equipped to design communications, products, and environments that are able to change behavior.
So, to truly understand consumers’ end-to-end experiences, touch points, and decisions along the way, the best strategy is to integrate the traditionally siloed disciplines of Cultural Anthropology and Behavioral Science. It allows you to include the best of both worlds, allowing marketers and researchers to understand the multiple layers of influence that impact those living the journey.
To put this in context and provide a bit of a Case Study, a large home development company asked: how can we influence the purchase journey to get potential home buyers to choose our properties? Using ethnography, we developed a deep understanding of who their consumers were, what was important to them, and what home ownership meant in their world. We then mapped out the home buying journey and overlaid the social norms and cultural forces impacting consumers throughout. We used behavior audits and in-store intercepts to explore in-the-moment emotions, the choice environments faced by this company’s actual consumers, and other decision factors at play. This approach allowed us to identify areas of opportunity where consumer experiences could be redefined, and purchase decisions could be influenced.
Integrating Cultural Anthropology and Behavioral Science provides the full picture, and allows marketers and researchers to access, understand, and map the complexity of human experiences. Ultimately, this elevated consumer journey facilitates the development of solutions tailored to these experiences, generating the maximum Marketing impact in moments of influence.
Think back to the last time you were involved in a global market research project. What do you remember most? Was the project smooth? Were you happy with the insights generated? Did you experience any frustration? Did you feel confused as to why big themes that consistently came up in most markets did not come up in other markets? Or maybe you simply remember that gut feeling that you didn’t get the insights you needed…
Unfortunately for most marketers, the latter memories of frustration, confusion, and wasted effort are often the ones associated with global market research projects, especially when the research is being conducted in markets with strong language barriers. The typical solution to avoid disappointment is to find the best translator to ensure the guides and stimuli are perfectly interpreted, hire the best foreign moderator who knows when to probe and dig deeper, and have the most talented simultaneous translator so that nothing gets lost. But this rarely happens.
Here we outline our approach to global market research for a successful project every time:
- Intimate and deep familiarization with the topic/product/therapeutic area/category that we are entering. The main issues when undertaking global market research is a lack of continuity across markets and an incomplete transfer of tacit knowledge and insights. To solve for this, in-house Strategists that already have experience with the space are assigned to the project and work with you from the very beginning until the very end.
- A 2-3 hour project kick-off meeting with you (in-person is best) to tap into your tacit knowledge and expertise, find out everything about your needs, challenges, desires and in-going hypotheses.
- Qualitative or quantitative fieldwork that combines methods from Behavioral Science & Cultural Anthropology to continue to absorb, build, probe, ladder up, and identify themes to expand our understanding. As much as possible, all fieldwork is conducted by our in-house team of Strategists who have experience in over 20 markets and speak 14 languages combined. We are not only fluent in the language, but also deeply familiar with the individual cultures, and have the ability to analyze and elevate findings into insights and connect it back to the goals of the project. We moderate and backroom all fieldwork, build trusted rapport with any hired foreign moderators (if needed), and form deep relationships with the vendors specific to that country to ensure you get exactly what you need. We have the instinct to go off-guide when needed, and be creative and get at the deep why’s or identify insights that could ladder up to decisive strategies.
- Finding the insights and story in the data. By the end of a project we are experts of the topic and are able to transfer our knowledge and insights in the form of actionable strategies and tactics. Instead of going through mind numbing simultaneously translated recordings, or reading through pages of transcripts that don’t really tell a story, we pull out the relevant puzzle pieces as a result of our hands-on experience and put the whole picture together for you.
- Global strategy tailored to each market. While we must consider all key markets when developing the global strategy, each execution of that strategy must be carefully tailored to each market. This ensures that the tactics and communications are sensitive to the realities on the ground.
We know global market research can be long, difficult, and frustrating. But by partnering with a team who is grounded in the cultural, social, political, economic and linguistic differences across 15+ countries, you can create a successful global strategy that resonates on the ground in your various markets.
I recently had the privilege of working on a fascinating global healthcare project across 6 countries. My multilingual team spoke to physicians around the world and helped our client develop a unique global strategy for a product that has been on the market for many years. After a full day work session with global affiliates from all 6 markets, our client remarked:
“Mali, you are now an International Hematologist!” – Senior Global Marketing Manager
Can people truly know and articulate their motivations behind their choices? Learn about Behavioral Science and how it can help your marketing practices.