Behavioural Economics

Like most marketers we have been reading about the decline in brand trust with growing concern.  Here we share how behavioural economics offers a solution.

There’s a myriad of evidence that points to a decline in brand trust. Shoppercentric’s  latest report shows the majority of shoppers rate corporate retailers and companies poorly when it comes to putting consumer interests first.  Ipsos Connect and Trinity Mirrors study shows that consumers trust “almost nothing” and hile almost half of consumers (42%) distrust brands, 69% distrust advertising.

Common strategies to combat distrust include brand authenticity, real world proof or ‘clean’ branding. Here we apply some behavioural economics theories to help brands address this problem.

  • Make a commitment pledge

This theory works on the relatively simple premise of the more public our stance, the less willing we are to change it.  

I know myself that making a commitment to run the Manchester 10k in May means I will actually get out there and run rather than the more usual procrastination that I suffer from. This applies to brands too – so ask yourself what do you want to commit to that will demonstrate your purpose or your authenticity as a brand?

There are some great examples to inspire you, starting with TOMS, who initially focused on a shoe for a shoe but has now extended that commitment to include other projects.

There’s also M&S with its very public pledge, Plan A  This ambitious sustainability plan puts the customer at its heart, making 100 new social and environmental commitments by 2025.

  • Give something freely

This theory is based on reciprocation, the notion that we respond in kind to even the smallest act of generosity or altruism.

The theory can be included across all your channels – from random acts of kindness in your CRM program to moments of wow in-store. Take Starbucks ‘free coffee on your birthday’ initiative or slightly older but no less fabulous airbnb’s, #OneLessStrange campaign  that gave away $1 million to kick-start random acts of kindness in local communities.

  • Apply scarcity and exclusivity with caution

Finally much is written about scarcity, the theory that when we perceive something to be scarce it is felt to have greater value.

There are numerous techniques that marketers have used for years, such as  limited editions, half price sale must end sunday, only three rooms left – to name a just few that I’ve been involved in. However to build trust we must be authentic, not fake, and therefore these scarcity techniques must be handled with kid gloves not the norm – despite their power. – only two rooms left but do we believe it?

  •  Limit choice rejection

This theory is at the heart of behavioural economics – how we make decisions is often based on how easy it is to make them. Thus choice rejection often occurs as too much choice is overwhelming and procrastination pervades. It’s not about removing choice but designing the choice architecture to make the decision more unconscious. Ask yourself if your range is easy to navigate, your service the most straightforward to buy, your store designed to influence the behaviour you want?


  • Be authoritative

Slightly at odds with the earlier research findings, but we have an irrational trust in the judgment of experts. And so brands should ask  – what can they become expert in and how can they deliver that notion through every channel?  Take Apple Genius bars as a great through-the-line example. But don’t just think about how your employees behave, think about what they wear – uniform is a powerful semiotic signal for authority. For example UPS brown uniform signals authority in delivery.


Looking through the behavioural economics lens certainly gives a richer solution to the problem of trust and gives marketers more meaningful ways to engage with customers through every channel.

For more insights and trends visit our Reports.

Sue Benson – Managing Director