How to fulfil customer needs by using behavioural science in your marketing

As marketers we all want to fulfil customer needs. But there’s a huge gap between what people say they’ll do and what they actually do.

As David Ogilvy put it “people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they do and don’t do what they say.”

There’s a famous example from the Trinity Mirror Group – they asked people what they wanted out of a newspaper, respondents told them they wanted a politically neutral paper that focused on long form articles. And so a paper that offered just that was launched but just two months later the publication was stopped due to lack of readership. 

Simon Parks, CEO of Trinity Mirror said “At the end of the day, what consumers told us they would do, and what they actually did with different things.” 

There are countless similar examples but why is this the case? 

The answer can be found from behavioural science. In simple terms, this just isn’t how our brains work. When we’re asked questions about what we usually do and what we intend to do, we engage a different part of the brain than we do when we actually face those decisions in the real world. Our real world decisions are generally guided by the part of our brain known as system 1. System 1 does around 90% of the heavy lifting and is intuitive and reactive to the context and the stimulus in front of it. 

So what can we do to bridge this gap if asking our customers what they want is so unreliable? 

In simple terms, there are five simple ways you can use behavioural science to help identify and fulfil customer needs:

  1. Know what you’re really trying to change 
  2. Find the people who are most open to change
  3. Leverage the gap between claimed and actual data 
  4. Frame the choice
  5. Test the response behaviourally 

Know what you’re really trying to change 

Quite often in marketing we set ourselves objectives that aren’t realistic and don’t reflect the behaviour we are trying to change. When a campaign sets out to change attitudes or for people to just have a bit more awareness of something, it competes in a world where people are getting hit with 10,000 messages a day so its impact quickly fades. 

According to research, “Campaigns with hard or behavioural objectives are generally more successful (~50%) than those working to intermediate consumer responses like attitudes or awareness (~11%).” Les Binet and Peter Field, Marketing in the Era of Accountability, IPA London. 

In order to identify and fulfil customer needs, you need to focus on what you want people to do, which behaviour you want to influence and then work out how you’re going to influence their behaviour. By setting objectives that are about behaviour change, campaigns are generally much more likely to be successful. 

Find the people who are most open to change

You want to find the people who are most open to change and that you’re most likely to be able to influence. But this isn’t always going to be the people who tell you they’re open to change and are most interested in your product. 

90% of Katy Perry’s Facebook followers are female so you could be forgiven for assuming that her following is predominantly female. But actually, if you look at the people who listen to her music on Spotify, 50% are female and 50% are male. This insight provides a nuanced picture and it means that for her new music releases both men and women should be targeted but for her concerts and merch it makes more sense to target a female audience. 

We know from behavioural science that context is really important. Life events such as marriage, a house move or a job change can have on our decision making because these life events destabilise our existing habits. There’s an opportunity for brands here (and not necessarily across obvious categories you’d expect) as people are often easier to influence at these times than when they’re going about their normal life. 

Studies suggest that 45% of our behaviour is habitual, so if you can tap into someone while they’re forming a new habit, you won’t necessarily just drive new sales in the short term, you’ve got the potential to become get a new long term customer if they form that new purchase or consumption habit with you. 

Leverage the gap between claimed and actual data 

In order to best fulfil customer needs, you need to leverage the gap between planned and actual behaviour. Taking gambling as an example, in research conducted by our partner Behave, people self-reported that they were most likely to gamble when they’re with friends. When they compared these responses with passive data of when people were using the gambling apps on their phone they found they were, in order of likelihood, most likely to use the apps when they are alone, with their children, with their parents and finally with their friends. A possible explanation for this discrepancy could be due to people’s more prominent memories of the peak moments of betting, when with friends watching the game, rather than the hours and hours spent betting to try and ease boredom. This example shows that looking at claimed data alone could give us the wrong impression of the best time to target your audience. 

To fulfil customer needs, you need to frame the choice

An academic study found that when traditional French music was playing, 77% of shoppers bought French wine. On the other hand when traditional German music was played, 73% of people bought German wine. Despite this, when asked about their purchase, only 2% of customers recognised that the music influenced their choice, and 86% refused to believe the music had any impact on their decision whatsoever. 

In order to take ownership of the decision making process, you need to control what you are being compared against by taking into account how people’s brains work. Broadly speaking, people make very quick judgments around six key factors: money, effort, time, risk, individuality, and conscious thought – all of these factors are natural to us and so easy for our system 1 brains to process that we do them all the time without thinking. This is why we’re so susceptible to biases and nudges. 

By taking control of these comparisons, for example, by deliberately putting a number in somebody’s head, or making something feel easier, or really put the focus on now and seizing the moment, or reducing the uncertainty of a sense of risk around a particular product we can have an immediate impact on those decisions that people make. These techniques are frequently applied in sales and marketing but behavioural science explains why they work, how you can make best use of them and when you should choose one technique over another. 

Test the response behaviourally 

When SCA purchased Charmin from P&G, they bought the rights to the customer base but they weren’t permitted to use the Charmin bear or the Charmin brand name as part of the deal. They wanted to find a way to make sure the existing customer base would still recognise the brand. The solution? Semiotics, the science of signs and signals. SCA used semiotics to understand which elements of the brand they needed to keep to make sure the brand was still recognisable. As a result of this work, they identified the signals they needed to bring across into the rebrand were the cuteness of the Charmin bear (so they created a Koala) and the “shhh” part of its French sounding name (hence the rebrand to Cushelle.) Everything else was changed and consumers were effortlessly transferred from one brand to the other. In fact, Cushelle sold even more, because they’ve been able to hone in on those signals that actually matter to people. The elements that really mattered for the brand to fulfil customer needs would never have been articulated if they’d asked them without using the right method but semiotics delivered on that promise. 

About The Behaviours Agency

We are a creative agency that uses behavioural science to make marketing more effective. We have developed our own unique behavioural model that allows us to create compelling brands, experiences and campaigns that lead to real commercial value for our clients. If you want to hear more about what we do and our behaviour-led approach then please get in touch here.

By Sue Benson

Managing Director