In a recent Freakonomics podcast titled, The Maddest Men of All, Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather in the UK, discussed their latest initiative, #ogilvychange (which their website describes as “a behavioural practice that combines the gravitas of leading research in cognitive psychology and behavioural economics with the communication expertise of the Ogilvy Group”).
This careful application of behavioral science to marketing tactics happens to be Verdi’s specialty. Sutherland discussed three ways they and other big brands use their knowledge of human behavior to persuade.
Three Techniques a Call Center Might Use
Say you call up your cable company with the intention of canceling. You know they will try to change your mind. And they are likely going to use these three techniques.
- Social Norming, or “academic-speak for peer pressure.” One of the first things they’ll ask is, of course, why you wish to cancel. Say your respond like this: Well, we’re just too busy to watch TV. We have a toddler and a baby on the way, and there’s just not enough time. Their response, “Well, many people like you actually subscribe to…”.
- Loss Aversion, or “you don’t want to miss out.” This means they count on you to, like most humans, “hate to give up” what you have … even if what you have isn’t “all that valuable” to you.
- Positivity. Call centers receive a lot of complaints. So reps are trained to keep the conversation positive. Have you ever heard “We’re so confident that you’ll love the product that you can cancel at any time – no obligation, no risk?”
These techniques work. Ogilvy’s client found that calls using one or more of these techniques were three times more likely to be successful. And, in fact, 80% of them had a successful save of a customer or a successful sale”
Sutherland echoes something we marketers need to remember – and have seen repeatedly in our tests: Small changes can have large effects.
Why do humans react the way they do?
Sutherland believes that it all comes down to evolution. “We feel a sense of comfort doing things which other people do, and a sense of mild anxiety doing things that not many people would do.” He adds that we live in a world with incomplete information, so we often have to make decisions based on inference, which makes “copying other people … a pretty good safe bet.”
The field of behavioral science has only recently caught up with what advertisers have known for 60+ years. This includes:
- A fear of scarcity drives people to act.
- Human brains think in two ways, using what Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 and System 2.
System 1 can’t talk, it only generates emotion. It’s fast, efficient, and what keeps us alive.
System 2 is slower and tries to figure out what System 2 is feeling, but it’s not very good at it. “It’s actually hastily cobbling together a plausible sounding rationalization for a decision” that was made somewhere else.
Sutherland says marketers need to engage System 1 thinking when asking customers to make decisions. We couldn’t agree more. As a veteran ad copywriter we know once said, “The last thing we want to do is get the prospect to start thinking.”
The great thing is that while this may be old hat for marketers, the academics are now codifying this knowledge. Ultimate, the likely new academic insights – mixed with our own real-world test results – will make these techniques even more effective in the future.
Here’s another link to the podcast.