ArabAd - - BOOKS -

I wrote the book be­cause I be­lieve be­havioural sci­ence should be used more by brands.


The Choice Fac­tory ex­plores the psy­cho­log­i­cal forces that shape shop­pers’ pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions. The book fol­lows a sin­gle per­son through their day and analy­ses 25 of their de­ci­sions. Each de­ci­sion is then ex­plained with ref­er­ence to a clas­sic idea from psy­chol­ogy: from prim­ing to the pratfall ef­fect, from charm pric­ing to the curse of knowl­edge. I then draw on the re­sults of ex­per­i­ments that I’ve con­ducted over the last decade. These prove that the find­ings from clas­sic psy­chol­ogy ex­per­i­ments are still rel­e­vant to­day. Fi­nally, I ex­plain how com­pa­nies can ap­ply these in­sights, whether that’s through their mar­ket­ing, pric­ing or pro­mo­tions. It’s the em­pha­sis on sim­ple prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions that sep­a­rates the book from oth­ers in this area. It took about six months to write the book, but my own re­search, which the book draws on, stretches back a decade. I wrote the book be­cause I be­lieve be­havioural sci­ence should be used more by brands. Af­ter all, be­havioural sci­ence is the study of de­ci­sion-mak­ing and ev­ery brand needs to change con­sumer de­ci­sions, whether that’s per­suad­ing shop­pers to switch to your brand, buy it more of­ten, or pay a pre­mium for it. All of it re­volves around chang­ing de­ci­sions. But be­havioural sci­ence is more than just rel­e­vant, it’s also ro­bust. It’s based on the ex­per­i­ments of sci­en­tists, such as the No­bel Lau­re­ates, Daniel Kah­ne­man and Her­bert Si­mon. Bet­ter to base ad­ver­tis­ing de­ci­sions on their ex­per­i­ments than the opin­ion of the most elo­quent per­son in the board room.


Have you ever spot­ted a poster in a doc­tor’s surgery telling you how many peo­ple haven’t both­ered turn­ing up for their ap­point­ments? Or seen the char­ity ap­peal on Wikipedia that an­nounces most read­ers don’t bother do­nat­ing? It’s a com­mon tac­tic, try­ing to shock peo­ple with daunt­ing fig­ures about the scale of a prob­lem. But, it’s an ap­proach that ex­ac­er­bates the is­sue it’s try­ing to solve. These mes­sages fail be­cause they stress that un­wanted be­hav­iour is com­mon­place. Un­for­tu­nately, as we’re so­cial an­i­mals who mimic oth­ers, that en­cour­ages the very be­hav­iour they’re try­ing to stop. Robert Cial­dini, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy at Ari­zona State Univer­sity, has called the fact we mimic the be­hav­iour of oth­ers so­cial proof. He ex­plored the ef­fect of so­cial proof on anti-so­cial be­hav­iour at the Pet­ri­fied For­est Na­tional Park in Ari­zona, which was be­ing slowly eroded by the 3% of vis­i­tors who pil­fered pieces of the beau­ti­ful rock-like wood. Cial­dini cre­ated signs high­light­ing the scale of the prob­lem: 'Please don't take wood be­cause the park is be­ing changed by the many vis­i­tors who steal'. This mes­sage led to a near tripling of theft com­pared to the mes­sage free con­trol. A full 8% of vis­i­tors pock­eted a piece of wood. By pub­li­cis­ing the scale of the prob­lem, he less­ened the sense of crime: surely it couldn't be that bad if ev­ery­one was at it? In Cial­dini’s words, “This wasn’t a crime preven­tion strat­egy; it was a crime pro­mo­tion strat­egy.” The mis­use of so­cial proof is so com­mon­place – es­pe­cially among char­i­ties and pub­lic-sec­tor ad­ver­tis­ing - that Cial­dini has called it ad­ver­tis­ing’s “big mis­take”.


There are two el­e­ments to the re­search. First, I’ve read a huge num­ber of psy­chol­ogy books and aca­demic pa­pers. I’ve then di­gested these find­ings and picked the 25 most rel­e­vant bi­ases for mar­keters. In the book, I ex­plain those bi­ases – from prim­ing to the pratfall ef­fect, from choice paral­y­sis to charm pric­ing – in easy to read terms and, most im­por­tantly, ex­plain how mar­keters can ap­ply the find­ings to their work. The sec­ond el­e­ment is my own pri­mary re­search. I have run hun­dreds of ex­per­i­ments over the last few years which look at how peo­ple ac­tu­ally be­have, rather than how they claim to be­have. An ex­am­ple of this ap­proach was for a clothes shop, New Look, who were due to launch a menswear range. Their ini­tial plans were to put a small bud­get be­hind a sim­ple an­nounce­ment. I sus­pected this wouldn’t over­come men’s re­luc­tance to buy clothes from what was per­ceived as a women’s clothes shop. How­ever, that was a hunch and we had no bud­get to fund a sur­vey. As an al­ter­na­tive, Dy­lan Grif­fiths and I re­cruited half a dozen men and pho­tographed them twice: first hold­ing a New Look plas­tic bag em­bla­zoned with their logo, then one while hold­ing a Top­man bag. We up­loaded the im­ages to a dat­ing site where peo­ple rate the looks of other users’ pho­tos. The pic­tures were left up on the site for two weeks while we waited for them to be rated. We found that when our vol­un­teers were hold­ing a New Look bag they were rated as 25% less sexy than when they were clutch­ing the Top­man bag. This demon­strated that the brand had a big­ger task than they had ini­tially sus­pected, and that they needed to re­dou­ble their ef­forts to per­suade men that they were a uni­sex brand. The ben­e­fit of this tech­nique was that we quickly and cost-ef­fi­ciently found out what peo­ple gen­uinely thought about the brand when they didn’t know any­one was watch­ing. How­ever, it’s still a mi­nor­ity tac­tic. Most brands brag far too much.

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