[5 Links] Matthew Willcox on understanding human nature and making brands natural choices

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The author of "The Business of Choice: Marketing to Consumers' Instincts" asserts that marketing practitioners can be more successful if they understand the instinctual motivations of human nature and shares a starter kit of links to set us off on that journey.

// Previously in [5 Links]: Jason Sperling on Building Brand Attraction in an Age of Brand Aversion | Faris Yakob on Paid Attention //

MW: For someone who has just written a book about choice, choosing these five links was more difficult than I would like to admit. A bit like choosing your favorite and most meaningful tracks for Desert Island Discs. But here we go. These five all deal with human nature and how it affects our choices.  So often in marketing we focus on differences between groups, or on the effects of the latest cultural theme or meme that we don’t pay enough attention to the timeless and universal aspects of human nature and how these affect people’s behavior and how we make choices…

1. Dan Ariely on how our intuitions fool us
MW: The energetic, charismatic and unashamedly human Dan Ariely has done more to get the field of behavioral economics known outside of academia than almost anyone else. His books are great, but he really comes into his own with his talks. Attending one of his talks at the 2009 Society of Judgement and Decision Making conference was an inspiration to me to attempt to apply the findings from behavioral science experiments to something I cared about — reducing cheating in football. This particular link is to one of Ariely's best talks — it may be nearly 18 minutes long, but I’m pretty sure you will watch the whole thing.  I meant to watch the first 30 seconds of it to make sure it was the right talk, and ended up watching it until the end, even though I’ve probably seen it 20 times before (one thing I can see time and time again are the visual examples he uses to show how our intuitions deceive us even when we know they are deceiving us!)

2. British Psychological Society Digest —a gem of a resource
MW: This one might be bending the rules of “5 Links” a little, because it is not an article but a blog/digest of research.  But I find it really helpful. Often I’m looking for research that casts some light on how people reach decisions in a specific area or in different circumstances, and this is a great tool to keep up to date with interesting research and finding out who are the interesting researchers behind it.  The bonus is that it is edited by Christian Jarrett who is a psychologist who has written two excellent books for non-psychologists like myself — “The Rough Guide to Psychology” and "Great Myths of the Brain”— both of which I leaned on heavily in writing my book, "The Business of Choice”.  His style is accessible, always scientifically accurate and never dumbed down.

3. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence in just over 10 minutes…
MW: Many of you will know the work of Robert Cialdini – an academic who has cast light on the power of influences such as social proof and scarcity on our choices.  A number of experiments he has devised or advised on — like the famous hotel towel  study — are classics.  This simple and approachable video gives you potted definitions of Cialdini’s six principles of influence, with some great practical examples along the way.  Steve Martin — not the comedian, but one of Cialdini’s partners and  co-narrator of the video —  told me at a conference recently that they expected the video to get maybe 10,000 hits.  So far it has just under 5 million.

4. Steven Pinker on Psychology and Human Nature
MW: So this is a little heavier, but there are so many great quotes in this video that I have picked up and recycled. Pinker is a cognitive psychologist who has brought evolutionary psychology to the fore of discussions about behavior, our motivations and how we make choices. For example, Pinker describes the brain here as a “naturally selected information processor”, meaning that our brain has evolved, just as the rest of our body has, through natural selection. The cognitive processes or shortcuts and biases that drive our choices are the mental equivalents of physical developments like opposable thumbs that have helped us prosper as a species.

5. Homer Economicus or Homer Sapiens? (PDF)
MW: While we are on the subject of evolution, I was blissfully unaware that Homer Simpson was a reference to Homo Sapiens until a couple of years ago, when, embarrassingly, I used the similarity of the names as a gag at a talk I was giving. Jodi Beggs, who writes a blog called “Economists Do It With Models” has actually taken the time to comb through episodes of The Simpsons, to find examples of cognitive biases at work in the story lines, and shows how our friends from Springfield are textbook examples of human nature.  It’s a fun and informative read.

BONUS LINK: “I’d like to give the world a Coke…"
MW: The “Peak End Rule” was famously illustrated by an experiment by Daniel Kahneman that showed people that colonoscopies that ended with less pain as being significantly less unpleasant overall.  This tells us the importance of a happy, or certainly less painful, ending, as it defines how we remember and feel about the entire experience.  So I am ending with a little shot of joy — the ad that brought Mad Men to a close, the 1971 classic “I’d Like to Give the World a Coke”.  This ad is a great example of what happens when you capture what is happening in culture and blend it with a behavioral principle.  When the commercial aired, American troops had already been fighting in the Vietnam War for six years with no end in sight, and the Cold War was dividing almost the entire world. The commercial became a rallying message of tolerance and hope. Although the commercial’s message of tolerance and the cultural impact it had made it a much-loved ad, the behavioral engine that made it effective may lie in its brilliant and positive use of social proof. By finding an artful and meaningful way of showing so many people holding Coke bottles, the commercial didn’t just remind viewers that Coke was culturally current, but that it was something many people with whom viewers could identify were buying and drinking. By marrying the connections that culture allows with the instinctual motivations of human nature, this joyous commercial made Coke a natural choice.

Matthew Willcox Institute of Decision Making FCB
Matthew Willcox is Founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Decision Making at FCB. The Institute is a think tank that was set up to bring the findings about how people make choices from behavioral science and neuroscience — a gold mine of knowledge that marketers have paid astonishingly little interest to —  into marketing practice.   His book, "The Business of Choice: Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts” which show how starting your marketing from a scientific understanding of how people intuitively and naturally make choices, can make your brand a natural and instinctive choice was recently published by Pearson/Financial Times Press.


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