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Hack Human Behavior to Increase Marketing Results

Hack Human Behavior to Increase Marketing Results

Behavioral science is a relatively new field, with huge implications for marketing. Neuromarketing can actually help you develop more persuasive communications that will increase your response rates. Join Nancy Harhut, Chief Creative Officer at HBT Marketing, as she explains how she persuades her target audiences successfully, using the lessons of behavioral science, on the sub-series, Marketing Horizons. 



Cyndi Greenglass: What is behavioral science and what does it have to do with marketing?

Nancy Harhut: In a nutshell, it's the study of how people behave — how people make decisions — and as a marketer, that's something that really interests me because at the core of what we do we have to get people to make decisions, whether it's the decision to. You know, read our blog post or open our email or refer a friend or buy our product or buy our product again. there's always a series of decisions that are you know, on a marketers play in anything that we can do to get people to make the decisions that we want them to make is a good thing and social scientists have studied how people make decisions and they've discovered that there are a lot of shortcuts that people just automatically default to. And so, as marketers, if we start to use those automatic shortcuts, if we trigger them in our strategies and our creative, we get an increase in our engagement and our response rate and that's why I love behavioral science so much.

Ruth Stevens: Interesting so we're seeking to trigger those default behaviors. Where do you see some of the applications in in marketing and marketing communications Nancy?

Nancy Harhut: There are there are a lot of them, you know. There are some that are on the research side and that's not my end of the business, but there's a lot of neuroscience being used in research to figure out what people are thinking and what they respond to. My end of the business is more on the creative side, so the research. What I do is in market and what I like to do is use behavioral science in strategies and in creative executions to increase the likelihood people are going to do what we want them to do. For example, one thing you can think about using is the idea of framing. There was an interesting study that was reported in the journal of consumer research, where people had to make a decision about how to let their customers know there's going to be a shipping fee and so the person had to either say it was going to be a $5 fee or frame it is a small $5 fee. They ran the end market test and they found out that framing it as a small $5 fee got the most significant increase in sales, like a 20% lift in sales. I didn't do that study, I didn't write that copy, but that's the area that I work in and it's figuring out how to phrase things, which words to choose, how to frame things, what order to put things in, to get people to engage and respond.

Cyndi Greenglass: I know I've heard that we are more likely to act to protect ourselves from risk or do I have this backwards… we are more likely to take an action if we feel at risk than we are if we feel comfortable. Is that part of what you're looking at to make people feel motivated to act versus engage in that kind of like inertia?

Nancy Harhut: Yes, that's a great point. There's something that social scientists have identified, called loss aversion, and it almost is a little counterintuitive. As marketers, we are all about the benefits, gains, advantages, the wonderful things that will happen if you just do what I’m asking you to do. We know that benefits work, so we would never want to walk away from them, but social scientists have identified loss aversion. They found that people are twice as motivated to avoid the pain of loss than to achieve the pleasure of gain. Sometimes, a well-placed loss aversion is the way to go, letting people know the pain they may feel or the difficulties they may face if they don't do what we asked them to do. The idea of avoiding pain is a very powerful motivator and can actually motivate people more than achieving something.

Cyndi Greenglass: Do you have to be a data scientist, or some sort of scientist, in order to understand this stuff and be educated and how to use it appropriately?

Nancy Harhut: You know, you would think at face value, oh it's called behavioral science, so it certainly sounds like you need to have a science degree, but I don't and a lot of people I know in marketing that use these principles also don't. What we do is we benefit from the research done by the behavioral scientists, the people who hold those degrees, we just pluck what is most appropriate for us in marketing and we combine that with our marketing best practices, and we use the principles. While we don't have to have degrees in behavioral science, we're still able to benefit from the advantages that behavioral science brings to marketing.

Ruth Stevens: So, what we're trying to do is psych out people's motivations and try to stimulate them to harness that trigger that we've learned about. Doesn't that creep people out when we talk about this? Are there ethical considerations that we should take into account?

Nancy Harhut: I hear that question a lot, if you can use these triggers to increase engagement and response, is that ethical or is not the thing to do? Let's step back and say, as marketers, we absolutely should be ethical. We have a responsibility to be fair to our customers, to treat them with respect, to not mislead them or lie to them. But also, as marketers, we have an obligation to ourselves, to the companies that we work for, to try to get the highest return on investment. I’m not a sports fan, but I like to use this, if I was a pitcher and I took the pitching mound and I knew that the batter that was coming up next was very likely to bunt, I would probably adjust my throw in order to accommodate that. So, if we know that people are more likely to choose the middle option, well, maybe, that means that we want to put the thing that we most want to sell in the middle. If we know that people are twice as likely to respond to the word free as they are to the word complimentary in the subject line, well let's use the word free in the subject line. We want to treat people with respect, we don't want to be irresponsible in using these techniques, but I like to think of it as helping people make decisions that they would like to make.

Ruth Stevens: Where do you think this stuff is going? Is there something over the horizon that we can look forward to out of behavioral science?

Nancy Harhut: I think for us, we're going to see a growing adoption. It wouldn't surprise me if we start to see a behavioral scientist enter the C suite, you know chief behavioral scientist or chief behavioral science officer. I don't think we're too far away from that because I think a lot of companies are already adding behavioral science or the behavioral science discipline to their arsenal. I think there's going to be a growing coordination between data science and behavioral science, you know data science is a well-recognized field, behavioral science is more of an emerging field and I think the two are going to get more closely intertwined in order to help marketers even more.

Learn more about behavioral science from an article Nancy has written.

Key Takeaways/Three Little Piggies:

  • Buying decisions are being made in a series of small elements, and if we break it down, we can influence and motivate those various, smaller decisions to move prospects in our direction.
  • The BYAF technique, giving people the option to say it’s up to you as a different way of presenting an offer or message would be something worth testing.
  • We need to be open to new ideas as marketers.

Marketing Communications Today presents Horizons, it’s forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Join Cyndi and Ruth bi-weekly for new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.

Meet the hosts

Cyndi Greenglass

Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and Senior Vice President Strategic Solutions at  Diamond Communication Solutions, a data driven communications firm specializing in Healthcare, Financial Services and direct response solutions and an adjunct instructor in the Data Marketing Communications online master’s degree program from WVU. 

Greenglass has twice been named into the Top 100 Influential BTB Marketers by Crain’s BtoB Magazine and was the 2012 CADM Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year. Greenglass is a member of the Executive Management team at Diamond Marketing Solutions where she is responsible for the strategic planning process, participates in strategic acquisitions, and manages the agency services division.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the  ERA business accelerator in New York City.


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