The Next Frontier for Behavioural Science – Driving Profitable Outcomes

Behavioural science isn't a marketer's magic wand for solving marketing problems; it's a guide for finding solutions in a new, difference-making way. Join in on the conversation at IIeX Behaviour in London (10 May)!

After three successful conferences stateside, we’re bringing IIeX Behaviour to London on May 10th. A celebratory milestone, and not just because we’re placing the “u” firmly back in behaviour. While putting together this conference, it struck me how far we’ve come, as an industry, applying the insights of Daniel Kahneman and others like him, to understand how people really make decisions. Everyone working in this field has much to be proud of. Certainly, the degree to which Kahneman’s language has entered the industry vocabulary vindicates all we’ve done at System1 Research over 15+ years.

You can track the uptake of behavioural science [again with a “u”!] by the changing arguments used by its doubters and detractors.

When we first started talking about behavioural science in research, we were told it was nothing new. All this stuff was already built into best practice survey design. Well, one glance at the grids, conjoints and unreliable questions that plague research proves this totally untrue.

When it became obvious that behavioural science was, in fact, new, and exciting, we heard it was the passing flavour of the month, another meaningless buzzword. Tell that to the marketers now buying behavioural science research at industrial scale, having forced their traditional providers to adapt their frameworks and products. To boot, many of System1’s brave and pioneering clients now have positive business results to prove the competitive edge gained by early adoption.

What about now? Well, now the complaint you hear is that behavioural science is presented as a cure-all, a magic solution to every marketing ill. This speaks of how far into the mainstream behavioural science ideas and principles have gone, as well as the skepticism and confusion that’s crept into the discussion around it. This is exacerbated by an insights industry that often disregards the power science has to simplify, the professional researcher often succumbing to an instinct to complicate and extend straightforward ideas, such as Kahneman’s system 1 and system 2.

If you’re a passionate believer in behavioural science, that’s a problem. We as an industry must build on simplicity, elevating conversation about behavioral science tools, to one about profitable outcomes. This is the next frontier for behavioral science and where our industry has much greater opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

The bottom line is that behavioural science isn’t a magic wand. It’s a theoretical foundation that helps you understand marketing problems in a new way, one that gets you much closer to how human beings really make decisions.

But on its own it doesn’t solve everything. In fact, it solves nothing. To turn all that understanding into insight, data, business choices and profitable outcomes, you need tools. Behavioural science is a guide to what the right tool might look like. That’s all. The real work – deciding what data to collect, how best to collect it, and how to build models that create accurate predictions of human behaviors and business results – hasn’t changed.

So to conquer the next frontier for behavioural science in research, there are two things we practitioners must stop doing:

First, stop pretending behavioural science on its own solves problems. It informs the tools and guidance systems we create to solve those problems.

Second, stop acting like there’s one true way to build the tools we need. Take neuroscience, for instance. The body of psychology and economics experiments that underpins behavioural science has little to do with neuroscience. But as behavioural science has grown in popularity, there’s been a rush of neuromarketing veterans into the sector, suggesting any explicit questioning or measurement is heretical. That would be news to, among others, Daniel Kahneman. He didn’t use direct measurement of brain activity when he uncovered how System 1 works. He used questionnaires. I’m not knocking neuroscience. It can play a vital role in understanding decision-making. So can surveys, social data, passive measurement, and qualitative, for that matter. The only question that matters is: what works?

At System1 we constantly experiment. The golden rule of our experimentation is this: does it make our predictions more accurate? If our predictions are accurate, our clients benefit. They enjoy more profitable growth and see reduced marketing waste. If our predictions aren’t accurate, then our method isn’t good enough, no matter how technically pure it is.

For instance, we found that taking the speed of decision-making into account made our innovation testing tool more accurate for in-market performance. So we incorporated it. But we found that facial coding made our ad testing system less effective and useful. So we haven’t adopted it, yet.

The next frontier for behavioral science in research is not perfect measurement of the non-conscious mind. It’s to find and apply the most accurate predictive proxy for the decisions people make. Science underpins what every speaker at IIeX Behaviour does. But we are not scientists. We are marketers and consultants, and at our best, invaluable creative guides toward profitable outcomes. Join us on May 10th to be inspired by all our speakers as to how behavioural science can help us as an industry conquer this next frontier.

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