Reflections of 12 years of involvement with Behaviour Science – a conversation with Kimberley Ferguson of BHF
I saw these packs in M&S yesterday.
Boy, do the Brits like to hark back to their ” finest hour ” (c. W. Churchill) , when a crisis hits. The Queen was at it in her broadcast to the nation. Has there ever been as better brand name than “Spitfire” ? I don’t think so. Patients coming out of intensive care have even likened the nurses and doctors to Spitfire pilots in the battle of Britain. So this post is un-ashamedly retro – yet proven to be effective by modern behaviour science and the stuff we love looking at on the Internet. It turns out that retro marketing is also thoroughly modern marketing. Here are my four retro marketing tips.
Write copy that rhymes
Like – A Mars a day helps you work rest and play
BS proof – Rhymes are are thought to be more truthful ( and are certainly more memorable)
Create a brand symbol
Like pretty much any brand in the insurance market (Meercats/Churchill/Opera singer).
BS proof – Symbols make brands instantly recognisable so that we don’t have to think hard about choice because Brands are really energy saving shortcuts in decision making
Use an instantly recognisable face
Like – L’Oreal, who have been doing it for years: it a fast and instinctive way to update and refresh a brand
BS proof – we are instantly draw to faces ( see page 1 of Thinking fast and slow for an explanation) and have innate ability to decode their subtle meanings. It’s a survival mechanism- we need sort friend from foe in all situations and the mental processing happens much much faster that you can say ” digital marketing”
Proof- Cats of Instagram-enough said. Just type “Cute” into Google and you can spend hours looking at cats, all types of animals and babies or as David Ogilvy once said “If you want people to look at your ads put a baby in it” Or Daniel Kahneman “When adults see infant faces it stimulates nurturing behaviour”. None of this of course will come as a surprise to Disney, whose Mickey Mouse adventures cheered up Americans during the Great Depression
How businesses treat their employees during the Covid 19 crisis will lead to a reckoning – a very bitter one if times get hard. A famous poster, headlined “What did you do in the war daddy?”, was designed to shame men into volunteering for the army during world war one. It could be adapted in our time for bosses- “When the pandemic struck, how did you look after your workers?”
We will learn who the good guys and the bad guys are at some point in the next couple of years (or even right now- given the speed of social media at outing the clothe eared or arrogant) Personal reputations and brands will be destroyed or enhanced.
In the 2008 crash, RBS was nationalised by the UK government because it was about to go bust – with horrible consequences for personal finances. CEO Fred Godwin, poster boy of red in tooth and claw acquisitive capitalism, changed status from captain of the universe to vilified pariah in a just few days. Looking back on 2008, remarkably few people lost their reputations, but that was because we found it difficult to work out who the guilty people were (such are the opaque complexities of modern big finance)
This time it will be different. We can all see that Spurs ( for example) have decided to furlough their back room staff whilst paying in full the wages of their multi-millionaire players.
Media are different – 12 years on from the crash of 2008, social media are even more widely used and the bad guys will be outed quickly. Gary Lineker, a prolific tweeter, has pointed out how grotesque the Spurs decision looks.
The unpredictable factor is how bad things will get over the next months
Many workers are only one pay check (or freelance fee) away from debt – because over the past decade or more wages have stagnated. Now they have nothing to fall back on and without funds the consequence will be widespread poverty and desperation that conjures up images of 1920s great depression. The atmosphere could get very bitter indeed.
This crisis will produce many more Fred Goodwins. And good guys too – Eddie Howe, manager of Bournemouth, was the first manger to offer to take a pay cut. His fast and generous action will stand him in good stead.
But it is already clear that the likes of Daniel Levy ( of Spurs) and Mike Ashley ( of Newcastle FC) think that they are immune from public backlash. They will, i believe, be proved wrong. Let’s hope so.
My copy of The Economist now comes in a see through non-plastic wrapper that is “100% compostable” and can be “put in the food waste bin”.
An example of “leadership thinking” you might think (from a brand that prides itself on foresight)
But, in truth, The Economist had no choice but to make this change because six months earlier competitor magazines had come similarly wrapped (like the Saturday issue of The Guardian). Not to have responded would have made The Economist seem cloth eared and leaden footed by contrast. (As we know from Behaviour Science, we humans make comparative not absolute judgements.)
Brands have to scan the horizon and work out what changes in culture to they need to respond to (and preferably get ahead of them). The moment of danger comes when a competitor crystallises a cultural trend into a new product or service. A trend that is “in the air” and widely reported in the media becomes an emerging social norm. Then the comparison questions crowd in quickly-what are we doing on this issue? Before you have responded, the same questions will be asked on social media about your brand.
Another example – EasyJet recently sent me an email saying:
At 05:20 this morning, easyJet flight EJU5841 took to the skies and made history. Because starting today, we will offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for every single easyJet flight, domestic and international.
You would have to have been living in a cave (and not know who Greta Thunberg is) to have missed this particular hot issue for the airlines- known to be major producers of earth heating emissions.
Now do this little test. Do a google search of “which airlines are …”. Google guesses that your question is going to be (top of the list) “which airlines are carbon neutral”. So, the question is already being asked. How long will it be before the likes of BA have to respond? If another brand announces that it too will be carbon offsetting its flights then BA will have to develop their policy or look off the pace.
Modern culture is full of traps for the unresponsive. Trends are easy to spot, but when does a trend turn into a new norm that you simply can’t ignore? Failure to respond can devastate your reputation. Just ask Prince Andrew who seems to not to have understood that the “Me-too” movement, crystalised by the Harvey Weinstein affair, might be relevant to him. He got sacked by The Queen.
What traps lie ahead for brands in 2020? Ideally you want to get ahead of a trend because that is what leaders do. But life is not so simple. “Events, dear boy, events”, as Harold MacMillan said of politics, can throw off the best laid plans. Such is the speed, pervasiveness and uncontrollability of modern media, brand management is becoming more like politics. Facebook (and Big tech in general) understand this and even hire ex-politicians like Nick Clegg to help them plan their communications.
To be protect their reputations, brands need to do scenario planning. A tip: imagine how a competitor might seek to enhance its credibility and relevance through a major product or service innovation that is “on trend.”
Challenger brands and start-ups represent a clue to the future as ideas at the margins can move to the mainstream especially if they are picked up by the bigger players
The question of environmental protection is now right at top of the agenda- no surprise there. But how will it play out in individual markets? Brands should play this thought experiment. Here are a couple of thought starters: –
London: has been energetically building cycle lanes but has precious few electric buses. (I breath in a lot of fumes every day) The Chinese are way ahead in manufacturing electric buses. Orders for electric buses from the major UK cities could create a strong domestic industry- and not just imports from China. An issue for one of the mayoral candidates to champion?
Grocery retailing: I have just put out the weekly bins, which were crammed with the packaging by-products of shopping at my local supermarket. The 5-p charge has been a signature success in reducing the use of carrier bags (albeit initiated by government). But where is the next big move coming from? Experiments in new no packaging stores might represent (part of) an alternative future? Try Googling “no packaging stores near me” to gauge how fast this trend is moving
Scenario planning is a healthy exercise for brands as it forces them to look at their business “from the outside in” and therefore anticipate possible futures in which they will be more in control of events rather than victims.
It has been a good year for training – mainly because i have been able to concentrate on topics that I find most interesting and for which I have been able to develop new knowledge inspired by my time at Google and a decade working on Behaviour Science ( starting with the late lamented COI in 2008). See the My training courses tab for details