Is it time to bring behaviourism back into strategies?

In the golden age of 1950’s advertising, the Mad Men days, one of the driving disciplines was psychology. It was the new kid on the marketing block, driven by two factors. Firstly, there was the development of sophisticated measurement techniques. This grew out of academic research methods and was translated into the new discipline of market research. The second was the rise of behaviourism. B.F. Skinner put the discipline firmly on the map and marketers saw the possibility not only to measure behaviour but also to influence it.

It was little wonder the new ‘science’ was embraced by the young marketing industry – brand owners loved it. However there were new kids on both blocks. Cognitive methods were overtaking behaviourism and in advertising we were seeing the ascendency of the creative and the media specialist.

Today, we hear a good deal about engagement, interaction, community building and networking. The growth of social Internet for business and for brands in particular, has been about engaging with audiences. We have powerful new tools and seductive disciplines. But perhaps it is time to dust off the old tomes on behaviourism. What is the point in engaging if we cannot influence behaviour?

Of course we do have tools to measure behaviour – sales figures, market share, footfall and more. My concern is that the link between engagement activity and end behaviour is getting lost in the smoke and steam of technology.

A lecturer on my undergraduate psychology course, who described himself as an unashamed, radical behaviourist, used the acronym ABC – antecedent-behaviour-consequence. First, something happens, then it stimulates certain behaviour, and in turn there is a resultant consequence. Perhaps it is time to employ this simple rule of thumb when planning our brand engagement strategies, and measuring their effectiveness.

  • What are we planning?
  • What behaviour do we expect to follow?
  • What will be the consequence of that behaviour (a) for the audience – how will they benefit, and (b) for the brand.

Importantly, will that consequence reinforce the behaviour and encourage its repetition?


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on More than just a logo. and commented:
    This is a really interesting subject. I guess it does go beyond loyalty card systems and referral schemes. It brings to mind psychological phenomena such as the notion that people experience loss ten times more than they feel when gaining something. Or the idea that our brain is programmed to find patterns, and changes – we become blind to things that don’t change and we become superstitious when patterns in our interaction with the world are detected.
    Malcolm Gladwell talks about the subject to some extend in Tipping Point when he describes the characteristics of those influencers who can tip the balance and achieve a result – be it hush puppies or Paul Revere’s ride during the American Revolution.
    It would be great to see some examples of current brands using behaviourism as a basis for their brand strategy – and perhaps that kind of case study would be just what they expected…

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