How to engage customers through irrational marketing

How to engage customers through irrational marketing

By Fi Bendall, Founder & CEO, The Female Social Network

When three in four data experts admit that consumers are fundamentally irrational, you know there’s something up. Experience Analytics firm Clicktale surveyed over 120 data professionals last year and came back with 76% of data experts basically saying shoppers don’t always make a lot of sense with how they shop.

In fact, in recent years even the world of academia has started to acknowledge that our decision-making processes are not always logical, especially in the realm of economics. In 2017,

American economist Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics, which was an acknowledgement of his career’s work applying psychological research to the process of how individuals make economic decisions.

Thaler’s work (as well as others like Daniel Kahneman) in the area of behavioural economics has helped us to rethink the idea of ‘homo economicus’ — the human as rational economic thinker. That’s not to say we’re entirely irrational in matters financial, but it does open the way to a deeper understanding of what motivates us to spend our money the way we often do — which is often not on the surface of things rationally. (As anyone who has walked into a store to buy one must-have item and left with a bag full of nice-to-haves can tell you…)

Anecdotally, many retailers will be able to say the same thing. The role of fuzzy factors we might call gut instinct, intuition or impulse are not always easily detectable in data analysis. Qualities like loyalty, passion and engagement are rarely driven by the cool logic of shaving cents here and maximising utility there. That’s an important thing to remember for all businesses, but perhaps even more so in sectors like retail, where customer relationships are so vital.

The marketing strategies we’ve inherited from the age of Home Economicus mostly assume rational behaviour. But in reality behaviour is driven by a complex combination of the rational and irrational, with the magnetic power of these two poles of behaviour often pushing and pulling us towards decisions we don’t always comprehend. We’re complex people (as we’ve always been) living in a complex world (possibly more so than ever before), making all sorts of purchasing decisions on a daily basis.

Analysing outcomes and the drivers that predict behaviour is key. Identifying predictors, causal drivers and consequential events allows us to redesign our marketing communications to deliver more positive outcomes. But those predictors, drivers and events are more numerous than perhaps we really know. At Bendalls Group, when we work with a client to identify customer advocates for brands, we profile the customer base against over 900 individual characteristics, which go well beyond standard demographic breakdowns into deeper emotive factors.

Seth Godin hits the nail on the head, when he writes about the problems we face taking a rational approach in the face of what we perceive to be an irrational response: “The problem is that your prospect doesn’t care about any of those things. He cares about his boss or the story you’re telling or the risk or the hassle of making a change. He cares about who you know and what other people will think when he tells them what he’s done after he buys from you.”

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Are you giving your customers the ‘wow’ moments they crave?
  • What is the story you’re telling your customers? Where do they fit into this story?
  • Does your customer engagement begin and end at the point of transaction?
  • Are you thinking laterally about the concerns of your customers? Is your customer expecting things of you that you are not delivering?
  • Is your customer ready to go into bat for you or are they just as likely to walk away when something better comes along?

Online, offline, digital, physical, cross channel, omni channel — all provide opportunities for deeper engagement with your customers. Effective data analysis gives you a powerful starting point for understanding your customers, but it’s not the full picture. That deeper engagement comes from accepting the irrational aspect of customer behaviour and then mapping the customer journey in ways that speak to emotive dimensions.

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