Behavioral science is a relatively new field with huge implications for marketing. Neuromarketing utilizes the best practices of direct response and can help us develop more persuasive communications that can increase response rates. A short while ago, I had the opportunity to connect with Nancy Harhut on the Marketing Horizons Podcast that I host with Ruth Stevens on behalf of WVU Reed College of Media. Harhut is chief creative officer at HBT Marketing, and she shared with us some secrets and tips for how behavioral science can be used to achieve outstanding results in direct response campaigns.
What is behavioral science and what does it have to do with direct marketing?
Nancy Harhut: Neuroscience is the study of how people behave and how people make decisions. This is at the core of what we must do in order to overcome inertia and motivate people to action. Whether you are asking your audience to read a blog post, open an email, or make a purchase, there’s always a series of decisions that the consumer will need to make. Anything that we can do as marketers to get people to make the decisions that we want them to make is a good thing! Over the years social scientists have studied how people make decisions and they’ve discovered that there are specific shortcuts that people automatically default to using. As marketers, if we start to use these automatic shortcuts in our strategies and our creative, we can get an increase in engagement and even in our response rates.
How can framing significantly impact sales?
Harhut: I focus on using behavioral science in creative strategy and execution to increase the likelihood that 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 marketers needed to communicate the addition of a shipping fee. This fee could be referenced as a $5 fee or it could be framed as “a small $5 fee.” They ran a split test with only one word change and found that framing it as a “small $5 fee” gave them a 20% lift in sales.
What is loss aversion and how does it work?
Harhut: Social scientists have identified a trait that seems a little counter-intuitive called loss aversion. As marketers, we are all about the benefits, gains, advantages, and all of the wonderful things that will happen if they simply act. While we know that benefits work and we would never walk away from them in our copy, social scientists have taught us 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 message is the way to go since avoiding pain can actually motivate people more than achieving something positive.
Do you have to be a data scientist to understand and implement these concepts?
Harhut: We don’t need to have behavioral science degrees to benefit from the concepts they bring to marketing. I know many marketing professionals who use these principles and the research done by behavioral scientists very effectively. So don’t be intimidated by the science and instead pluck what is most appropriate for us and combine it with our tried-and-true direct marketing best practices.
What are the ethical considerations that we should take into account?
Harhut: I hear that question a lot! 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 we also have an obligation to ourselves and to the companies that we work for to try to get the highest return on marketing investment. I’m not a sports fan, but I like to use this analogy: if I am a pitcher on the mound and I know that the next batter is very likely to bunt, I should adjust my throw in order to accommodate that. So, let’s apply this to marketing: if we know that when faced with 3 choices, consumers are likely to choose the middle option, then we should place the one we want them to act upon in the middle position. We want to treat people with respect and we don’t want to be irresponsible in using these techniques, but ultimately, I think of it as helping people make decisions that they would like to make.
What’s the bottom line?
Whether you use direct mail, email, or digital communications, results matter more than ever before! By combining the art of communication with the science of behavior we can stack the deck even more in our favor and ensure greater success in our campaigns.
What an exciting time to be a marketer, and especially a direct marketer!