Marketing is about learning: Nudgestock 2020

August 6, 2020
Alex Wilman
Research Director

1. We learn by doing.

The festival recognized fresh ideas from outside of traditional behavioral science academia. Nicholas Gruen championed this. He suggested more attention should be placed on applying academic knowledge vs. letting graduates fend for themselves in applying it in the messy real world. “Knowledge is embodied in practice,” says Gruen. When something works in practice, those responsible for its success should be celebrated and encouraged to contribute to the knowledge base. Academic studies shouldn’t be the only proof something works.

Design thinking – a field that promotes failing fast and rapidly prototyping to see what works over waiting for academic studies – evidences this. Similarly, techniques like growth hacking (prevalent in start-ups), quickly develop and test concepts. Both fields require research inputs. How can researchers move fast enough to support these two growing fields’ needs?

2. Think like a comedian to make your workshops successful.

Pete McGraw – a humor science professor – encourages comedian-like thinking, such as playing on reversals. For example: “When I read about the dangers of drinking I …” The predictable ending to this sentence is “I stopped drinking” but the comedic and reverse ending is “I stopped reading.”

Google Maps Timeline is a feature that utilized a reversal, turning a privacy concern into a feature. Google were covertly tracking people’s journeys and once people found out, some had privacy concerns. Google now has a feature called Timeline – with similar tracking capability. However, it’s now presented as a user feature vs. Google tracking users’ movements.

Researchers can apply reverse thinking to workshops. McGraw spoke about using brainstorming sessions where the goal is to generate terrible ideas that’d never work in practice – sometimes a bad idea sparks a good one … or at least an interesting conversation. Moreover, nobody fears embarrassment about suggesting bad ideas – it’s the goal.

3. Don’t be shy: Finding out the real why?

Rory Sutherland described business as “the science of understanding what people really want.”

The key to this is knowing something’s real value. Research is central to understanding value. However, research designed to understand something’s real value often comes pre-loaded with overly-logical and rational reasoning. This is problematic. Why? Because something’s real value often defies logic. For example, a dishwasher’s real value isn’t cleaning plates, it’s hiding mess. A home swimming pool’s real value isn’t providing swimming facilities, it’s that it gives the owner permission to wear speedos all day.

Inputting such logic-defying content into research may raise eyebrows. However, it is a researcher’s job to discover why people really buy. Therefore, we must look for and offer reasons that, while not obviously logical, are valid, regardless of how non-sensical these suggestions may appear.  

4. Introducing sludge, the valuable cousin of nudge.

Dilip Soman introduced the insidious cousin of nudge – sludge. This is the friction in processes which impede individual’s from achieving their end goal.

A classic nudge makes it easier for consumers to reach their goal. Conversely, sludge makes it harder by slowing down processes or introducing barriers. Placing fruit at eye level is a nudge. Necessitating a 10-step process to access that fruit is sludge.

Nudges aren’t inherently good, nor sludges inherently bad. We can harm consumers by making things easy, and we can help consumers by making things difficult.

For example, consider a one-click, no-fuss subscription that’s seemingly impossible to unsubscribe from. It’s a seamless process, but it traps you into indefinite payments: a “nudge for bad.” This, can lead to the “once bit, twice shy” phenomenon – i.e., those who’ve fallen victim once will be highly averse to future subscriptions.

Cooling-off periods are a sludge-for-good. For example, making someone who has just bought a gun wait days to take it home. Slowing down this process prevents impulsive decisions being made with the gun. Subsequently, both homicide and suicide rates are lower in states where this sludge-for-good is used.

This is relevant to customer experience researchers. Sludge is often unintentional and invisible to those inside a business. Researchers must find the sludge, understand if it’s positive or negative and measure it systematically to either maximize or reduce its presence.

5. Don’t listen to your customers – be broader with your sampling.

Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier challenges customer-centric brand building. While this is a jarring concept to researchers, there’s compelling evidence behind it.

Ferrier states most customers desire a category and that several brands within that category are acceptable choices – not one specific brand. Consequently, customers often provide generic feedback on brands – often hygiene factors that all brands in the category share.

Customer-centric brands that action these insights only achieve further homogenizing of their brand with others in the category. Therefore, real brand differentiation is less achievable when you only listen to you own customers.

This has ramifications for sampling. Researchers should be wary of sampling solely category customers – the outcomes may homogenize our client’s brands. This can be avoided by sampling adjacent categories, non-category customers or customers with extreme opinions. Such diversity in sampling broadens the scope of research’s’ thinking and better equips it to solve problems.  

The discovery of things

Rory Sutherland said that marketing is the discovery of things we don’t know which may be valuable. On this basis, Nudgestock 2020 was a valuable marketing experience for researchers.

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