Behavioral Science: allowing Insights to fulfill its potential, in the age of applicability

November 12, 2018

Several members of the PRS IN VIVO team just returned from Chicago, after attending the fourth IIeX Behavior Conference, beating the snow that announced winter is upon us – at least in the American Mid-West! About 400 corporate researchers and agency execs gathered to share the latest in BeSci theories and more importantly, how they are being applied to grow brands and businesses.

Will Leach of Trigger Point was one of the hosts and opened the conference by urging the audience and speakers to use the two days as opportunities to share their mistakes as much as their successes applying Behavioral Science. Ever willing to lead from the front, Will entertained the audience with his own “trial and error” applying BeSci principles to the promotion of his recently launched book: Marketing to Mindstates.

I wondered though if a behavioral expert such as Will had trouble applying BeSci to real world business and marketing challenges, how were clients fairing with the same challenge?

Will teed up the conference presentations with the observation that we are entering an age of applicability. Behavioral principles must move from the theoretical to real world practical.  This is demonstrably true for any research because across all of the sector, it is clear clients’ patience is diminishing for any research that doesn’t yield real world results or contribute to profitable business growth. We live in challenging times for brands; new products still fail at alarming rates, more than half of advertising spend still fails to provide a return on investment, and retail has become a complex web for brands to navigate as they compete to influence shopper behavior. Insights can help solve the challenges of brands, and behavioral science is the only reliable way to do so.

And we are making progress, seemingly having moved past the moment in which we must explain BeSci or introduce marketers to the luminaries like Kahneman or Thaler. Although far too many agencies remain caught in theory and method, most everyone in our field has at least heard of BeSci. But adopting and applying behavioral research for real world outcomes isn’t without its challenges. In the embrace of what BeSci academics have been telling us for many years, the realization has dawned (at least for clients in corporate CMI departments) that it is not so much that behavioral principles are right, but rather that many old KPIs are sadly wrong. More than one speaker at IIeX Behavior pronounced the death of “purchase intent” as a reliable metric. The challenge seems to be replacing it with something that marketing stakeholders will trust.

As an industry, it appears market researchers have been highly successful achieving one of the key principles in BeSci: we established a habit, and that habit is for KPIs and metrics that behavioral science has now shown us to be flawed.

IIeX Behavior speakers from brands including McDonald’s, Diageo and Kraft Heinz talked about the need to educate and be patient with marketing stakeholders. Whether through inertia or “risk aversion”, their internal clients need to see that behavioral principles are more reliable, predictive and effective at revealing influences on consumer choice, and contributing to delivering real world results and profitable outcomes. But they don’t want to give up the cherished “purchase intent” KPI, even when the evidence tells them it simply doesn’t work, without something they can depend on.

I closed the first day of the conference by interviewing La Sridhar (Global Director of Insights and Segmentation at MillerCoors) on the topic of influencing her corporate stakeholders. One of the fascinating things she shared was the evolution of her team away from seeing themselves as data collectors to the much more active and inspiring role of “choice architects.” With the democratization of data collection, CMI departments in the future will have much more to contribute to real world results and outcomes or cease to exist and this felt a good way to frame market research’s potential contribution.

In closing the second day of the conference, I interviewed Terrae Schroeder (Director, Cookies and Crackers – OTG Insights at Kellogg), who emphasized that demonstrating though experimentation was the key to converting her teams and stakeholders to behavioral science lead measurement: it is no longer either or. To be effective, from now on at her organization, all research and marketing decision-making must include a behavioral component. It is, after all, the only accurate measurement of consumer behavior.

At PRS IN VIVO, we welcome “the age of applicability.” Our heritage in behavioral research uniquely enables us to contribute to our client’s real world results and outcomes. Our behavioral framework allows our clients to act as the “choice architects” they must become when growing their own brands and businesses. In a world where agile and innovative research solutions are table-stakes, it’s our behavioral science grounding which differentiates our consulting capabilities, helping us remain a trusted and proven partner.

We here at PRS IN VIVO came away from IIeX Behavior invigorated and excited about the future. Behavioral Science is the key to our clients, our business and our industry fulfilling its potential and delivering real world outcomes in the age of applicability. Bring on the future!

THE AUTHOR
Alex Hunt is the global Chief Revenue Officer at PRS IN VIVO.  If you would like to share your challenges applying behavioral solutions to shopper and packaging challenges within your organization please reach out to Alex at alex.hunt@prs-invivo.com or follow him on Twitter @AlexHunt84.