Discard the Surveys, Understand People’s Past Actions and Behaviors

Past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior in comparison with stated intent. To grow, understand people’s actions and behaviors, trust not what they claim in surveys

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” I love this mantra and try to apply it always to decode people, or how we marketers like to call them: consumers or customers. Understanding what consumers do, how they behave, and what they deeply think is hard, asking them a couple of rushed questions is easy. The first approach is also much more expensive than the first, but it’s worth the $. The difference in how the two methods inform your marketing decisions is not even worth debating.

Over a decade ago, while working as a junior marketer for British American Tobacco, every month, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the latest consumer equity tracker results for my brand. It landed in my inbox as a flood of numbers and graphs in all shapes and forms, which kept me busy for at least two days. Too young to question the source or quality of that data, I drank the kool-aid. I had to join another company, Mars, 9 years ago to understand the considerable limitations of asking random people what they think about a brand and more precisely if they will buy it in the future. Professional experiences shape profiles, and I have Mars to thank for helping me embrace behavioral-based research to such an extent.

At Mars, we measure what people do – mostly in-store or on digital commerce platforms, how they naturally react to our communication (attention, emotions, memory encoding) and not if they love our brand. Do you think they want to build a long-lasting loyalty relationship with our packaging or ads (more about loyalty in another post)? There is still a big role to play for surveys in people’s research, especially when combined with implicit reaction speed testing. But please take survey results with a grain of salt. In many instances, those answering surveys do it with little or no attention, are mostly interested in the financial reward, and are faced with known academic biases (considerable brand bias, last time purchased brand bias, etc.). The more the industry shifts from in-person surveys to digital surveys, I expect the quality of surveys to decline. It’s much easier to fool a machine than the researcher in front of you.

Robert Frost once said: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”. I am grateful to have spent the last nine years of my career, not looking at survey-based trackers. Quite the opposite 😊

#4 Creative is the #1 accelerator

I am back on this blog after a gap set off by the arrival of Emma in our family, a calm baby entering this crazy world. Much has changed in our industries during the last weeks, yet the guiding principles are still in place. Is Creative the Medium or Medium is the Creative? I do not prefer one or the other, but I know the power of creativity is misunderstood in a world obsessed with measuring ROI.

Advertising is the number 1 driver of mental availability for your brand. We all agree that stopping media for a while leads to brand sales decline. We also know that investing in media has a quantifiable and measurable short-term impact, but also a long-term equity impact. Despite this knowledge, we too often give in to bottom-line pressures and agree to “cut.” Such a dangerous word. We do it and then cash in the saving, without even thinking about the long-term damage we create. Guess what: the two complementary roles of advertising are to drive short term sales and build distinctive memory structures that will stay with consumers for a long time. Is there a way to maximize both impacts? By focusing on creativity.

Media is the pipeline that guides our brands’ messages in their quest to reach consumers. Media is complex, but it sorts of works this way. On TV, by understanding watch behaviors and key moments when we sit back and indulge, on Digital, where data builds audiences based on the probabilities for a better response to our message, on Billboards where location, traffic, or time of day guides the asset planning decisions. In a complex world, simplistically speaking, media guides the message. But what if the message is not working? What is the difference between a bad digital ad and a good one? While delivered to the same target audience with a high propensity to buy, we see big shifts in response. That is why you need to focus on better creativity. Once you are clear which media plan you will activate, raise the bar, make a better ad. And when you measure success, do not just look at ROI, go into detail, look at the effectiveness. Imagine how good your ROI would look like when the creative would be 2x more effective at the same cost.

And please, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM3J9jDoaTA before briefing another campaign that looks exactly like the one consumers have seen before.

How can you improve your creative message, raise the bar?