Behaviour Change, Behavioural Economics, Persuasion, Social Decision Making

How to get a bed for the night

I never give money to beggars anymore. If I want to enrich the makers of Special Brew, I’ll buy some myself.

But today I did.

A slightly-younger-than-me black man stopped me in the street as I was popping out for a sandwich. He apologised for bothering me.

He was a floating resident at a seamen’s mission around the corner, he explained. I knew the place.

He said he was ex-forces, down on his luck. Lance-Corporal something-or-other. Before three o’clock, he needed to find four people to give him two quid each, so that he could continue to stay there.

That was the pitch.

Five seconds later, he only needed three more people.

It was as concise a shakedown as I’ve ever heard – and beautifully delivered:

  • He let me know he needed shelter.
  • He showed me he already had a solution – one that I knew and approved of (unlike Special Brew).
  • He advertised his army credentials: placing himself in a society I respect.
  • He instilled a sense of urgency by introducing a limited timeframe.
  • He communicated that I would be one of several helping him (classic behavioural economics)
  • He gave me a specific and easy way to help – clearly well within my means.

Textbook (perhaps written by the British Army).

Behaviour Change, Social Decision Making

Opening Isinbayeva’s mind

Minds are like parachutes, they say. They work best when they are open.

But actually most of our minds are closed most of the time. And it is extremely hard work opening them.

To the astonishment of most of her co-competitors, Yelena Isinbayeva, the world champion pole vaulter, spoke out yesterday defending the new Russian laws, which ban people from giving information about homosexuality to under-18s.

In fact it’s their astonishment that’s astonishing.

Building on the breakthrough work done in behavioural economics by Kahneman, Tversky and many others, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has built an impressive and persuasive theory about the nature of social and moral decision making.

He paints a picture of humans as “90% chimp, 10% bee”: Motivated predominantly by self-interest and the protection/promotion of small family groups, but also able to suppress [some] self-interest and make compromises in order to co-exist with other humans in larger groups that can compete more effectively.

Haidt provides compelling evidence that rational debate between opposing points of view rarely changes opinions. It seems we are all rubbish at seeking evidence in a balanced and objective way, to challenge the things we think we believe.

If we wish to believe, we seek evidence that supports our position. If we wish to disprove something, we search for the evidence that does that. In either case, we don’t search very hard. Changing our mind takes effort and uncertainty – two things we are genetically programmed to avoid.

Using the opinions and mores of those that surround is the most prevalent example of this predilection for idle evidence gathering. Ms. Isinbayeva, bolstered by the supposed authority provided by national legislation, presents Russians as distinct and different, “Maybe we are different than European people, than other people from different lands. We consider ourselves normal, standard people, we just live with boys with women, women with boys.”

Jonathan Haidt argues two primary prerequisites for opinion and behaviour change:

  1. You must feel you hold a minority opinion.
  2. Secondly, you must feel that, as a result of holding this minority opinion, you will be harshly judged or censured by a community of people whose views have an impact on your emotional or physical well-being.

This suggests that until the world’s community of athletes – Ms. Isinbayeva’s peers and her ‘professional’ society – becomes more important to her than her sense of identity as a Russian, her views will not change (assuming of course there is no unprecedented social and cultural liberal revolution in that country any time soon).

If we challenge her and threaten to strip her of her role as an Olympic Youth ambassador, the evidence suggests her position will only harden.

We need to embrace her and convince her that athletes are a world community and have an opportunity – even a responsibility – to act as an inspiration to everyone, beyond promoting narrow national interests. We need to persuade her that she can share in, benefit from and promote the progressive values this of this young, dynamic, international community, because of the admiration in which they are  held by us non-Olympians.

We need to show her she can be a citizen of the world, not just a pole-vaulting Russian.

Marketing Strategy

Everyone’s spending again. Time to prepare for cuts.

Everyone’s spending again. The IPA Bellwether report, released last week, shows the highest rise for the last six years. Good news for the economy, if the past is anything to go by, and good news for marketing people.

So let’s not repeat the mistake we made after the last two recessions.

Now’s the time to start preparing for the next round of cuts.

Marketing people are positive, optimistic souls who believe in opportunity and demand-led growth. Which puts us at a horrible disadvantage when it comes to justifying our spending plans in front of our über-left-brained colleagues in finance. They don’t always think in terms of opportunity. They think in terms of risk.

“If I switch this off?” they say, “who and/or what will die?”

Since marketing investment is to brands, what food is to bodies, the answer is usually, “No one and Nothing…. yet!”

So they cut the food supply off and the body gradually starts getting thinner.  But no one notices. Not to begin with. Then people in the business do start noticing and what’s more, they think – like dieting – that it’s a good thing. “We’re fitter.. and leaner”,  they say. If you’re working with wankers they add, “…and meaner!”

And all the time the marketing people are getting smarter about deploying funds, becoming more efficient, trying to pretend the brand isn’t starving to death.

And the famine gets worse and goes on longer, not just because the economy is still crap. But because the brand isn’t generating any demand any longer.

Remember Joseph and his trendy coat? He has this dream about 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. So he spends the first seven years storing food for the second. And boy does it help them out later on.

I’m not suggesting you hoard your newly acquired budget. They’ll just have it back next quarter, we all know that.

I’m suggesting we use the good times (you know, the one’s that we’re hoping are just around the corner) to invest in robust, accountant-proof data to show how your marketing spend builds your brand, how increased brand strength builds demand and how increased demand leads to better retention and lower new-busineses acquisition costs.

Then you can tell them who and what will die, if they switch the machine off. And you’ll be able to tell them when it’ll happen.

And you can start calling lack of marketing investment “Brand related risk” and tracking it over time.

That’s when they’ll begin to start listening.