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Why Knowing the “Why” of Consumer Behavior Improves Marketing

March 10, 2020

Today, when studies say people are exposed to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ad messages a day, it’s harder and harder to get consumers to pay attention to any one of them. Finding the right channel(s) is part of the answer, but not the most important part.

The only way to break through is to give consumers information they care about, in whatever medium—email, direct mail, social media, packaging, websites, or print. The challenge is to figure out what those messages that matter are. Consider two 40-something, middle income women. Why does Jackie like to take her family on budget-conscious weekend getaways while Christine splurges on destination vacations? How should a travel company market to these two individual consumers?

Knowing the “why” behind their choices is key. And testing creative concepts then fine tuning messages based on those tests is the lifeblood of getting that right. The problem is that traditional A/B and multivariate testing takes a long time and is expensive. So marketers often skimp on testing—missing out on opportunities to sell more.

Is there a better way to uncover the “why” behind purchase behavior so marketers can tell the right stories to motivate consumers?

Direct response—print, digital or a combination—is a prime example of how marketers struggle to find a better way to test.

Data is NOT the issue

Just because companies have access to a staggering amount of consumer data doesn’t mean they can always make sense of it. First party, third party and social profiles are piled on top of traditional demographic (age, income, gender, etc.), transactional (what is purchased and how often) and psychographic (interests and beliefs) data.

Machine learning can help manage it. But slicing and dicing consumers into such finely drawn segments is not the answer. Marketers can’t craft individualized approaches for each tiny segment.

Even with all that data, the emotional triggers that drive purchase—the “why”—are still missing. That’s not surprising considering that, according to noted marketing authority and Harvard Business School professor emeritus Gerald Zaltman, “Ninety-five percent of purchase decision making takes place subconsciously, driven by feelings more so than logic.”

Meet Ryan and Joe. Both are 42-year-old heads of household, professionals and live in the suburbs. Each is thinking of buying life insurance. Their data points are identical seem —equivalent household incomes, car purchases and shopping habits. But Ryan is buying a policy because he’s finally reacting to his wife’s prodding, while Joe has seen that the payout from his father’s policy is helping his recently widowed mom. These two customers, with different WHYs for wanting life insurance, probably would not respond to the same sales pitch.

The fact is, people interested in the same product can be motivated by totally different reasons.

Creating messages that matter

A relatively new testing approach uses a combination of tools to help marketers uncover the deeper insights they need to find stories that move consumers to act.

  • Predictive analytics take historical data a step further by using algorithms to predict future outcomes by categorizing customers based on buying behavior
  • Conjoint analysis assesses how consumers value different aspects of a product or service, to understand which combination is most likely to influence purchase
  • In-depth persona matrices, possible thanks to these sophisticated analytics, help marketers identify their best consumers and segment them, even across affinity groups, by what motivates them to buy a product or service
  • Virtual panels of 850 to 1,200 individuals who mirror a company’s best customers can, participate in online surveys to evaluate different messaging and creative executions, faster and cost effectively
  • Cloud-based simulators collect input from the virtual panels, then report how consumers react and engage with different options

Marketers can use these tools to fine tune design, format, messaging and imagery so it breaks through to segments with the most potential. The beauty is that they can do this more comprehensively, less expensively and faster than traditional A/B or multivariate testing. In fact, marketers can test up to 1,200 variations of 20 individual attributes in a single pass.

Reducing the time and cost of testing helps marketers get better results. When a lot of time and money is at stake, it’s tempting to load every test with a broad range of options. This undercuts the ability to identify the most effective messaging.

Using a virtual, online platform, marketers can complete tests in as little as 60 days, and predict an offer’s performance with 95% accuracy. It only takes four steps.

  1. Find insights across micro segments that align with high-potential customers and prospects
  2. Use the insights to develop segments
  3. Overlay segments onto consumer databases to group like-minded customers
  4. Adjust creative to target best customers and prospects

Getting at the “why” of consumer behavior drives profits

Testing direct response using this approach is a continuous, iterative process. Once a study is completed, data plugged into the simulator can be reconfigured into different scenarios (by geography, segments, etc.) to evaluate new options. Each study informs the next, painting a more complete picture of target audiences and their priorities.

Knowing the “why” helps marketers across many vertical markets optimize messaging, and not only for direct response. Packaging, websites, even product development can benefit.