Page 1

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think? Using the latest learnings from the world of science

The Yellow Papers Series

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


People are less rational than you think.

You’ve done your research and found your audience; you’ve examined their relationship with the market, the brand, and its communications; you’ve drilled down, dug deep, looked inside; and hopefully – eureka! – you’ve found insight. This way of “getting to know” is task-specific, detailed, and mostly it works. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t do it. But there’s another less reductive way: Don’t look in, look over. Use the latest learnings from the world of science, learnings about all our target audiences, to add to what you know.

This introduction to these learnings is short and simple. Its aim is to emphasize the recent discoveries that show people are less rational than you think. Is that really news? Maybe you suspect it already. But do you know where this lack of rationality comes from? The different forms it takes? When it occurs? Recent discoveries by many scientists – from ethologists to evolutionary psychologists, from behavioral economists to brainscanners – can answer these questions.

These discoveries imply our audiences can be influenced, less by a “message” or “proposition,” and more by the combined weight of evolutionary history, emotion, instinct, and other people. We need to acknowledge these influences and understand them. Only then can we make them work for us. Where do we begin? At the beginning.

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


Richard Butterworth (B.Sc. Hons. Psychology) is a former joint head of planning at DDB London, where for six years he led the planning on Volkswagen UK. He has won five IPA Effectiveness Awards. He now writes plays.

Lucy Jameson is the Executive Strategy Director at DDB London. She is responsible for turning the 30 or so planners working at the ‘home of planning’ into one collective planning brain. Additionally, she is co-chair of DDB Worldwide’s Planning Futures Group.

“Our species lived as hunter-gatherers 1000 times longer than as anything else. The world that seems so familiar to you and me…has lasted for only an eyeblink of time when compared to our entire evolutionary history.”

- Professors Leda Cosmides & John Tooby University of California, Santa Barbara

Our Modern Skulls House Stone-Age Brains Remember The Flintstones? Fred, Wilma, and dino-powered diggers. It’s a good joke, re-imagining modern life in the prehistoric town of Bedrock. But the joke’s on us: we’re the Flintstones in reverse. We face the challenges of modern life equipped with a prehistoric brain. Its neural circuits were moulded by natural selection in response to problems faced by our ancestors between 10 thousand and 1 million years ago. The problems they faced were concrete, arising from the immediate physical and social environment. Most were urgent, demanding not the optimum response but one that did the job – ideally, fast. And they were big: how to stay alive, thrive, have kids, and raise them to do the same. Or (in the language of zoology): protection from the elements, nutrition, hygiene, and passage through the lifestages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pair-bonding, child-rearing, and old age. The Bedrock residents (est. pop. 150) faced these problems together. But living in a group raised its own big questions: Where am I in the pecking order? Who do I owe? Who do I trust? Who’s a cheat? Who can I learn from? Who’s a threat? Every day our ancestors had to answer all of these and more. And they couldn’t use the ‘thinking tools’ we might apply. No writing or maths, no formal logic or hypothetico-deductive method, none of that, sorry, not invented yet – do what feels right, what you did last time, what’s quickest, whatever – good luck!

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


Clearly our particular ancestors did alright. Had they not, we wouldn’t be here. But their legacy to us is a brain that specializes in making fast decisions about the zoological biggies, not remembering passwords or when to turn on the oven. This neuronal “wetware” has been honed to deal with the immediate, the concrete, and urgent – challenges that often demanded (what we’d call) instinctive or (what behavioral scientists call) automatic responses. The origins of these responses, decisions, and choices are often hidden from our conscious selves. And they can be swayed by powerful emotional and social influences.

QUESTIONS: Is your brand in a market where prehistoric priorities are important? Does it address immediate, concrete, needs? Or does it offer something more abstract (like “empowerment” or “individuality”)? Does your communication require “thinking tools” to decode?

You Don’t Know You Compared to other mammals we have big, heavy, energyburning, brains. Busy ones too. Pictures from new brain-scanning technology show our neurons are firing away, even when we claim to be thinking about nothing and are doing even less. But most of our brain activity is automatic: it occurs rapidly without intention, effort, or awareness. This means our conscious selves, the “we” that replies to questions asked by market researchers, might not actually “know” the answers. We claim not to recall an ad we recognize a minute later. We claim to choose brand X “for its superior quality” when, really, we buy out of habit. Or we agree “my quality of life has improved in the last year” when quite simply, at the time of asking, the sun is out and our mood happens to be good. Errors of metacognition like these show how limited our insight into our real motivations can be.

“As much as 99% of cognitive activity may be non-conscious.” - Emmanuel Donchin, Director of Laboratory for Cognitive Psychophysiology University of Illinois

QUESTIONS: In your market, how quickly do consumers make decisions? How fluently can they talk about their decisions and what led up to them? Are your ad recognition levels higher than ad recall? How much? Why?

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


Invisible Influences This limit in our insight applies to our decision-making too. Not all our decisions are instinctive, automatic, and non-conscious, but many are. When they are instinctive and automatic, they’re prone to influences that, again, lie outside our awareness. The two most potent are emotional and social.

1. Emotional Influences (The Emotional Brain) (i) Associative Anyone who’s ever played a word-association game will know our thoughts about objects and people and places are often connected to thoughts about other objects or feelings or values. Sometimes the connection is obvious: We link “Rome” to “historic,” “friendly,” “architecture,” “football,” “veal,” and “Vespas.” Sometimes it’s more arbitrary: “Rome” might evoke “horses,” a blue shop-door, and the smell of floor polish in a hotel lobby. These associations are created by our repeated exposure to pairings (or groupings) of all that we encounter in daily life. Just as Pavlov’s dogs learned to associate a ringing bell with dinner, we come to connect a sound with a time, a person with a perfume, a color with a name, or a taste with a mood. Some associations feel positive, some don’t. All establish themselves automatically. This means we don’t know they’re building, and we can’t stop them. What creates these connections in the brain? Many different processes including conditioning and priming. What’s their purpose? They help us use past experience to pick the right action now (“I can smell that smell again…predator alert! Run!”). Moreover, they influence our decision making in a very basic way: we’re more likely to choose something with good associations than with bad ones. Hang on, don’t we already build brands by surrounding them with good associations? True, it’s one of the tools we use, but we often underestimate its power. All of us can recall decision-making moments when good associations completely overpower the voice of reason (“Yes, I know it costs more, but it’s from Germany!”). But did you know repeated exposure to a face or tune or design or anything can make us like it more? This mere exposure effect can turn neutral associations into good ones and, by doing so, drive brand preference.

QUESTIONS: Does your brand have neutral associations that mere exposure could make more positive? Does it have associations that are positive but not very salient?

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


SOME HEURISTICS: I recall it easily so it must important People I like are usually right FREE means no-risk NEW means better The larger the pack the more I save Expensive wine is higher quality Don’t buy fish on a Monday Only insure what you can’t afford to replace

(ii) Heuristic A heuristic is a shortcut, a simple rule of thumb such as “experts can be trusted” that we can apply in a situation quickly and without effort. These rules sometimes misdirect us (a whole new scientific discipline studies what have become known as cognitive biases). However, mostly, these prepacked “how-to” brain nuggets prompt approximately the right decision. If they didn’t, our brains wouldn’t use them. Much of what we call “common sense” is heuristic. Some heuristics relate to facts, some to mood states. Many influence decisions about products and brands. And all of them are like eager school kids competing to answer a teacher’s question: they jostle to apply their influence at that decision-making moment. Aren’t we already heuristic experts too? When we communicate “product X is reliable” or “product Y will make you popular” aren’t we linking heuristics or ‘rules of thumb’ to brands? Yes – that’s to say, we try. But we don’t always succeed. We sometimes spend a lot of money trying to out-shout powerful, long-established, heuristics (like “German cars are out of my price-range”) with new messages. Maybe we’d do better to identify the heuristic most in tune with our brand objectives and then appropriate it – or the one least in tune and remove it.

QUESTIONS: What heuristics operate in your market? (List them) Which is most favourable to your brand? (Claim it) Which least? (Deal with it)

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


2. Social Influence (the Social Brain) Another legacy of Bedrock (est. pop 150) is that our attitudes, values, and the decisions they prompt are changed by exposure to other peoples’ attitudes, values and behaviors. This social influence works in one of two ways: - Informationally: When other people are your best available guide to the facts. It’s especially potent in unfamiliar and task-focused situations like traveling in a new country. - Normatively: When other people signal what rules, codes, or norms apply – norms you’ll follow if you want to fit in. It’s especially potent in the context of relationships and networks where, often, your priority is not to be right but to be liked. The strength of social influence is determined by three factors: - Proximity: How close the influencer is to the influencee, either geographically or in relation. - Quantity: How many people are doing the influencing, either absolutely (few or many) or relatively (are they in the majority or minority). - Character: The influencer’s likability, attractiveness, status, or perceived expertise. (Familiar criteria if you’ve ever worked on a personality-based campaign!) Social influence is most powerful in the context of groups. Take a moment to think which groups you’re in. Not just formal groups but any set of folk with a shared interest, pastime, or characteristic. Some will come to mind fast (mothers, alumni, sports fans), some slowly (joggers, left-handers, Trekkies), some won’t come at all (hey you bedtime story-readers and dog-poop bagger-uppers, you’re not alone). Psychologists who study the dynamics of “Social Identity” have found that when group membership is more top of mind, we favor our fellow members over those not in the group. In some contexts this isn’t good: Prejudice and discrimination may result. But for brands the effects can be more positive: Link your brand to my group and I’ll favor it; band me together with my fellow users and you’ll generate goodwill, loyalty, and ideally, advocacy, too.

QUESTIONS: What social influences apply in your market? Can they be harnessed? Can you introduce and use group influence in a hitherto “individual” or “private” market?

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


When Do We Wear Our Thinking Caps? 3. The Rational Brain Although we’re subject to invisible influences, it doesn’t mean our decision making is so irrational it verges on crazy. All these discoveries should simply remind us we’re not Supreme Court judges. We don’t weigh all the pros and cons. Nor are we logicians who derive irrefutable conclusions from elegantly stated premises. Instead, our prehistoric brain inclines to let more instinctive, emotional processes “decide” for us – influenced, often powerfully, by associations, heuristics, and other people. But some situations demand a rational response. Indeed, our ability to provide one has driven much human technological progress over the last 5,000 years. But when does this happen? When do we put aside instinct and put on our thinking caps? Or (to use the jargon) when do we override System 1 (the emotional brain) and apply System 2 (the rational brain) thinking? Like all good experts, the psychologists who’ve developed these dual process models of human cognition – Tversky and Kahneman, Petty and Cacioppo, Stanovich and West – differ on details, but they do agree on the basics. The likelihood of a rational response is determined by four key factors: - Urgency: How much time do I have? (Replacing a boiler is urgent, re-upholstering a chair isn’t.) - Importance: How much depends on this decision? (Buying a house is important, buying a carrot isn’t.) - Involvement: How much do I like the process of having to make this decision? (Choosing a holiday is involving, choosing a plumber isn’t.) - Information (or “persuasive arguments”): What arguments, evidence, or data is there for me to judge? (Buying a car is information-rich, buying perfume isn’t.) Not every factor applies in every situation, distractions can transform a leisurely decision into something more fraught, and the decision-maker’s personality has an effect too (‘impulsive’ people are more likely to favour instinct). But the underlying pattern is clear. We apply System 1 when we have little time, the decision outcome is trivial, we’re uninterested in the decision content or context, and relevant information isn’t available. We apply System 2 when we do have time, the decision outcome is important, we are interested in the subject matter, and there is evidence to weigh up .

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


What Influence-Type is Most Powerful and When

decision context

urgent unimportant uninvolving info-lite

leisurely important involving info-rich

decision type

influence type

system 1 instinctive automatic unconscious fast


system 2 deliberate systematic conscious slow

- associative - heuristic



Of course, in your particular market the situation is likely to be a little more complex. But now you have a framework to help assess your target audience’s state of mind when they decide. You also have tools to switch them from System 1 (the emotional brain) to System 2 (the rational brain) or vice versa. Think about using elements in the marketing mix to boost or reduce the urgency, stakes, enjoyability, and informational richness surrounding key decision moments. And most fundamentally, you have a guide to what type of influence to apply. We don’t “use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.” In the same spirit, we can now make sure our campaigns employ the type of influence – rational, emotional, or social – that best fits the situation and so will exert the most power. Choose your weapon carefully.

QUESTIONS: How urgent, important, involving, and informed are consumer decisions in your market? Can you increase preference for your brand by turning an automatic choice into one that’s more thought about (or vice versa)? Does your campaign rely on rational arguments when good associations or social influence may have more power? Do you really know how you campaign works? Do you have the right metrics in place? Can you point to and celebrate exactly what’s working hardest?

Do You Know Your Audience As Well As You Think?  The Yellow Paper Series


The Promise of Powerful Pictures Where do all these learnings come from? Field studies, carefully designed behavioral experiments, and more and more experiments from neuroscience are feeding our understanding. Over the last 20 years, scientists have used new scanning tools (with names like CAT and fMRI) to look directly at what’s happening in the brain. Questions unanswerable a generation ago are now being addressed. Accepted theories are being fleshed out, literally (for example, System 2 thinking has been linked to cortical neurones). New theories are being formulated (mirror neurons, active both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else do the same, are now thought to connect imitation to learning). And the vivid pictures of lights in our head have become a powerful communications tool. What can neuroscience offer us? Potentially, a way around people’s inability to talk about automatic brain processes. Why ask them questions when we can scan for “biomarkers,” neuronal flashes in a part of the brain that signal not just “I like this message” or “I want this product,” but also exactly how much. Oh, brave new world! Or scary. Enthusiast or worrier, we must be patient. The best scanners are big and expensive; they limit what people in them can see and how they respond; and the math they use to translate numbers into pixels is the cause of heated debate. We must be careful too. Scientists studying other scientists (!) have found they’re more likely to believe (deliberately) bogus experimental results when the numbers are accompanied by irrelevant neuroimagery. The moral? Don’t read too much into pretty pictures. Neuroscience can definitely help us know our audience better, but neuromarketing is a discipline whose time is yet to come. When that time does come, we’ll be ready.


Glossary Associative Learning The learning of contingencies or connections between events e.g. a bell and lunch (as in classical conditioning) or a behavior and a subsequent reward (as in operant conditioning). Automatic Process A process that occurs without attention, effort, or awareness and does not interfere with other concurrent processes. Behavioral Economics A hybrid discipline combining interests and methods from economics and psychology. It is the study of how the decision-making process influences decision outcomes, particularly in the contexts of reasoning, problem solving, and behavior involving money. A reaction against the idealized ultrarational model of decision making assumed by classical economists. Brain Scanning (Neuroimaging) The non-invasive tracking and visualizing of activity in a normal functioning brain, usually employing one of many techniques, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The highest resolution scanning tools are… - Computerized Tomography (CT). A series of cross-sectional X-rays of the brain are translated via computer into a three dimensional image. Good at measuring structure and anatomy. - Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The scanning of blood oxygenation using an enormous electron magnet. Good at measuring both the location and timing of neuronal activity. (The images produced by this technique have most captured the public imagination.) - Positron Emission Tomography (PET). The scanning of regional cerebral blood flow by tracing the gamma ray emissions from ingested radioactive glucose solution. Good at measuring the location of neuronal activity but not the timing. Lower resolution, but more common, is electroencephalography (EEG): the measurement of the postsynaptic electric potential of groups of proximate cortical neurons. Historically, the oldest of the techniques listed above. Certainly the easiest and least expensive to administer. Good at measuring timing, poor at measuring location. Cognition The mental activities – mostly unconscious – involved in acquiring and processing information. These include perceiving, remembering, learning, reasoning and problem solving. Cognitive Bias A tendency in some situations to draw incorrect conclusions based on internal cognitive factors rather than external evidence. Biases include the base-rate fallacy (a tendency to ignore available statistical data in favor of particulars), the conjunction fallacy (a tendency to assume specific conditions are more probable than a single general one), and fundamental attribution error (the tendency to attribute the cause of other people’s behavior to their personality or disposition, not to the situation or circumstances). See the Behavior Change Springboard for comprehensive list. Cognitive Neuroscience A hybrid discipline investigating cognition by studying both the (physical) brain and behavior. Conditioning (See associative learning) Dual Process Model A set of theories about judgement and decision-making that propose the existence of two information-processing systems. System 1 is intuitive, automatic, and immediate. System 2 is more analytical, conscious, and controlled. The behavioral evidence for two processes is strong, and the conditions that predict the application of one system or the other are reasonably well understood. Less clear is exactly what occurs within each system, and the precise relationship between them. Do they operate in parallel with the output responses from one coming to dominate depending on the circumstances? Or do they operate serially with System 1 as the default starter, only switching to System 2 when the brain ‘senses’ a more analytical approach is needed? Watch this space. Ethology The systematic study of animal (and sometimes human) behavior in natural habitats, and the attempt to explain it in functional, usually genetic, terms.


Evolutionary Psychology The application of the principles of natural selection to the study of the mind, premised on the assumption that cognition and behavior can be best understood in the context of evolution. Group An entity that exists when two or more people define themselves as members of a group. You’re a member of the ingroup (e.g. DDB employee). You’re not a member of the outgroup (e.g. JWT employee, Ogilvy employee &c). These labels sound daft but they remind us groups have both ‘collective’ and ‘exclusive’ characteristics. Heuristics Rules of thumb that are cognitively undemanding and usually, approximately, right. The most basic are acquired via experience and observation during infancy and childhood; many are taught; and some are acquired culturally. Instinct An innate (unlearned) tendency to emit a relatively fixed response to a stimulus. Majority Influence Social influence resulting from the exposure to the opinions of a majority, or the majority of one’s group. This exposure may be direct or indirect, delivered via the media or advertising (“the nation’s favorite,” “nine out of ten owners prefer,” etc.) Mere Exposure The tendency for repeated exposure to a stimulus to be sufficient to enhance a person’s attitude towards the stimulus, provided his or her initial disposition is not negative. Familiarity breeds content. Metacognition A person’s beliefs about how he or she thinks and what he or she can remember. Often inaccurate. Minority Influence A situation when either an individual or group in a numerical minority can influence the majority. “Early adopters” and “style-leaders” are agents of minority influence. Mirror Neurons A system of neurons that respond to actions whether performed by someone else or oneself. Originally found in the inferior frontal gyrus of macaque monkeys. Only very recently found in humans. Neuromarketing The use of neuroimaging techniques to answer questions relating to products, brands, and marketing communications. The name is recent, but the approach goes back approximately 30 years when early studies had people watch ads while attached to EEGs. Norm A generally accepted standard of behavior within a society, community, or group. Priming Activating one stimulus facilitates the later processing of another related stimulus. For example, people whose sense of warm or cold has been activated by them briefly holding a cup of warm or iced coffee [while viewing a person or picture of a person?] later judge the same person as having either a “friendly” or “unfriendly” personality. Social Influence The change of attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors by exposure to other people’s attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors. Advertising as a profession is a form of social influence. Social Identity The part of your self-image that derives from knowing you are a member of a social group, the membership of which, for you, has emotional significance. Working in advertising is part of your social identity: having been born on a particular day of the week is not.


Sources: Start with the new DDB Brand Conviction and Behavior Change Springboards. Read our other Yellow Papers on behavioral economics and the implications of this new learning for research. Then go to your nearest academic bookshop or library and buy or borrow introductions to cognitive, social, and evolutionary psychology. The three we found most helpful were: Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, Sixth Edition by Michael Eysenck and Mark Keane (Psychology Press). Introduction To Social Psychology: A European Perspective, Fourth Edition edited by Miles Hewstone, Wolfgang Stroebe and Klaus Jonas (Blackwell). Evolutionary Psychology: An Introduction, Second Edition by Lance Workman and Will Reader (Cambridge University Press). These will point you to particular papers/experiments and books that cover particular topics in more detail. And, for more presentation-friendly “color” and an easier read, try these: Influence by Robert Cialdini. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language by Robin Dunbar. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. The Decisive Moment by Jonah Lehrer.

DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc. ( ranks among the top five consolidated advertising and marketing services global networks, according to Advertising Age. Consistently one of the most creatively awarded networks globally, DDB was Campaign’s 2009 Global Network of the Year and captured both the Cyber Grand Prix and Film Craft Grand Prix at the 2010 International Advertising Festival in Cannes. With more than 200 offices in over 90 countries, the DDB Group helps grow the value and influence of leading brands around the world. We believe that creativity is the most powerful force in business, allowing us to develop the ideas that people want to play with, participate in and pass along. We call this Social Creativity which results in ShareValue, the powerful combination of influence within social communities and tangible business performance. DDB Worldwide is part of Omnicom Group Inc. (OMC).

Do You KnowYour AudienceAs Well As You Think?  

Using the latest learnings from the world of science

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you