Insights

F**k the Formula: Unplug, rewind, and revisit the basics of behavioural science

In the era of economic uncertainty with the relentless rise of automation and AI, traditional marketing methods are becoming increasingly obsolete. The solution? Saying ‘F**k the Formula!’ and utilising strategic marketing methods to stand out from the crowd, creating an online presence to be reckoned with and, ultimately, boosting ROI. 

At our F**k the Formula event in London, our Director of Strategy,  Lydia Hinchliff sat down with Richard Shotton, Behavioural Scientist and author of The Choice Factory, to dig into his expertise in applying behavioural science to marketing strategies. Read for key takeaways from their chat below.

 

Fireside chat with Richard Shotton

Lydia and Richard discussed how basics in behavioural sciences trump trends and marketing echo-chambers for nailing down consumer behaviour, driving better marketing and business outcomes. Here’s the lowdown:

 

Targeting moments of change

One intriguing concept they discussed was the “power of nine,” highlighted in Shotton’s book. According to research by Adam Alter, people are more likely to make significant life changes when their age ends in nine (e.g., 29, 39, 49). This phenomenon, known as the nine-ender effect, was observed in studies on marathon runners, affairs, and other data. Understanding such biases allows marketers to target individuals at times when they are most open to change. 

 

Making messages stick

People remember what they can visualise. Shotton’s ‘concreteness’ principle states that concrete phrases stick (36%) while abstract ones don’t (9%). Most brand communications rely on vague concepts like ‘quality’ or ‘trustworthiness,’ which are easily forgotten. For marketers, using vivid, concrete imagery is key.

 

Triggering change

Motivation alone doesn’t cut it. To create habits, Shotton emphasises the need for clear triggers or cues. Sarah Milne’s study showed that combining motivation with specific ‘implementation intentions’ (like ‘I will exercise after dropping my son off at school on Mondays’) significantly boosts habit formation. Clear, actionable cues are essential.

 

Mood matters

Mood plays a crucial role in how receptive people are to advertising. People in a good mood are more likely to notice, remember, and believe ads. Daniel Kahneman points out that a good mood signals an absence of danger, making people more trusting. Advertisers should aim to create or tap into positive moods for better ad reception.

 

Cutting through consumer noise

The marketing industry often gets too focused on impressing peers rather than considering consumer moods. A standout example is an out-of-home ad campaign targeting tired commuters, making it memorable. A common pitfall is over-relying on surveys and focus groups, which don’t always reflect true motivations. Real-world experiments provide more accurate insights.

 

Experiments over surveys

Surveys can mislead us due to lack of introspective insight. Instead, running experiments on websites, in stores, and through CRM systems can offer you a clearer picture of what drives behaviour of your customers.

 

Evolving tactics

While the basics of human behaviour stay constant, the way people access brands evolves. Technology enhances our ability to test and apply behavioural science principles, like leveraging time scarcity with modern targeting.

 

Balancing friction and benefit

To change behaviour radically, removing friction is key. However, adding friction in the right places can boost quality perception, a concept known as the IKEA effect. So, remove friction to facilitate behaviour change, but add it strategically to increase desire and perceived quality.

 

Want more?

Read our top takeaways from our expert panel. Matt Mercer, Senior Strategist at Journey Further, sat down with Ruth Halls from Vinterior, Stacey Britt Fitzgerald from Grind, Lucas London from Lick, and Holly Chapman from Papier to discuss how brands can craft an authentic digital presence.

 

We hosted F**k the Formula in New York too. Check out key learnings from the expert panel involving marketing leaders from Adidas, Whoop, Brooklyn Brewery, and Tod’s Group.