great marketers in 2022 – recognise the cues that can influence behaviour

Consumer behaviour, while often irrational, is almost always predictable, given the availability of the relevant data. Thanks to years of research, empirical and anecdotal evidence – there are in 2022 the consumer insights to accurately predict consumer behaviour in most settings. There is also a growing body of evidence pointing to simple cues that impact consumer behaviour and can be leveraged to influence consumer behaviour. Three such cues are:

  • Fluency (and symmetry).
  • Familiarity (and newness).
  • Feelings (and emotions).

This discussion will consider these cues or factors and further highlight the critical role of psychology in marketing.

FLUENCY

Highlighted repeatedly in neuroscience research has been the relationship between physical symmetry and the perception of attractiveness. To summarise the observations from one such study:

  • ‘Attractiveness increases with an increasing level of averageness and symmetry, which can be understood as evolutionary pressures that operate against the extremes of the population.

Another study observed

  • ‘Attractiveness increased when we increased symmetry and decreased when we reduced symmetry.’

Consumers like symmetry and relate it to attractiveness. Human beings and, therefore, consumers are attracted to symmetry, and the more symmetrical a face – or indeed just about anything – the more attractive it is seen to be. What is more, the sense of attraction diminishes as the level of symmetry diminishes. This is so in all cultures and not just with faces.

Symmetry is a subset of the broader concept of ‘fluency’. Human beings like symmetry because they like and respond more positively to fluency. The more fluent something is, the more attractive it is seen to be. Further, this is a critical issue in terms of design, symbols, slogans, sounds, and language. Fluency relates to the following:

  • ‘…. speed and ease with which people process information about your brand ..’

Fluency can also be called ‘cognitive fluency.’ Cognitive fluency has been defined as follows:

  • ‘In the most basic form, cognitive fluency is the ease with which information is processed. Does the task feel difficult? Was the information easy to understand? Successful digital marketing is all about how we make our target audience feel – we want to use cognitive fluency to effect decision making.’

Underlying fluency or cognitive fluency is the notion that consumers are attracted to inputs that are easy to consume, easy to understand and easy to process. Consumers will rarely put in any more effort than they need to to take in a brand message – and the more quickly a brand message can be taken in, the more likely it will be embraced. To quote yet another source:

  • “Cognitive fluency is how scientists describe the ease with which our brains process information. Items that are easily processed are considered “fluent.” The importance to marketers goes beyond the mere speed of taking in the information. Our brains confuse ease of processing with preference and familiarity for things like names, brands, etc. And, when we read instructions, the ease with which we process those instructions translates directly into how easy we think the task itself will be!

Research psychologist and NYU professor Adam Alter notes:

  • ‘Every purchase you make, every interaction you have, every judgment you make can be put along a continuum from fluent to disfluent.’

Following on from this, the more fluent the messaging and presentation, the better. Consider these research findings:

  • Theeasier a font is to read, the more likely readers will embrace the message and find it credible.
  • Theeasier it is to pronounce the name of a business, its products and services – the more profitable the business can be.
  • Theeasier it is for an audience to understand communication, the more likely they will buy your products and services. 
  • Themore symmetrical design aspects of the visual branding – the more positive it is that consumers will embrace branding. 

Approaches to maximising fluency can include, but are not limited to:

  • Larger font sizes.
  • San serif fonts.
  • Limiting the width of columns.
  • Limiting the volume of content.
  • Large ‘buttons’ on a website.
  • A simple layout.
  • Using a compelling subject line on an email.
  • Keeping sentences short.
  • Using familiar language.
  • Asymmetrical logo.
  • Tight, meaningful slogans.

FAMILIARITY

It is well established in research, and I have written often about the tribal nature of human beings. Therefore, human beings and consumers are attracted to people that are like them. We are all attracted more to people who look like us, think like us, and behave as we do. Human beings and, therefore, consumers are naturally attracted to the familiar. That is the main reason most people do not like photographs of themselves – because the image in the photo is inconsistent with the image in the mirror that we are more familiar with.

The attraction to familiarity among consumers is also reflected in the fear of or resistance to change. Familiarity creates certainty while change creates uncertainty – and human beings are overwhelmingly attracted to certainty. Certainty created by familiarity tends to lead to higher spending and more investment. It can and does have a direct impact on sales. This is often called the ‘familiarity principle’, which has been defined as follows:

  • ‘…the tendency among human beings to develop a preference for things (be they people, products, ideas etc.) which they see more often. For instance, in relationships, it tends to be the case that the more often we see someone, the more pleased we are to see that person and the more we like them – for instance, a partner or child…’

A large body of evidence suggests that this attraction to familiarity and certainty is the result of evolutionary programming. At the same time, marketers are attracted to ‘novelty’ (the opposite of familiarity) because it provides a reason for the consumer to look at a product and purchase. Just as there is an attraction to familiarity, there is an attraction to novelty in most consumers. It is novelty or ‘newness’ that is often used to justify looking at a product and ultimately purchasing it. Fashion is a great example of this. That is why there is a market for new seasons fashion.

This points to a tension between the familiar and the new. In an article by Steve Genco, it is noted as follows:

  • ‘The opposing attractions of novelty and familiarity, which seem to tug marketing strategies and practices in two opposite directions, have perplexed marketers since the first marketing messages were crafted.’

There is a dichotomy here between the attraction to familiarity on the one hand and novelty on the other, creating the need to find the ‘sweet spot’ between these two forces.

Steve Genco notes:

  • ‘When presented as a dichotomy, there is no obvious answer because good evidence can be cited on both sides of the argument. I believe a more promising approach is to view novelty and familiarity not as a dichotomy but as a continuum. This continuum is the path along which a consumer travels with regard to any product or brand. Novelty necessarily comes first, but over time and through exposure and experience, what was once novel becomes familiar.’

Given this apparent dichotomy, maximising sales will inevitably involve:

  • Making the novel – familiar and
  • Making the familiar – novel.

Strategies for making the novel seem familiar include:

  • Maximising cognitive fluency.
  • Sticking within the parameters of a prototype.
  • Identifying and retaining core elements of a product.
  • Creating a habit of purchasing the latest version.
  • Graduated or staged approach to change.

Strategies for making the novel familiar include:

  • Favour evolution over revolution.
  • Maintain core elements of the branding.
  • Updating the product while keeping the customer experience the same.
  • Associating newness with the product and familiarity with the brand.
  • Maintaining elements of the visual branding.

These are just some of the many strategies for making the familiar new and the new familiar. The point is that it is critical to find that sweet spot between new and familiar. Failure to do so can hinder sales.

FEELINGS

There is nothing more irrational than human’ feelings.’ Few things impact consumer behaviour more than feelings – or the emotional response to a brand or marketing message. Indeed, one study found that:

  • Advertising that relied on rational product messaging led to significant revenue gains in 16%of campaigns researched, while

Incorporating an emotional ‘component improved the chances of achieving large gains significantly, to 26%.Recognition of the importance of feelings (which may or may not be supported by evidence and which may or may not be rational) has given rise to what is now known as ’emotional marketing.’ Emotional marketing is:

‘…. marketing and advertising efforts that primarily use emotion to make your audience notice, remember, share, and buy. Emotional marketing typically taps into a singular emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger, or fear, to elicit a consumer response.’

Consumers have six basic emotions:

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Emotional marketing:

  • Drives first impressions.
  • Makes a brand memorable.
  • Drives decisions not supported by evidence.
  • Inspires consumers to act.
  • Drives brand loyalty.

Regarding the last of these points:

  • Happiness tends to drive the sharing of information.
  • Sadness tends to drive empathy and connection.
  • Fear and surprise tend to encourage consumers to cling to the comfortable.
  • Anger and passion tend to make consumers stubborn.

Creating an emotional connection with consumers begins with:

  • Understanding the audience at the deepest possible level.
  • Telling stories the audience relates to and engages with.
  • Creative design that engages and inspires the audience.
  • Communicating absolute authenticity.

 Cues or factors that can then be leveraged to create the required emotional response within the target market include:

  • Product differentiation.
  • Confidence in the future.
  • A sense of well-being.
  • A sense of freedom.
  • The sense of a thrill.
  • A sense of belonging.
  • Protection of the environment.
  • Personal aspirations.
  • A sense of security.
  • A sense of succeeding in life.

The point here is that information is important, but feelings are often more important and more long-lasting. Feelings are certainly a key to engagement.

GREAT MARKETERS

  • Great marketers in 2022 understand the power of cognitive fluency.
  • Great marketers in 2022 strike a balance between novelty and familiarity.
  • Great marketers in 2022 engage with and dive into the feelings of consumers.

ANOTHER INSIGHT

RECOMMENDED READING

ACTION

  • Embrace the power of symmetry to create attraction.
  • Embrace the power of cognitive fluency to create attraction.
  • Understand the need to make the novel appear familiar.
  • Create an environment in which the familiar can appear new. 
  • Place as high a priority on feelings as they do on facts. 

QUESTIONS

  • Research highlights the potential for cognitive fluency to drive revenue. What priority do you place on maximising cognitive fluency?
  • How easy is your promotional material to read and engage with? Short copy is easier to read than long copy. San serif fonts are easier to read than serif fonts.
  • Maximising sales requires the balancing of familiarity and novelty. What is your strategy for resolving this dichotomy? 
  • Research highlights the importance of making the new – familiar and the familiar – new. What is your strategy for achieving this?
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