Three massive impacts that Behavioral Economics is having on Marketers and Marketing Researchers

Four years ago today, we landed our very first behavioral research and design project at TriggerPoint. If I’m honest, I’m fairly certain that our client didn’t really know what she was getting into. At that time, behavioral economics/behavioral research wasn’t common and there was almost no mention of System 1 anywhere. But she needed to do things differently and took a chance on a small start-up with no clients… but a ton of passion who promised to help her become the “persuasion engineer” for her company. Thank you, C! We are eternally grateful.

Over the years we’ve seen tremendous growth at TriggerPoint - and more importantly in the field of behavioral research and design. We’ve worked with the world’s largest brands on their toughest behavioral marketing challenges, learned a lot from our successes and even more from our mistakes. And best of all we've made a hell of a lot of friends along the way… including a starfish!     

As I reflect on our journey, I can’t help but see the massive transformation that Behavioral Science has had on the broader Marketing/Marketing Research industry and thought I’d share three things that I’m asking my fellow behavioral research friends to weigh in on after they read this post. Together we can make a BIG difference. 

 1) Behavioral Economics/BeSci Research is very real and it’s not going away.

Behavioral Science is not a fad that will die out in the field of marketing research. In fact, it will only get more prevalent as the mandate to understand and change human behavior grows in corporate America. There’s just too big a need to drive topline revenues and too much investment capital being pushed into the industry to think that we don't need to understand behavioral influence. If you don’t believe me, go to any marketing research conference this year and count the number of companies using “behavior” as a qualifier to their services. Behavioral Data..check! Behavioral Sample…check! Behavioral Conjoint…check! Hell, the AMA just did a Marketing News cover-story titled “Read This Story To Learn How Behavioral Economics Can Improve Marketing.” When the AMA features behavioral economics on their magazine cover, you know it’s finally mainstream!     

Net: It’s an incredible time to be in the consumer insights field! New corporate roles and career paths are opening across the field of consumer insights as the impact of behavioral economics is further popularized in business. The influence of behavioral science on marketing research will only get bigger and as insights professionals, we must get ahead of it and use these sciences to better understand and design for behavioral change.

2) Behavioral Economics provides Marketing Researchers a brand-new career path... if they act now. 

I am a firm believer that no one is more qualified to own the behavioral understanding/design than marketing researchers. We are blessed to get to study human behavior every day. It’s who we are at our essence and what makes our perspective and role unique in corporate America. Who better than us? 

However, we’re about to be outflanked by top-tier management consulting and advertising firms who see a $500 billion-dollar behavioral change industry emerging. Not my figures…theirs. These firms are actively building their behavioral research and design capabilities and will begin pushing these services to our brands in 2019. As more outside investment and focus comes into our industry, where will marketing researchers fit? Will we continue to ONLY MEASURE human emotions and behavior? ONLY PREDICT human behavior? Or will we evolve our roles to ALSO DRIVE human behavior via Behavioral Change Consulting and Design. 

3) Behavioral Economics/Research gives Marketing Researchers the ability to set a the critical “Behavioral Design" agenda for your organization.   

All topline growth comes from behavior change in one form or another and therefore requires a deliberate behavioral design strategy to maintain. So how do you get a behavioral design strategy role at your company? This one seems easy to me. Just create it! You don’t even need to ask because nobody has clear ownership of the behavioral change agenda in Corporate America…yet. In 2017 we created three different “behavioral charters” for marketing research clients after they saw the opportunity to take ownership of behavioral strategy and insights. All three were preemptive strikes due to agencies and consultants pitching to their brands. Five years ago this would be impossible, but not today. We are in a very unique point in business where the role of marketing research, marketing, advertising, management consulting and design is all merging. If you don’t’ believe me, read “Change Ahead by Carola Vershoor.” Her book is a powerful testimony to how these industries are merging to transform business strategy. It features 40+ companies that are redefining the role of marketing research. More importantly, it provides inspirational blueprints for marketing researchers to follow if they too want to become behavioral designers at their company.        

So my advice to my fellow marketing researchers who want to become behavioral change agents is to:

  • Don’t ask for permission. Make the decision to own the role of “Behavioral Research and Design Consultant” or “Persuasion Engineer” before some other group decides they want to own this. No one currently owns this job and there isn't a single reason why it shouldn't be you. You're perfect for the job because you live and breathe behavioral insights every day.   

  • Start with a simple behavioral charter. A behavioral charter is a 2-page document that sets up your behavioral research/consulting vision for your organization with a simple roadmap on how you’ll get there. Don’t overthink this by trying to figure out HOW you will do it just yet. Just put something down on paper and walk it around your organization. See what others inside your research group/broader organization think about your vision and gauge their excitement. Ask them how they would make it better and have them help you make it better. We’ve literally created these charters in an afternoon and have had great success by anchoring this role to the marketing research group just by having these informal conversations.   

  • Develop your toolkit in 2018. If you know nothing about behavioral research and design and are starting to doubt yourself…that’s ok. You’re in good company! The fact of the matter is that very few know anything about this field outside of its importance to business. That’s another reason why we as marketing researchers can own this role! My advice to you is to start building your behavioral change toolkit now by reading behavioral science books/papers, listen to smart podcasts and attend a behavioral research conference this year. There are resources everywhere to get you quickly brought up to speed (see below for my personal favorites.) But the best advice I can give you is to go find a small behavioral research project internally and commission your first research study. This is what I did at PepsiCo in 2009 when I knew absolutely nothing about the field. If you do this, you'll learn a ton about how to internally sell your behavioral consulting vision while also building your toolkit/knowledge in the real world. Lining yourself up with companies who have lived in your shoes and understand the dynamics of being a client is going to be important too. Trust me on this one!

If you take these steps above, I promise that by the end of 2018 you will be in the top 98% of behavioral change agents in the world. Not bad, right?    

 For those of my friends who have already on this behavioral change journey, what industry observations or advice would you add? 

*If you’d like a list of my favorite behavioral science resources (e.g. books to read in order, podcasts, conferences, research firms to consider, etc.) just send me an email to will.leach@triggerpointdesign.com and I’ll send you a quick write-up.