The science and strategy behind starting afresh in 2016

Some people can achieve their new year’s resolutions with willpower alone. But for the rest of us mere mortals, we need a little science and strategy on our sides. With that in mind, here are four scientifically informed, strategically sound resolutions to help your marketing department in 2016.

1) Make a fresh start

The science: Researchers have found that we’re more motivated to make positive life changes at the beginning of a new time period. It’s called the ‘Fresh Start Effect’, as we use temporal ‘landmarks’ to draw a line between our former, flawed selves, and the new-and-improved selves that we’d like to become. 

The strategy: If you promote an aspirational product or service, aim to communicate with your target audience when they’re making a fresh start. Think gym memberships and health foods on Mondays, and higher education courses at the beginning of Spring. And if your brand essence relates to refinement and luxury, consider reaching out in mid-to-late September, as the ten most popular Kiwi birthdays all occur between 19 September and 1 October, and when we get older, we aim to get a little classier.

2) Don’t be a know-it-all

The science: Once we know or understand something, we struggle to put ourselves in the mindset of people who don’t have that same knowledge. This ‘Curse of Knowledge’ can lead to confusing web copy, tortuous sign-up processes, and unclear service offers for B2B clients.

The strategy: To overcome this curse, try to look at your messaging, user experience and service offers with fresh eyes. Better yet, get actual fresh eyes involved. User test where you can, or ask new employees for their views about how to simplify and improve what’s being done.

3) Remember actions speak louder than words

The Science: The decisions we make are heavily influenced by the context in which we make them – but most of the time, we’re not consciously aware of this. So if you’re conducting market research, there’s little value in taking people out of their decision-making context, and asking them consciously considered questions about why they do what they do. You’ll get answers all right, but they’ll be “plausible-sounding post-rationalisations”, as Rory Sutherland, co-founder of #ogilvychange explains.

The strategy: Actions speak louder than words, so to understand people’s choices and behaviour, study what they do in the real world (using randomised trials or A/B tests), not what they say in market research. And if you must rely on talking-based research, aim to make the decision-making context as lifelike as possible. 

4) Finish on a good note

The science: When looking back, we don’t evaluate our experiences by considering how we felt every step of the way. We adhere to a ‘peak-end rule‘, with our memory coloured by how we felt at the most intense (peak) moment, and during the final (end) moments.

The strategy: When it comes to user experience, it goes without saying that you’ll want to address any ‘peak negative’ moments, and perhaps introduce some unexpectedly good moments along the way. But the ‘peak-end rule’ also reminds us that last impressions last – so we should do our best to send people on their way with a smile. 

Have a great Brand New Year everyone! 

  • Renee Jaine is the business director at #OgilvyChange. 

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