There’s a photograph Energi strategy director and co-owner Lew Bentley likes to show staff and sometimes clients during meetings. It depicts a scene of a carefully constructed road crossing that requires pedestrians to zigzag through the gate, forcing them to look both left and right before walking over the tracks. To the right of this marvel of urban design, you see a track worn down by the feet of the countless folks who bypassed the crossing gate entirely and probably didn’t even see it. It is an intuitive path.
The point Bentley makes is that in spite of the best-laid plans of strategists and designers, people tend to follow the path their instincts take them along in a given moment.
Make no mistake, rational thought isn’t always the driving force behind these decisions. The ominous chug of an approaching train should always lend itself to exercising safety before crossing the tracks, and yet, when offered a precaution, most pedestrians are willing to take a gamble to save a few seconds.
In this context, marketers and brands are forced to design experiences that meet the complex demands of consumers who don’t always make rational decisions.
The most common solution applied by marketers is to introduce technology that makes the consumer’s path to accessing what they want a little easier. The success of this approach is perhaps most evident in the music industry, which has been utterly revolutionised by the emergence of streaming and downloading tracks.
Bentley says that around 2000 he presented a graph to executives at a major record label, showing that around 85 percent of consumers would adopt streaming and stop buying CDs if they had the option, but only a tiny proportion had actually done this at that time with services like Limewire and Napster.
The rest is, of course, history, with companies such as Spotify and YouTube now providing listeners unlimited access to all the music they want.
As a shopper marketing initiative, and in response to continuous media claims that grocery stores would be similarly disrupted by online shopping, Bentley ran a similar survey, asking consumers whether they were willing to ditch grocery stores in favour of online shopping.
The responses diverged completely from those shared during the music survey. Rather than happily walking down the digital path, respondents instead claimed to enjoy the grocery store experience.
They were particularly fond of the fresh produce section of the supermarket—a finding that didn’t surprise Bentley at all.
Because of advances in neuroscience, he says we now know that people are often driven on a sensory level. Visual, auditory and olfactory triggers influence our behaviour at an instinctive level.
“We’re pre-programmed as people to respond to food imagery. We see fresh food and our primitive brain says that you should stock up now, because it might not be there tomorrow. It’s not a rational thing, it’s a primitive response instilled into our brains,” Bentley explains.
Viewed alongside each other, these two studies illustrate emphatically that tech isn’t going magically serve as a panacea for all marketing challenges. It is more about the nature of behaviour and how technology can complement or enhance it.
The strategic heart
Working out the needs or desires of the consumer (and by proxy those of the client) doesn’t start in a random brainstorming session or in creative war room. It starts by observing the customer and finding ways in which an experience can be improved. Every strategic decision should move outward from the consumer.
Energi co-owner Louise Henderson says that a major reason for the investment in their strategic planning methodology DemandScopeTM, is to garner a better insight, not only into what consumers are doing, but why they are doing those things.
She says that the information gleaned from DemandScopeTM, delivers insights about what consumers do and also the context that provides the clues to influencing behaviour.
These findings then become the foundation upon which the strategy for the client is built.
“We don’t assume what the answer is going be, but rather consider what we could do and how technology could play a role in presenting new opportunities,” Henderson explains.
This, she says, is only possible because the agency doesn’t have to feed a giant in-house production facility with a constant stream of work. Instead, with their lean independent agency, she and Bentley have the freedom to deliver solutions that resolve client problems.
Of course, the pair are under no delusion of being able to do everything by themselves. Complementing their in-house team, they have a great network of partners, working across disciplines, that they can call on for any project, no matter how big or small. Sometimes this might involve building an immersive in-store shopping experience. But, other times, it could just as easily involve introducing an initiative that allows the grass on a well- worn path to grow back. To Bentley and Henderson, the solution always comes down to the behaviour of the customer.