Dive into the new(ish) science behind marketing with behavior economics and how it affects your every day decisions
If you’re like many people, you may think marketing is one part guesswork, one part black magic, with a sprinkle of luck and a dash of common sense – but think again.
The next time you walk into your local grocery store, take note of where the produce is. It’s likely not in the back of the store, otherwise you probably wouldn’t bother with it. In fact, most grocery stores have apples and avocados tempting you the moment you step through the sliding glass doors. Have you ever thought about why this is? You’re more likely to want something when you see it. Out of sight, out of mind.
Here’s another example. Say it’s an election year and the person at your door is encouraging you to vote and asking key questions: When do you plan to vote? Where you are voting? How do you plan to get there? The person asking you these questions has a strategy. As a result, your chances of voting increased.
These examples are the types of ways different marketing strategies can affect human behavior. It is a growing field that researchers call “behavioral economics.” Once the bastard child of an unholy union between psychology and economics, it has now been embraced by mainstream economics and gained popularity in recent years.
You’re probably also wondering why any of this matters at all. Well, behavioral economics is essentially the science behind marketing. (Cue the confetti.)
To better explain behavioral economics, we should probably start with regular economics.
As my college professors drummed into me, economics is the study of how scarce resources are allocated. There are a limited amount of products and services in the world, and people have a finite amount of money to acquire those products and services – so, who gets what? Basically, economics is how we prioritize what’s important to us on a budget. Pretty straightforward, right? We good? Great.
So, in economics, everyone idolizes a mythical creature called Homo Economicus. He’s essentially this hypothetical person who is well-informed, acts in his own self-interest and makes rational decisions. Academics love to build their models and theories around Homo Economicus, because this person is supposedly you and me. Therein lies the problem. When we try to apply many economic models and theories to real life situations, it doesn’t work. Human beings are the worst and we actually make some questionable decisions (see presidential election of 2016). We’re irrational and we can’t help it; it’s just a part of being human.
Think back to the produce in the store that I mentioned earlier. If we’re rational and predictable, then where food is located in the store shouldn’t matter. But we’re WEIRD, so things like where the tomatoes are located suddenly have meaning.
Enter behavioral economics. This discipline seeks to shed light on why we make the choices we do. This is outside of traditional economics, where theoretical humans are freakishly rational. However, although this field of study is new, people have been using the principles of behavioral economics for much longer than you think. And the understanding of your behavior directly relates to how you are marketed to.
Today, class, we’ll now touch on a concept that we encounter all the time: FRAMING.
We’re bombarded with products and services every single day, and our brains are hardwired to react based on how these items are presented to us. For example, would you be more interested in purchasing 75% lean beef or 25% fat beef? They are objectively the same thing, but studies prove you’re more likely to have a favorable response to the former, positive attribute framing.
For instance, if you were a doctor, you wouldn’t lead with a failure rate for a procedure (because that would be horrible) – you would lead with your success rate. And if you were a dentist, you wouldn’t advertise awful looking teeth of people who didn’t go to you – you would advertise the beautiful teeth of people who did. Educational health pamphlets don’t read along the lines of ‘get tested for high blood pressure because you could drop dead today;’ it’s generally along the lines of ‘get checked for high blood pressure, so you can receive treatment and manage your condition successfully.’
So, when describing a service or product, always go for the positive framing. In the end, success lies in your delivery of your product, service or idea. This is the power of behavioral economics – and essentially, marketing. Understanding how you are being communicated to – and how you communicate to your own audience – can help you reach huge goals in business and in life.
Keep a critical eye out the next time you’re at the grocery store, glancing at a billboard, or watching an ad. If you sell products, are the products cheap, or are they affordable? Think about how the messages you share and consume can be positively or negatively framed without objectively changing the item or service they’re describing.
Then, think about the message you are putting out to the world. Your framing matters!