Alex Clack, Ogilvy: Playing the long game

The industry must invest more in understanding the behavioural triggers of consumers.

Alex Clack, Ogilvy: Playing the long game
Alex Clack, Ogilvy: Playing the long game

We are rightly seeing a return to sustainable business models that build stakeholder value over the long term. Tomorrow's successful businesses will be those that resist the kind of hand-to-mouth, quarter-to-quarter profit-making that caused the recession we're all trying to climb out of.

Companies are increasingly recognising that the long game includes 'soft' factors like trust, reputation and engagement (rather than a single-minded focus on the balance sheet). So, as comms advisers, we are perfectly placed to support this new awakening.

But we need to change too - our horizons should also expand. We must move from a campaign-led mentality to one that focuses on building long-lasting relationships and behaviour change. Agency people should think beyond the year's contract with the client and consider what a fiveor ten-year programme would look like.

We may be in the business of influencing change, but today the behavioural ask is greater and more complex. Consumers have never had such high expectations of brands - and have never been so ready or able to accept or reject a firm and its products.

Insights based on prior experiences or a few 'focus groups' are no longer strong enough foundations for effective comms programmes. If we are also to play the long game, it is right we invest more in properly understanding the true behavioural triggers and drivers of a brand's consumers.

The new language of public relations should be rooted in rigorous human understanding. There have been numerous studies in the world of neuroscience that look at how different marketing messages affect areas of the brain and therefore influence purchase decisions. MRI scans show that, when it comes to purchase decisions, the area triggered by emotional messaging trumps the area triggered by rational messaging. This explains why fact-based green campaigns have been ineffective, but Persil's 'Cleaner Planet Plan', which focused on children's environmental views, has been so well received by consumers.

Behavioural economics is also growing in popularity and has huge relevance to the industry. In essence, it is the study of how social, cognitive and emotional factors influence economic decisions - and in this context, buying behaviour. Understanding behavioural economics can inform comms programmes for any brand, product or service, but is particularly effective for non-transactional purchases.

Take, for example, an ingenious solution to a problem found by behavioural economist Richard Thaler: how to get 20- to 30-year-olds to start contributing to a pension. He recognised this group was reluctant to see short-term income loss, but could more easily commit to future expenditure. He therefore devised the 'Save More Tomorrow' pension product that only takes contributions from future pay rises. The net effect saw an increase of 200 per cent in pension contributions from this age group over five years.

Similarly, the familiarity of individual channels can have significant influence on consumer behaviour.

Indeed, channel loyalty is often found to supersede brand loyalty. If a consumer is unable to order a home delivery from Morrisons, despite it being their preferred brand, they will readily choose an alternative.

So, I'm encouraging my team to introduce the kind of scientific discipline that will help underpin a new credibility for our industry. Perhaps agencies, when looking for new talent, will consider candidates with psychology degrees. We have a great opportunity to bring a long-term, intellectual perspective to the boardroom table.


Which consumer trends (social, economic or political) are having the greatest influence on your current campaigns?

Two social trends are colliding - Facebook and 'immediacy', i.e. the need to bring consumers' experiences or information in real time. Right now. Every client with a Facebook page needs a Facebook live event strategy.

To which three consumer brands are you most personally loyal?

Heinz Baked Beans - Beanz Meanz Heinz to me and always will. Nivea Sun cream - the smell takes me back to childhood holidays. Apple - predictable, but the products look great and the logical approach to using them amazes me.

Alex Clack is associate director at Ogilvy PR

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