How the behavioural revolution can create a bigger, better industry

Now Barack Obama has backed the behavioural revolution, it's time to use it to turn this 'crisis' into an opportunity, says Behave's Thomas Cornwall.

Bring on the revolution, writes Thomas Cornwall
Bring on the revolution, writes Thomas Cornwall
Because whether it’s Sir Martin Sorrell making the case for networked agencies or Warren Johnson making the case for PR, to those outside marketing services, the entire industry has been living in "la la land" for decades. 

Yes, the technological revolution is "disrupting" the industry - as technology always has. 

But it’s the behavioural revolution that’s providing the opportunity for all agencies to create more effective work, more respected work and actually expand the sector.

This is not new. 

After all, the PR industry can chart its origins to Ed Bernays’ use of Sigmund Freud’s insights into human behaviour. 

But it is different. 

We’re not talking about symbolism or pseudo-jargon. We’re talking about breakthroughs based on real people and real science.

Today, in the right hands, this new toolkit is having a quite profound impact - across all areas of business - and, crucially, in a language that those outside marketing can actually understand. 

You see, every brief is and will always be about two things: people and behaviour. That’s true in any discipline - advertising, PR or otherwise. 

The question is how to best solve the problem. 

In a future where Adblock is ubiquitous (as opposed to a world where most advertising is simply ignored) then, yes, the PR answer becomes more effective. 

But when you begin to apply the behavioural lens, the solution may not be anything that any agency of any function currently offers. 

Take Marmite, for instance. The brief may be: how do you persuade people to use the jars they already have, but more often. In the hands of a "traditional" ad agency the answer is advertising. 

A PR specialist may offer other, better, suggestions. 

But why not simply put a sticker on the packaging saying, "keep me fresh in the fridge"? The product goes into the fridge, where it’s seen more often and used more often. And the rate of usage goes up forever.

The beauty is the range of applications. Yes, trivial solutions to big problems. 

But also creative answers to a whole new set of questions. From packaging tweaks, to campaign strategy, to corporate governance issues and beyond - if it involves people, there is opportunity. 

How has the management consultancy industry made such inroads into marketing services?

Well, talented though some may be, what if it’s simply because they speak a language that business – and government – actually understands? After all, the vast majority of FTSE 100 CEOs are accountants, not marketers. 

As well as helping to create better work, the ability to finally explain the rationale behind creative work in terms the board understands makes an agency immensely more persuasive. It also helps the client justify the investment to a sceptical board that cares about the bottom line.

Taken together, the behavioural revolution provides the chance to adapt and create a much bigger industry. But it’ll come down to intelligent, creative people to make this future a reality. 

Thomas Cornwall is the director of Behave 

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