Guilty until proven innocent

To customers you are guilty until proven innocent

There was a judge in the US who, at the start of every trial, would step out from behind the bench, approach the defendant and shake their hand. “I have just shaken the hand of an innocent person,” he would proclaim.  Why did he bother?

The justice system is predicated on “innocent until being proven guilty”. The challenge is those on the jury are prone to judge the defendant before the facts are even introduced, and seek confirmatory evidence for their view. A case of “guilty until proven innocent”.

By proclaiming the defendant innocent, the judge was using his authority to correct the decision-making frame for jurors. Start from a point of innocence, not defence.

What this means for you

In business, your customers are like jurors who come to the task of purchase with expectations. You are like the defendant. They will be predisposed to not buy your story (product, service).

The upshot is you can often be at cross-purposes with your customer.

You think they will make a decision based on grounds you believe are important (e.g. how much time you’ve put into your product or service, your credibility, why you are amazing) when they are using their frame of reference (e.g. how price compares to other options, the opportunity cost of their time and money if they spend it with you, their deep-seated motivations for wanting to buy).

Tips for you:

  • It is important not to talk too much about yourself, particularly early on (e.g. your value proposition, using “we do this, we do that” statements). Instead you need to prove you understand their objective and fit how your solution fits.
  • Re-frame the decision context if you need to move the customer away from their frame of reference to yours.  Red Bull, for example, did not frame itself as an aspirational drink and compete in that hyper-competitive soft-drink space. Instead they re-framed the category (a functional drink) so they could charge substantially more.
  • You don’t have a judge to proclaim you innocent, so instead use testimonials and credibility cues to signify why you are worthy of trust.
  • When people are used to something being free (like online news) it is very difficult to charge for it. You need to significantly shift the benefits they receive in order to substantiate a charge and distance it from the free service.
  • As the popular meme attests, when the CFO says, “what if we train people and they leave?”, the CEO can reframe as “what if we don’t and they stay?” In other words, flipping the context can be helpful to have your customer rethink their position.

Influencing modern day consumers

Snapchat, AI, Millennials, blockchain. Everything feels like it’s changing, faster than ever and all the time. But is that true and what does that mean for how we engage customers today?  What role does behavioural economics play in the modern age of marketing?  That’s what I’ve been pondering recently from the stage at Australia’s largest marketing conference. Here’s how I see it.

Marketing is caught in a whack-a-mole cycle

Business owners and marketers seem caught in a ‘whack-a-mole’ cycle where as soon as we nail one technology, segment, social media platform or hashtag, another pops up. We are getting exhausted and frustrated because nothing feels stable or consolidated.

Just when we think we know where to place a campaign or how to design a website, things change. Our motion may be perpetual, reactive, and relentless, but it’s not effective.

Customers operate at two speeds but marketing is stuck on one

We’re not dealing simply with customers these days; we’re dealing with two-speed customers. Like a two-speed economy where one sector is changing at a different pace to another, customers seem both to be changing faster than ever (latest trends and whims), while not changing much at all (habits, rituals, behavioural biases). “Instagram”, for example, isn’t new – it was being used in 1862.

The problem is marketers are focussing almost exclusively on what’s changing superficially, while ignoring what’s not changing fundamentally.

Behavioural economics and the modern customer

Easier to track, harder to trap

Customers have never been easier to track but harder to trap. What do I mean?  The painful irony in the adoption of technology by customers has meant we can track what they do like never before. The price, however, is that our customers are flooded with devices, channels and programs, reducing their attention span, encouraging greater impulsivity and lowering barriers to entry and exit. We may know where they are, but how to effectively engage?

What’s the answer?

The only answer to the current state of marketing, as I see it, is to understand the underpinnings of behaviour; delving below the surface of what’s changing to see what hasn’t. By understanding the stable aspects of behaviour, we become impervious to the latest trend. We can anticipate how customers will respond, build better products, create more effective campaigns and design better digital interfaces.

So what are the stable aspects of behaviour? Apathy, overwhelm and anxiety. Your customers won’t do business with you if they:

  • Can’t be bothered
  • Are confused
  • Are scared of committing

These are the three reasons customers resist what you are suggesting. Nail those and you can relax when the latest hashtag, social media or technology rolls out. Ultimately, to stay on top of changes in customer behaviour, first understand what lies beneath.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.