19 June 2020

Is now the time for chief behaviour officers?

Nick Ford-Young

The great David Ogilvy once said “The problem with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

It is becoming apparent however that the mismatch between claimed intention and real-world action has implications for more than just the market research industry. It seems to us that what David is really highlighting is the need for brand marketeers to face up to some very complex and confusing human psychology if we want to get to the heart of people’s problems, needs and issues – and have a chance of solving them.

It becomes further relevant if we, as brand marketeers, consider this problem to be an increasingly present disconnect not just within consumers, but between the feelings, thoughts, words and actions of our own brands.

At a time when the wider social discourse is dominated by difficult, complex topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, everyday sexism, social exclusion and trans rights; what brands actually do around these issues will have far more resonance (good and bad) than what they say about them (if they say anything at all).

One action in support of an excluded or targeted group or one unselfconscious post on a brand Instagram account of a black square, a rainbow flag or a comment about the pandemic can have far deeper ramifications and implications than any flashy advertising campaign. 

And so, at a time when the study of consumer action – more trendily referred to as ‘behavioural science’ – has never been more under the microscope, I’m sure to David Ogilvy’s delight; it is surely also of crucial importance to put brand behaviour under equally open-minded, yet comprehensive scrutiny.

Both internally and externally, behaviour is an utterly critical element of brand strategy to get right.

It has never been more important to focus on the definition and guardianship of a brand’s values, morals, beliefs and actions.

The ongoing education of the people responsible for bringing a brand to market, as well as each cog in the machine set to drive it forward tomorrow, is vital. 

Enter, the chief behaviour officer – a role that may have far more wide-spreading value than we first assume.

Traditional didactic advertising is dying around us. Campaigns continue to become more fluid, reactive and interactive. Activist consumers are challenging brand claims in social media and calling out brands that fail to live up to the moral standards they claim to believe in.

People block adverts, question media, share immediate opinion, even audit supply chains. Calls for transparency will increasingly grow and what brands do in the world is now becoming more important than what they say about themselves. Empathy, authenticity and meaningful communication is more important than ever.

If BLM, Covid-19 and the other issues of 2020 have taught brand marketers anything it is surely that credible, positive behaviours, born of authentic, company-wide culture are the new front line.

Bold and committed brands must take the lead. And appointment of a Chief Behaviour Officer would be one action that would certainly send a powerful message.

This article first appeared on Little Black Book.