What you say matters


Have you ever considered how your organisation can better position itself, its offering and its brand in a way that really lands with your customers?

Using behavioural science is a great way of helping elevate your organisation’s messaging in a way that truly engages your customers. Because let’s face it – we live in a world filled with words and messages. With straplines and slogans. We are bombarded at every moment with noise. Indeed, this is part of the context in Daniel Kahneman’s latest book (1) which looks at how – now more than ever – we are surrounded and saturated by information, most of which is irrelevant to what we really need to know.

For brands, this presents a challenge. How can you cut through the “noise” of modern society saturated by information and stand out against not only your competitors, but the array of information your customers receive every day? How can you ensure that your messaging and communications get read?

Rather than pulling out the fanciest of marketing tricks and focusing on visuals or shock tactics, it may be worth first delving into the science and psychology of how our brains work to process information and language. In relatively simple ways, you can position your messaging in a manner that will not only capture your customers attention, but that will resonate with them, too.

In this article, we look at the three basic principles organisations can start implementing today to better enhance their messaging.

These can act as an overarching framework when formulating your communications, no matter what type of customer you are targeting or the subject matter.

Principle 1: Appeal to your customer’s emotions first and foremost

A fundamental principle in behavioural science is that we have our System 1 brain (fast, intuitive, emotional) and our System 2 brain (slow, thoughtful, reasoned) (2).

Organisations often target their messaging at the System 2 brain. I.e., focusing on all the logical reasons their product or service is great. It is a mistake to think this will be the most important factor for why customers will buy from you. This will of course have an impact, but it’s unlikely going to be the initial driving factor for why someone would consider choosing you in the first place.

What leads to a customer’s consideration to buy lies in the System 1 brain. That’s to say, the emotional side to your customer.

Case study

When the reusable nappy brand Bambino Mio ran customer research on their product, they found that mothers were more likely to buy the product when it highlighted effects such as happy babies and cleanliness, than when it highlighted the more “rationale” factors of the reusable nappy, such as being made from special biodegradable materials or being better for the environment.

It wasn’t that these benefits were not important. More so that to the frazzled mother looking after her newborn child (even the environmentally conscious kind), the more immediate, visceral and emotional need in determining her purchasing decisions was the comfort and happiness of her baby. As such, the company started emphasising these benefits, ones much more likely to land with the System 1 brain of their target market. They also began to show the product not in isolation but worn on babies who looked happy and cheerful in the product.

The lesson here is to not get overly caught up in the rational benefits of your product – in this case, biodegradable, environmentally friendly etc. Instead, run your research to understand what the deeper /primary drivers may be for your customers, rather than the secondary factors. Here, it was mothers who wanted the best for their babies and who were unlikely to risk trying a different product that may not deliver against their most important desire: a happy and healthy baby (3).

By appealing to the System 1 brain and getting underneath the emotional factors of your target audience, you are more likely to create better messaging that really lands. Ultimately, this will in turn driving greater sales and improved ROI for your marketing campaign.

Principle 2: Reduce cognitive overload through chunking and information architecture

Messaging isn’t only about what you say – it’s about how you say it. This means, when using mediums such as print, social channels or digital (anything that requires written copy) it’s imperative to avoid overloading your customer with too much information. Instead, make it as easy as possible for them to read and digest.

One behavioural science technique to do this is through chunking. That means being selective on your messaging and “chunking” it into different sections to aide your customer when reading. For example, during the pandemic, brands that interacted well with their customers did so in ways which allowed them to read the information in a digestible format, through subheadings, bullets or marked sections.

How your brand presents text information (also known as information architecture in behavioural science) is equally important. Consider an email being sent to all your customers. Many will not open the email, let alone read it. Therefore, what key piece of information do you need to contain in the subject line when it goes out? What is the overall message or call to action you want to get through to customers?

Given that many people today are time poor, it’s key that you consider both a) how you will chunk your information to make it more digestible and b) the hierarchy of importance in your messages so that the more important message will be read by your often rushed, information saturated customer.

Principle 3: Resonate with your customer through framing…

The framing effect is when our decisions are influenced by the way the same type of information is conveyed. Equivalent information can be more or less appealing depending on which features are highlighted (4).

Compare a yogurt that states “95% fat free” to one that states “5% fat”. It’s likely that the former will appeal to the health-conscious customer because the product is highlighting the lack of fat (rather than its presence) and appears more impressive to the health conscious.

Such framing can be a very useful technique used when trying to sell a product or service. You will be familiar in shops with seeing items that are labelled as on sale or have a discount. By framing the product in this light (rather than simply stating the new price on its own), it is more likely to gain the customer’s attention and increase their likelihood to buy. Everyone loves a good deal. The framing of this fact alone can become more important than the price itself.

…including identity framing

Brands should also incorporate identity framing in their messages. If you have data that shows your target customer lives primarily in the suburbs and countryside, then framing messages with a provincial, local angle is likely to resonate far more than using more generic messages that would appeal to both your urban and rural customer.

Understanding the demographics and interests of your customers will be key to framing messages that resonate with your customer’s identity and how they perceive themselves in the world.

It’s worth noting that this identity can span a range of areas. It may mean our personal identity (our core beliefs and values), group identity (our affiliation with groups such as religion or community), social identity (our role in society for examples as parents or leaders), or ethnic identity (attachments to heritage or subculture) to name some examples.

Messages that land will be the ones that are framed in a manner that is aligned to the customer’s identity and how they like to perceive themselves in the world. Having clear customer data points on your customer is therefore essential to determine how you communicate to them.

This data will influence and shape how the same piece of information is framed according to the different segments within your customer bas

Read more about this on our website.