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Easier to track but harder to trap: The challenge of influencing modern day customers

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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.

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