Recently at a conference, someone jokingly said to me, "Our jobs would be so easy if it weren't for the customers." Sure, I've heard this before (and I bet you have too), but it really struck a chord with me this time. Why? To put it bluntly, with the rise of behavioral economics this way of thinking could mean the end of many companies in the coming years.

Many businesses (and conferences) are focusing their efforts in two areas these days: effectively using big data and telling a better brand story. Those elements are very important to a strategy, but they aren't enough for a business to be successful. The critical component missing from that equation is the mind of the customer. 

Brainy Decision Making

When you consider decision making as a random experience -- where each choice is completely unique -- it's no surprise we got to a place where the whim of the customer's choice feels like a hurdle to be overcome. Fortunately now (thanks to behavioral economics) we know better, so it is time to feature customer mindset and behavior prominently in your strategy.

Why? You can have the best purpose, vision and brand, but if it isn't aligned with the way your customer's mind works it won't truly drive behavior. And all that data you are trying desperately to unlock will not accurately predict behavior if you don't understand and incorporate the mind of your customer in your plans.

It Goes Beyond Demographics and Psychographics

In the 2019 book Marketing to Mindstates: The Practical Guide to Applying Behavior Design to Research and Marketing,  author Will Leach showcases the importance of considering the context of a customer's state of mind.

Recently, during an interview for my podcast, Leach outlined the scenario of two men in their 40s. Both men are looking to get healthier. When asked why, both men independently answer it is to walk their daughter down the aisle. Walking the daughter down the aisle is the goal, and their motivation for losing weight is nurturance. 

Many marketing teams would stop there and think they have hit the jackpot in understanding their consumer. You can create ads that talk about getting healthy to walk your daughter down the aisle, right? 

Not quite. 

Mindstate Matters

According to Leach, the mindstate profile goes one step deeper than that, and it is a critical step most businesses miss. In Leach's framework, there are nine motivations (one of them is nurturance) which when approached from either an optimistic or cautious mindstate, create 18 total mindstate profiles. 

For our two fathers, both looking to lose weight to walk their daughters down the aisle, with the same motivation of nurturance, one is a profile of Optimistic Nurturance and the other is Cautious Nurturance. The difference is a slight, but very important, shift in the messaging approach.

  • Optimistic Nurturance is about maximizing gains to help him eat healthier. This person thinks in terms of going to the gym more often and wanting to eat healthier to achieve his goal. Brands who message about the potential gains will win in gaining his attention and business. 
  • Cautious Nurturance is about prevention. These are strategies to eliminate the risk of eating unhealthy. They want to avoid eating carbs or fast food and are interested in any business who messages them about keeping themselves away from these negative things they are trying to avoid. 

It may seem like a small difference, but it is huge in the mindset of the customer and encouraging them to take action. Businesses who know what they are about and who they are targeting down to the mindstate level (incorporating behavioral science) will win more customers who are better suited for them and therefore happier with the results they get. 

Questions to Ask For Your Business

  1. What is the goal your target customer is trying to achieve by working with you?
  2. What is their primary motivation for reaching that goal?
  3. Are they approaching it from a optimistic (maximize gains) or cautious (minimize losses) lens?

When you know the answers to those questions, the messaging becomes the easy part. If you can incorporate this level of behavioral understanding into your message, your ideal customers will find you, refer business, and give you all the data and case studies you need to make those other initiatives thrive as well.