A question of ethics - how our marketing must allow consumers to shape their own environment and empower choice.

Written by David Somerville - 15 Mar 2018

For us marketers, wouldn’t the world be a much simpler place if we could persuade everyone we wanted to become a new customer at the drop of a hat? Or with a simple click of the fingers all of our prospects take that final step towards conversion and make their first purchase?  Now wouldn't that be wonderful ...

As we all know, the game of marketing is a tricky one to play, especially when we consider the ethical implications as, as marketers, our overall aim is to change consumer behaviour through our persuasive content and campaigns.  And now as part of that, the biggest challenge all of us are facing is to try and understand, and continually improve, the overall customer experience while encouraging our customers to buy more products or use our services as we do so.  

But when does that helpful or encouraging nudge in the right direction become coercion or manipulation? Since the launch of our white paper, Look East - using a behavioural insights framework to improve customer experience, this is a conversation I have had with clients, colleagues and the internet at large over the last couple of weeks. So, I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts in this blog.

‘As judged by themselves’

Its really important to remember that your customer is their own person, with their own judgements, behaviours, interests and habits. In a world of infinite content and ubiquitous technology, they will engage with and consume what they want, at a time that suits them, and often only if it benefits them.   

As discussed by behavioural insights scholar and author Cass Sunstein in this Guardian Science Weekly podcast (well worth a listen if you have the time) to change a person’s behaviour without coercion, you must preserve freedom of choice and respect the person’s own agency and governance over their decisions.

According to Sunstein, people need to be able to make decisions ‘as judged by themselves’. To influence someone is to be respectful of that person’s own judgement – to give them a choice, and empower them to make what they see as the ‘best’ decision for themselves.  Not to impose the marketer’s view of what’s best for them. To repeat, the customer must be able to make a decision ‘as judged by themselves’.  

So the challenge, therefore, comes in understanding the customer’s wider journey and context, and in finding ways to ease their path to conversion, helping them to make decisions they were already on their way to taking.  Making it easy for them to find, interact with, and purchase from your brand – enabling choice and empowering consumer behaviour change. Or as Sunstein states, it’s ‘choice enhancing’.

Our approach to customer experience journey mapping (CXJM), as openly shared in the Look EAST whitepaper, enables exactly that.

A nudge in the right direction

Lots of research was conducted in the 70s and 80s on whether humans were fully rational in their decisions.

As Sunstein states in the podcast and his book, ‘The Ethics of Influence: Government in the Age of Behavioural Science’, we humans deviate from rationality. We’re unrealistically optimistic and not always good at handling risk.

There are two sides to the human brain. System one: fast, intuitive and impulsive. Driven by emotion, and mostly at work in every day life.

System one benefits from, or activates, the ‘automatic’ system. The system in use when you buy a pack of biscuits and eat the whole lot (we’ve all done it!). Or ignore the picture of a cancerous lung on a packet of cigarettes and smoke them anyway. Or fall in love. It sees immediate benefit and goes straight in, heart first. Call it intuition.

System two, on the other hand, is slow, logical, deliberative. Good at calculations, deep thinking and looking ahead to see consequences of impulsive actions. The system that probably wouldn’t have bought the biscuits in the first place, and went for the nuts or fruit instead. Or stuck the Nicorette patch on and chose not to smoke.

A continual battle between these two sides of the brain drives decision-making in consumers, and the choice architecture within the environment around us is what frames those decisions.

As marketers, we are responsible for the choice architecture on our channels. We write persuasive copy, highlight prominent calls to action, use striking images on social to grab attention and entice brand interaction.  But when do subtle choice architecture changes and intervention cross the ethical line into coercion?

This fascinating area of behavioural insights is the subject of our latest whitepaper, Look EAST: Using a behavioural insights framework to improve your customer experience.  The whitepaper was inspired through a recent hugely worthwhile NHS project with the aim to improve mental wellbeing of Londoners. Fresh Egg worked on this project with a number of partners, including Public Health England’s Behavioural Insights Team (PHE BIT).  The whitepaper explores the world of behavioural insights and discusses how a particular framework used for Government policy implementation, EAST, can be translated perfectly into marketing strategy to improve customer experience.  

Key takeaways

There’s one thing that’s prevalent and consistent throughout the area of behavioural insights and marketing – the user (or customer) experience.

Here at Fresh Egg, customer experience journey mapping (CXJM) forms the backbone of our approach. As a business, we have been developing our approach over the last 18 months, and it has delivered some incredible results for our clients while becoming ebedded into everything we do. The outputs of a full CXJM discovery tells us:

  • What type of content do your customers want?
  • When do they want it, and why?
  • What are the reasons they use your product or service, and how does it fit into their lives?
  • And how can you curate your choice architecture on your site to help your customers along their journey?

To allow customers to shape the environment around them and empower choice, you must first understand that environment and the motivations, behaviours and habits behind their actions.  And to change customer behaviour, you must preserve the freedom of choice that enables empowerment to make their own judgements – remember, you are helping your customer along their journey – not changing their path.

Your content and website experience should give greater value to the customer, bringing them more benefit to the decisions they would already like to take – onsite personalisation is a great example of this in action.  It’s about giving them more, enhancing their experience, empowering them to make decisions ‘as judged by themselves.’

Want to know more about how the EAST behavioural insights framework can transform your customer experience?  Download our whitepaper here ‘Look EAST – using a behavioural insights framework to improve your customer experience’