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Alex Batchelor – Behavioural sciences and marketing

Author: Luleka Mtongana
Source: GIBS News

Brand and market research guru Alex Batchelor told a recent forum at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) that much of what we think we know about marketing, purchase intent and customer decision-making is "utter hogwash and doesn't reflect in any way how people really make decisions in life."

Batchelor said in order to help people to make better decisions, marketers need to understand the process they follow to make judgments.

Behavioural sciences and brand decision-making

"We are capable of Aristotelian reason and thought, but we just don't do it very often, and we very rarely do it on the decisions that you would think would matter most to us," Batchelor said.

Instead, most decisions are quick, intuitive and emotional, relying on System 1, Batchelor explained, referencing Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman's work details two modes of thought: System 1, which is fast, instinctive and emotional, and System 2, which is slower, more considered and logical.

All humans copy and are influenced by others, and behaviour is very much context-dependent. The majority of decisions are based on framing, copying and emotions, Batchelor said.  

Profitable brand creation and growth can harness these traits by focusing efforts on three elements:

  • Fame - making your brand known
  • Feeling - if people feel good about a brand, they believe they have made a good choice
  • Fluency – The familiarity of a brand improves its positive attributes in customers' minds.

Successful brand building entails creating a brand that is the instinctive, visible option for consumers: "Make it the easy and obvious choice, which is better than trying to explain to people. Work with the grain of human behavior. Simple is better."

Batchelor argued that this model works as well for political brands as it does for product brands. He cited the example of the Brexit campaign, in which those arguing to leave the European Union managed to successfully persuade voters of their cause through the use of the distinctive slogan "Take back control"; distinctive issues such as immigration and sovereignty; and distinctive people.

"For those who wanted to remain in the Union to have a chance at success, they needed to find similarly distinctive equivalents and deploy them ruthlessly and continuously, and they failed," he said. Many of the arguments in favour of leaving the EU "were complete and utter lies, but were very powerful and very successful," Batchelor said. "The truth is, those who wanted to remain needed similar assets, but never fought back, because we never thought we'd lose. And then we lost."

21st Century brand building

Batchelor laid out the difference between established brand building, as opposed to 21st century brand building, which he said is driven by the behavioural sciences. "They are different. And you need to do things differently if you want to get the advantages and benefits of what you've been learning all along."

Behavioural sciences simply confirm some of the heuristics, or problem solving by experimental methods, and rules we have always known, but have rather attempted to understand from a rational viewpoint. "But that's not how people make their decisions and their choices," he said.

Batchelor's suggestion to brand marketers is to experiment in understanding how decisions are made. Understanding could not be achieved by only following traditional means of asking people what they want and what they're going to do: "Get better at observing and get better at obliquely understanding behavior, because we're all really good at lying about what we really do," he said.

Consumers have changed and are much smarter, and while the marketing profession are good at learning quickly, there is the risk of going too quickly towards the new. Building an effective, successful brand means taking a complex issue and making it simple enough to understand, and memorable through storytelling: "People are tired of listening to experts. Good storytelling allows for brand building and allows us to remember more facts. We are programmed to understand and remember stories. Get good storytellers and make it simple," Batchelor concluded. 

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