22 September 2007

Harvard’s Law

Everyday, billions of consumers across the globe buy and consume brands promoted by marketers through well-thought-out advertising and marketing campaigns. Advertisers and marketers claim that their campaigns work, and that their products and brands sell through this effort.

But, when we check on consumer behaviour through research, we find it difficult to correlate consumer preference and purchase for a brand matching brand campaigns and initial research leads. Why is this so? Why do consumers say one thing during research and do something else altogether in real life?

It’s tough to answer these questions logically, except, perhaps, to cite Harvard’s Law, as applied to human beings: “Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, volume, humidity and other variables, a human being will do as it damn well pleases.” So, where does that put marketing?

Marketing tries to determine precisely why consumers buy specific brands. To be able to do that, marketing needs to determine what and how consumers think. And then, influence that thinking to steer consumers into making a purchase in favour of the brand being marketed.

Two questions arise in my mind: One, how accurately can marketing read consumer minds and influence/control consumer thoughts? Two, can it be done at all?

From traditional consumer research using, say, focus group techniques or in-depth one-on-one interviews, marketing can – and does – determine generic consumer attitudes and feelings towards a brand. Then, it extrapolates these findings to project approximate buying behaviours. Based on this, advertising and marketing campaigns are developed.

At the moment, it’s an approximate science. Correlating consumer research to consumer insights to advertising and marketing campaigns in order to achieve desired (pre-determined) consumer behaviour is difficult. Modern tools like neuromarketing can perhaps help, but the efficacy of the campaigns must be questioned.

I believe, for marketers to claim that they know precisely what and how consumers think – and use this information to make consumers respond in a precise manner – is asking too much. All said and done, marketers have Harvard’s Law to contend with.

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