Consumer behaviour, how to manipulate through reinforcement and perception


Consumer behaviour has been hot topic within the marketing industry for a long time now. Knowing the drivers and motivators behind behaviour, gives marketers the insights into how to position themselves, and who to target. People influence people, we know that, but how does it affect a purchase decision?


Social Influence

Why do people spend 100s of pounds on clothes when you can find the same thing down the road in Primark for a fiver? Because of the image we want. It’s a show of wealth. It displays an individuals personality, their likes and dislikes and their standing in society. This is why companies market their products in a certain light, they’re trying to put a meaning to their products, and who’s the best at this? It’s arguably Beats by Dr. Dre. They took an average pair of headphones and turned it into a billion pound company.


Their first marketing activity was sending their headphones to LeBron James, a friend of the co-founder Jimmy Iovine. LeBron James loved them so much, he asked for 15 pairs and handed them out to the 2008 USA Olympic basketball team, what a way to launch ey’. The first images of them arriving at the Olympic games, they all disembarked from the coach sporting the headphones.


Not only did this get them in the press, but it transferred the prestige and standing of the athletes, including LeBron, to the products. People who idolised them or the sport were able to get closer to them, make themselves feel like they’re LeBron by owning these headphones. This is influencer marketing at its finest.


Operant Conditioning

What’s better than someone complimenting you? Not much. We all like a little boost from time to time, your colleague telling you they like your shoes or the bus driver saying your shirt is nice, we love it. Factors like this influence how we think. If the bus driver and your colleague said they wouldn’t wear those shoes, you’d maybe question it next time.


Giving and receiving feedback is a necessity for all members of society, people rarely make a decision on their own. Have you spoken to your partner, friend or even the shop assistant you’re buying with? They’ve all affected your opinion of a product, and I can guarantee someone would have commented or given you some body language which lets you know what they think. This either reinforces your previously held values and opinions or it challenges them, and then you have a decision to make.


From the reverse perspective, if you see someone you like the look of wearing or using something, you transfer your positive perception of them onto the product. Conversely, if you saw someone who you don’t rate positively using something, your opinion of that item may negatively suffer from your bias. To learn more about how ‘Influencers’ affect our decision to buy products, click here.



People within society affect each other in many different ways, and marketers need to understand and be able to manipulate this to the greatest effect for their brand. One correct move can win you over an entire industry.

Content marketing 101.


Content marketing is on the rise, every marketer sees the value and wants to hop on the bandwagon. Many start writing without a plan, only to see limited reach and an even smaller amount that actually illicit any action. In this developing space, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve.


Content marketing is often used as the driver behind the core marketing strategy. It works as the awareness piece, that drives attention and traffic to the organisation. Often used as the precursor of an account based marketing strategy, content marketing is the gateway for moving people into your customer journeys, which can be automated.


What do you want readers to do after they’ve finished with the article? Are you looking to sell a certain product? Are you looking to raise the awareness of something? A clear plan of where they start and finish is critical.


Attention-grabbing headline

It doesn’t matter how good the article is, if no-one clicks on it. An attention-grabbing headline is pivotal in getting people in. But don’t lie, or use clickbait. If a reader feels like they’ve been conned into reading the article, their perception of your brand will be tarnished. A title that sums up the theme of the article and projects this in an interesting tone will attract them. For example, if this article was called “Best paint to watch dry” would you still have read it?



This might be a given, but content must be relevant to the readers. Talking about concepts that are alien to them, is a quick way to turn them off and send them to your competitors. Make sure it’s a topic that they are either concerned about, or could be interested in. But their interest must still be aligned with your business, for example, there’s no point in talking about the best baker on The Great British Bake Off if you’re selling insurance, you might get people reading, but if they don’t buy anything what have you gained? Also, ensure there is something for them to take away with them. People read for entertainment, but also like to have something to show for their reading. With this, they are also more likely to talk about what they’ve taken away with someone else, and possibly cite you as the source. Make sure the point you’re trying to convey sticks with them and isn’t lost.


When looking for actionable results from employing a content marketing strategy, your personal agenda needs to be put to one side. Your views and style might not be the preference of your readers, just because you like it, doesn’t mean they will. Simple A/B testing will be able to show you what is resonating with your customers.


Talk to your audience, not at them

If someone is choosing to read your article in their own time, they don’t want to feel like they are being lectured. A sense of conversation engages customers, answering potential questions and adding personality. Talking about situations they can relate to, and putting complex situations into layman’s terms allows a lower level of cognitive processing to be required, making it an easier read.


Persuasion theory

In any consumer-facing material, understanding how it will be processed by the reader is important. Knowing your target market allows you to understand how to target them, with the way you put your message across. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) has received a lot of recognition for it’s application to content marketing. For more information on persuasion theory, click here.



To help you with writing your own content, here’s a 4 part checklist to ensure you are taking the right steps for success.


Checklist Completed?
Attention-grabbing headline
Relevant topic



Standing out in the crowd, and keeping readers is critical. With the substantial amount of content being posted and shared on a daily basis, there is no space for anything that isn’t perfect.

Marketing, is it just the new word for persuasion?


We distribute our content, consumers see it and then they purchase. That’s what everyone thinks, but it’s nowhere near that simple, a certain level of persuasion is required. The way information is processed and accepted or rejected is a much more complex procedure. Knowing your consumers, allows you to select the correct approach to elicit the desired action.


Elaboration likelihood model

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) was developed back in 1980 by Richard Petty and John Cacioppo and suggests individuals take one of two routes to processing a message; the central or peripheral. One is informational and structured, the other is a bit more fun!


The central route focuses on a high level of cognition where the individuals are heavily involved in the decision. For example, when making a high involvement purchase, such as a car, people are going to pay a lot more attention. This path focuses on credibility and quality of argument, so, for example, you’d be much more likely to believe Bill Gates when it comes to Windows advice than dodgy Dave from around the corner.


When taking this route there are a few key factors to consider. The source of the message, the credibility of the message lies heavily upon this. The integrity of the argument, is your message based on reliable statistics and information? If not, you are going to struggle on this route. This route primarily targets individuals with high intelligence.


The peripheral route is the opposite, instead of the credibility of the source, it values the attractiveness. David Beckham became an idol for millions of people as a footballer, and from here when he promoted products after his football career, he was deemed as an attractive individual. His relevance to the product and credibility isn’t relevant, for example what does he know about making aftershave? Not much but by putting his name on it sales go through the roof.


Within the peripheral route, statistical information isn’t as important, here individuals are deemed to have a much shorter attention span and must remain engaged.


The peripheral route of the ELM can be effectively applied to the retail industry. An attractive individual, often in the form of an influencer, is the one who broadcasts the message in a simple form often across social media, to the receptive passive audience. Each of the variables can be manipulated to differing effect, but this provides the framework the industry operates in.


Hypodermic Needle

The Hypodermic Needle theory relates to targeting material to those who possess the power to affect others opinions as well. Commonly used through mass media, by injecting a certain message into the audience the desired response is elicited.


This theory relies on a passive audience where they are open and receptive to the information that they are ingesting. An active audience provides a stumbling block, where they may challenge the message they are ingesting. Due to this, organisations supplying low purchase involvement products, potentially FMCG, would be most appropriate to use this theory.


This theory is often employed as an awareness piece, highlighting a significant change in the brand or to a new product.


Two-step flow theory

The two-step flow theory works by targeting opinion leaders who then have the power to affect those around them. To put this into perspective, this theory uses a targeted approach towards specific personas, who will then share information with other people.


The benefits here are you gain an extensive amount of word-of-mouth marketing, which is highly effective, and potentially brand advocates. Consumers who actively recommend a product and discuss, display a higher level of brand loyalty. However, one key constraint is the increased level of segmentation and profiling that is required. When operating with a smaller target segment size, you need to be more effective to gain the desired results.


This theory is effective in the travel industry. It focuses on targeting one individual who will then spread the message. So for example, Disneyland highlight or the fun that the kids will have, so the kids pass the message on to the parents who then ultimately book the holiday.


Another example comes in the form of valentines day. Lot’s of advertisements will look to promote the thought of treating your other half, so you buy the product then pass the message onto your partner.



After segmentation, a clear path of where they start, what they’re receptive and how to elicit the desired action is what you need to drive your marketing activity forward. Knowing who to talk and how is only half the battle though, you also need to be able to deliver the messages when the customer wants them, meaning you’ll also need good journey automation technology to ensure this personalisation is delivered!

Do you really know who’s buying your products and why?

I would imagine a lot of marketers will say yes at first but might be more circumspect once challenged.

Segmentation has long been the go-to solution for marketers to deal with this problem, targeting specific groups of people with specific offers as they have shown a propensity to purchase in the past. This approach is well understood and well used but is ultimately a compromise for personalisation or mass-customisation driven by insight from customer data analysis.

To explain the importance of getting this right, you need to understand how most marketers work and the constraints they may encounter. Any marketer who finds it difficult to demonstrate how they achieved success or attribute revenue to specific activities will limit their ability to demand budget or resources. Marketing budgets are still often set as a percentage of turnover and do not correlate to the desired business objectives. This is not right.

Marketing deserves a seat at the table and the best way to ensure this is to have ready access to core performance metrics. A marketing operations team is now a vital part of any effective marketing operating model. Analogous to the marking of most exams, the answer is important, but you also have to show your working out! Successful marketers have to be able to identify what caused success and replicate it.

Turning intention into action

So, now that you’ve decided you need and want more insight about your customers, where do you start? Data is the fuel of modern marketing, so you’ll need to capture everything relating to your customer’s profile and engagement with your brand. Every web visit, email interaction or order will have some customer info attached to it that can be aggregated to build a single view of that customer from the perspective of marketing.

There are several tools in the marketing technology landscape that can fulfil this role, but the most appropriate and effective is the Customer Data Platform (CDP). The CDP can aggregate data from several disparate sources and organise it around a self-generated unique customer identifier which means that changes in some of the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and email addresses can still be rolled up to the same individual.

The power of this becomes apparent very quickly as customer identity and behaviour appear with laser focus. Once identification has happened, you can start to analyse and see if the resultant insight allows you to predict future behaviour, and most importantly, purchases.

Turning segmentation into prediction

A customer’s purchase recency, frequency and monetary value have remained persistent as metrics to define worth to a company and as a basis for segmentation. The intersection of these three scales will often be the top tier of your loyalty programme if you have one.

Pigeon-holing your customers into pre-defined buckets or segments will allow you to gain some economies of scale in the creation of campaigns and creative, etc. But it may not lead to increased engagement from the customer or increased lifetime value. Savvy marketers understand that the path to advocacy comes from relevance and context, which is often only possible when delivering 1-2-1 marketing and attempting to predict the next best action for the customer.

Marketing self-actualisation!

This journey from intention to prediction is not trivial, and the marketer is making a conscious decision to not stand for any compromises. It is bold and hard but ultimately worth it. We all aspire to be the very best version of ourselves, so don’t settle for anything less.

As Maslow penned in his 1943 paper on the study of human motivation and the hierarchy of needs, “what a man can be, he must be”. This translates beautifully to the role of the marketer and their relationship with their customers. There is a fragile unwritten charter between marketers and their audience which can easily break if we do not use everything we know about a customer to ensure we send the most relevant and contextual message.

Therefore, our ethical responsibility as marketers is to grow the conversation with each and every customer else we have failed. Are you up to the challenge?

Does social media actually benefit us?


The rise of social media has seen advancements in information sharing, whether this be about an impending doom lurking over the country, or whether Dave enjoyed his lamb bhuna from the local curry house. Each post on social media can have a significant effect on the audience and this translates to purchase intent as well.


Each day, over 3 billion people use social media, and how does it affect them as customers? Customers can talk, see personal reviews from each other and speak to organisations themselves in public. But how can we manipulate this? How can we manage what perceptions are drawn about us? Putting the communication aspect aside, social media platforms offer significant data collection opportunities.



The main reason organisations use social media is due to it being a powerful branding tool. It gives you the chance to put yourself out there, consistently. Tesco Mobile used Twitter in an ingenious fashion where they abolished certain negative perceptions of their brand, as a cheap poor performing product, while going viral and raising their awareness substantially. They used a sense of humour in a reactive way:




An injection of humour, which utilised the two-way flow of communication, helped Tesco Mobile to inject a new perception of the brand. This injection of personality made them more approachable and prompted customer feedback through this channel. Other companies took note, and replicated this strategy with varying success.



This demonstrates the varying potential of the channel, great benefits, or dangerous consequences.



The opening of this channel also provides a significant amount of marketing opportunities. We’ve all been swayed by an influencer in our time, and a targeted ad but why is this successful? The main reason is due to the depth of the information an individual displays; I’m sure you’ve put out a couple of opinions on Facebook right? Also when you sign up, you input a date of birth, gender and can then add further information, such as your school or job title and place of work,  which “helps you connect” with others, whilst also giving companies the potential to use this data, to send you targeted information. From a marketers point of view, this is amazing, we have reliable data inputted by the customers themselves and the platform to target them.



Once the customer segment has been identified and profiled, the marketer needs to decide what campaign is appropriate. Are you going to combine multiple strategies to target customers at different levels of cognition? Or is a more basic strategy more effective?


Influencer marketing is a common strategy which focuses on the endorsement of the product. The influencer transfers their values and beliefs onto the product, in the eyes of the customer. To find out more about influencer marketing click here. Content marketing is another predominant aspect of each customers timeline. The majority of timelines are populated with companies trying to get you to read this or that because it will help you in this way. These strategies focus on getting you to the website, where hopefully they can then push you to purchase, for more information click here.


Social media may be used by billions of people worldwide, but it is nowhere near optimal use; we’ve got a long way to go yet.

Dear {First Name}, here’s how to personalise.


“Dear {firstname}, we’ve found this deal which is perfect for you! {Insert pointless content which the customer couldn’t care less about}. Hurry, it won’t last long! From your friends at {companyname}.”


How many people receive these sort of emails on a daily basis? And how many people are actually converted? This level of attempted personalisation just won’t work in the current competitive environment. Consumers expect you to know what they’ve bought, what they like and what can enhance their previous purchases. Gone are the days where we can send out a blanket promotion, now, more than ever, we need to be smarter.


Single Customer View (SCV)

Being able to accurately assess customer engagement is the first step. The combination of data creates a single customer view, abolishing data siloes. No more need for analysis of each source, drawing incorrect conclusions and focusing on irrelevant metrics. By combining data from your e-commerce systems, web activity and more, it is possible to be able to truly predict the next best action for your customer. For example, on the web a customer may have been checking out travel destinations farther afield, and your e-commerce system says they travel as a family of 4 with their dog, so combining these elements into a targeted approach will drastically increase the possibility of them taking you seriously, and booking.



After establishing the single view of your customers, the next step is to segment them. Segmentation needs to be specific and focus on more than just demographics; age, location, gender etc. Factors such as purchase habits, web activity and reactivity to messages must be assessed, otherwise, there are only limited insights that we can draw.


Segmentation can be as specific as you like but finding the correct audience for your campaign is pivotal. A CDP provides the storage of the data; then certain elements can be drawn to create the criteria, now you have an optimised segment. An optimised segment provides the perfect audience, meaning the information sent is correct and relevant, and promotions aren’t being sent to those who don’t require it, maximising profits and creating a sustainable long-term structure.


Customer Journey

No two consumers are the same; each one takes a different journey. You need to know who you’re targeting; you can then plan the communications you’re going to use to convert them to customers. A key tool that is under-utilised by marketers is customer journey automation. Customer journey automation allows you to map out the entire journey, from the first contact right up to post-purchase and retention programs.


Dynamic Content

Dynamic content is content that changes based on the preferences, behaviour and activity of the customer. The same email can be sent, but the email that reaches each mailbox will be tailored to that individual. It is the sharpest tool in a marketers toolbox. The level of personalisation is taken to another level, showing the consumer exactly what they want, by utilising a single customer view.



MarTech companies are growing twice as fast as consumer-facing organisations. This says it all. The tools that are available and widely adopted by your competitors are on the rise, so why aren’t you maximising your campaigns?

So, was GDPR the big bad devil we were all expecting?

How bad was it?

Sure we’ve had to put some processes and systems in place because of GDPR but was it really that bad? In many ways it was a much-needed kick up the backside, now we are noticing much higher levels of responsible marketing. No more sending out big blast emails that are irrelevant to 50% of the recipients or messaging people who quite frankly, don’t want you to. Now we’re left with those people who chose to remain in our marketing databases, and have actually expressed an interest. These are the only people that really mattered anyway.


Our marketing lists have been cleaned.

The data we hold now gives us a more accurate reflection of our customers, the ones who are truly valuable and more importantly, receptive to the message. If I stopped on the street and started shouting across the road at a stranger, would they respond? No chance. I’d have to shout at a lot of people before I found one who didn’t think I was nuts and was interested in what I had to say. Conversely, if I knew exactly who the people were who were interested I would save myself a lot of time, and ultimately would get more effective results. This is what GDPR has essentially done for us, cut out the shouting and left us with the interested.


Embrace the change.

Some firms are still scrambling to make sure everything is in place, and make sure they’re compliant, some firms are terrified and too scared to press that send button, but some are embracing the change and these, are the ones who are turning a threat into an opportunity. We don’t have to be afraid, as long as our data is organised correctly and managed, perhaps in a CDP, then we’re safe and it’s time to communicate with our valuable customers. Let’s turn this into an opportunity, not a threat.