How much control do you have over your choice of products? Edward Gardiner of Warwick Business School tells us why research into our behaviour can help empower consumers in their decision making.
Almost 60 years ago the journalist Vance Packard ‘exposed’ the psychological techniques used by advertisers in his book, The Hidden Persuaders.
Motivational research was apparently being used to identify needs so strong that people were compelled to buy the products that fulfilled them. Manipulation was the name of the game.
The book was more fiction than fact, but fast forward to present day and we’ve been through a golden age of behavioural research. We know more about what influences people’s choices than ever before. More importantly we know that the majority of human behaviour is not influenced by choice at all, occurring intuitively, effortlessly and with little conscious awareness.
So should we be worried?
Will advances in behavioural science lead to an arms race between consumers and marketers? Will greater awareness about our own decisions and the methods used by companies give more power to the people, or will we continue to drift through life at the mercy of what we’re compelled to buy?
Behavioural insights may be a double-edged sword but advances elsewhere tip the balance. Design, technology and social media are making it easier for people to make and share ideas, put pressure on companies and create movements for change. The feedback loop is only the length of a tweet and visible for all to see. The power truly lies with the people.
But the future is not ‘we’ the people and ‘they’ the organisations. The future is ensuring that policies, products and services are developed together from a starting point of what we all actually want, need and desire. Companies that place people and society back at the heart of business will gain the trust of their customers and ultimately meet both social and commercial goals.
Improving your lives through research
This is why we at the University of Warwick and Design Council are excited to be partnering with Which? in a joint programme of research and development called ‘Design for Real Consumers’.
Our aim is to improve people’s lives through original research and the design of practical solutions across consumer markets and public services. Examples include:
- Enabling better choices in social care.
- Putting consumers in control of their credit.
- Making it easier for those who can afford to, start saving and save better.
Behavioural science will be crucial to understanding many of the key challenges in people’s lives, but these insights must be combined with novel, creative ideas that are genuinely desirable and commercially viable.
We’re looking forward to working together and with partners to develop new ways of guiding and supporting people in making better decisions.
What do you think about behavioural insights being used to empower us in our decision making? Can it be a force for good? How do you think this kind of research can by applied to products, service and policy making?