Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: It's a Question of Behaviour

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: It's a Question of Behaviour

Article excerpt

Focusing on what consumers do, not what they say they will do, is key to building effective strategies.

For a man on the verge of victory, Barack Obama, was looking increasingly tense on Monday. With the latest Gallup poll putting him 11% ahead of John McCain, you'd be forgiven for thinking that leading the US through the biggest brand-repositioning job in history was already starting to occupy the thoughts of the junior senator from Illinois.

But the real reason for Obama's nerves was more immediate: he did not trust the research. If he did, the presidency would be in the bag However, two words cast a shadow over the optimistic outlook for Obama's team: Tom Bradley.

In 1982, Bradley was the dynamic African-American politician leading the polls as he stood to become governor of California. He was shown to have a clear lead over George Deukmejian, his white Republican rival, and on election night the exit polls predicted a Bradley victory. Early editions went to press with Bradley on the front page as the next governor.

Then the result was announced. Deukmejian had won narrowly. Later analysis suggested that many of the white voters - who had claimed they would be voting for Bradley when asked by a pollster - had actually opted for his Republican rival once they had entered the privacy of the voting booth. Similarly, a large proportion of self-described 'undecided' voters had also voted for the white candidate when the moment came.

As Obama contemplates an apparently insurmountable lead, the disappointed face of Bradley looks back at him. There are, of course, many differences between the events of 1982 and this week's election. The social stigma of voting for a black man is surely less, and Obama is in a much more commanding position than Bradley found himself in California. Nonetheless the worries remain. The punditry and predictions are based on a simple, but unreliable, assumption: that people know their own minds and will do what they say they will do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While many marketers struggle to understand even the most basic issues of their target segment, the consumer in that segment is often equally unclear about their own preferences. I have umpteen war stories of focus group findings and opinion surveys that sent me and my client in the wrong direction from the consumer behaviour we were trying to predict.

Of course, the focus group industry will tell you that skilled moderation can get at core insights. …

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