by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Founder and chief growth officer at marketing and strategy consultancy, SugaSpice, Kirsten “Kirsty” Dugmore (@kirstydugmore) unpacks the concept for evidence-based marketing for us, adding behavioural economics and neuromarketing to the mix.

SugaSpice logoQ5: What exactly is evidence-based marketing?
Kirsty Dugmore: The marketing world is awash with myths and misconceptions that have little relation to our actual buying behaviour. Over the last decade, there have been significant advances in the field of marketing theory and practice. This is largely due to:

  • The application of advanced research techniques grounded in scientific methodology
  • The application of “science-based” disciplines such as behavioural economics (BE) and neuroscience to the field of marketing

These advances in scientific research techniques, coupled with a much-deeper understanding of cognitive psychology (BE) and brain function (neuroscience), have converged to provide us with the knowledge to do much better marketing — enter evidence-based marketing. [This] allows us to use science to increase marketing effectiveness and continues to gain traction around the world and in South Africa. In a nutshell, we’re talking about the importance of using the latest fact-based marketing thinking to do a better job.

As an example, APG has published a book titled “Eat your greens: Fact-based thinking to improve your brand’s health”. This book is a collaboration with Wiemer Snijders (@wiemersnijders) and is a collection of articles written by 35 experts in marketing and communication.

I believe evidence-based marketing will continue to grow within our industry and, before long, will be considered normal marketing practice.

Q5: You talk about “marketing myths”. What are the top two you’d like to bust?
KD: First, that brand loyalty / love is the path to brand growth. For many years, it has been believed that the holy grail of marketing is to create a brand that consumers are 100% loyal to. Above that, marketing’s aim is to make consumers fall in LOVE with your brand. The truth is we have lives, families, jobs and are time-starved. We hardly have the time to sit and deliberate and think about brands deeply. It’s just not how most people think about brands in the real world. In general, consumers are happy to switch between a repertoire of brands that they believe are good enough examples of the category.

You may have a favourite toothpaste that you buy seven times out of 10, but you may buy a competing brand for the other 30%. As consumers, we are polygamously loyal. Instead of trying to get consumers to think of you all the time (a difficult and expensive exercise), rather make sure your brand is easy to think of when it matters, ie when they come into the market for your category, eg, I am thirsty — Coke. This concept is called mental availability.

Secondly, the idea that we (consumers, aka humans) make fully reasoned, rational and objective decisions. The traditional marketing belief is that consumers spend a lot of time, energy and thought making brand decisions. However, when we make a decision:

  • We do it based on reason, analysis, and intellect
  • We deliberate over purchasing decisions
  • We as consumers make brand choices based on a logical, persuasive marketing argument
  • We think very deeply about brands when we buy them

The traditional models show linear steps that consumers take for each and every brand choice. This is not the reality; consumers use “system instinct and intuition” (also known as System 1) to make brand/shopping decisions. In reality, we don’t spend much time evaluating our brand choices; we try get through the aisle as swiftly and effortlessly as possible (remember, we have better things to do with our time). This means that brands play an incredibly important role in decision making — familiar brands, or brands with high mental availability, make it easier for a consumer to buy.

Q5: How may brands apply principles from behavioural economics without making consumers feel weird or exploited?
KD: I don’t think it’s about exploiting or making consumers feel weird. BE gives us, as marketers, a much better understanding about how people make decisions. Once we understand “consumer behaviour”/“decision making”, we are equipped to create better communication and media strategies. Ultimately, marketing is about influencing consumer decisions. BE gives us the latest, proven insights on human decision-making:

  1. BE is based on the premise that we use instinct, intuition and emotion to make decisions — known as System 1
  2. System 1 makes decisions based on a variety of perceptive factors from System 1 tools or shortcuts — these are called heuristics
  3. Heuristics is the mental ability that allows people to decide and think quickly without being weighed down by overwhelming information
  4. We as humans are built for efficiency (to stay alive and make sure we can move through life as effectively as possible) — our heuristics serve us well; however, sometimes they can make mistakes

These heuristics or biases are predictable and often irrational. Marketers have been using BE tactics for many years. Behavioural economics gives us insight into why and how these tactics work.

The famous IBM ad “Nobody gets fired for buying IBM”, published over 20 years ago, taps into the BE “loss-aversions” bias or heuristic. The loss-aversion bias refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. Everything we do involves an assessment of what we have to lose (it’s a survival tactic). You see this tactic all over advertising — only five tickets left/two days only.

By understanding System 1 and why and how heuristics/biases work, as marketers we can work with a consumer’s brain, not against it. Companies now have the ability to use BE tools in a systematic way. We will be equipped to develop “brain-friendly” communication and marketing strategies.

Q5: How does cognitive neuroscience tie into all of this?
KD: Marketers are fascinated with cognitive neuroscience, and understandably so. New brain-imaging techniques seem to promise access to deeper insights into how people think about brands and what motivates their purchases. But more valuable to marketers than any brain-imaging tools are the advances neuroscience has provided in our understanding of how the brain works. In light of this new knowledge, they may choose to reconsider and refine their approaches to advertising and brand building.

Neuromarketing is certainly a buzzword and one of the fastest-growing industries in the world of marketing. Hundreds of books, conferences and neuromarketing companies are popping up all around the world and in SA.

Q5: Can you give us a few examples of brands that are already using evidence-based marketing?
KD: I don’t want to name specific brands; however, many of the big global brands, if not all, are applying certain elements of evidence-based marketing. One of the major contributors of evidence-based marketing is the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Some of its global clients (corporate sponsors) include: P&G, Nestle, Mars, Uber, MediaCom, Facebook, SA’s very own SPARK Media [note: Dugmore used to work at SPARK Media], and many more. One thing that is for sure: brands applying evidence-based marketing will have a competitive advantage against those who do not.

  • Find out more about Dugmore on LinkedIn.

Note: This interview has been edited for length.


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diversive fields.

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