Speaking recently at the British Retail Consortium conference on insight, Kearon said the best marketing model he had heard of is "a fist of brand proposition, wrapped in a velvet glove of emotion," but that doesn't necessarily mean it's right.
He said that when simplified, marketing is predicated on the "left brain vs right brain" model of how people make decisions.
But marketing should instead be based on the decision-making model proposed by behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, who says the brain is made up of "system one" and "system two"; the first being the emotional, instinctive and intuitive part of the brain that makes quick and instant decisions, while the second system is the slower-moving, cognitive, rational and thinking brain.
It's not about brand recall
Kearon said: "Brand recall is not what branding is about, it's recognition. It's system one, whether we can recognise something symbolically, not system two," where brand recall would require a more cognitive process.
"We've thought for years that we've been talking to system two [in marketing], but it's system one that is in charge," he said, explaining that it is the intuitive brain that is mostly used by people while out shopping.
"As soon as we make people think, we're doing it wrong. The lack of thinking is a good think and we should celebrate it."
Environment – context is everything
The environmental element that brands need to pay attention to when addressing consumers refers to the world of context, because "no decision is made out of context."
Using the example of Rolls Royce, Kearon said the luxury car brand had showrooms across the world, "but they sell their cars mainly at boat shows". Why? Because when people have been considering spending millions of pounds on yachts and luxury boats, buying a Rolls Royce for around half a million feels like spending a fraction of the price.
Nudge theory fits into this space, as it uses indirect suggestions to try to influence people’s decision making processes. Kearon said that when a test was carried out in off-licences that played French music quietly in the background for an entire week, sales of French wines went up five-fold. They tried the same experiment with German music the week after, with disappointing results.
Kearon said: "This tells us that everything human beings know, we know by association. It means that Brits associate France with wine much more than we do with Germany,"
The caveat, Kearon said, is that no single method of influence will work forever.
"Unfortunately there are no silver bullets," he said, because people’s contexts are continually changing, and "because context changes everything".
Social – overlooked and misunderstood
"Social," Kearon said, "is the wider marketing, which is least understood and most overlooked." Referencing ‘Herd’ by Mark Earls, which says that humans are far less individual and more likely follow others, than people like to admit. "We’re social animals, and we copy blindly," said Kearon.
He called Amazon the "past masters of social" with its suggestions for follow-up items to buy, under the header of "People who liked this, also liked this".
Another part of the social element is employing mirror neurons in the brain, which can be used to encourage copycat behaviour.
Kearon said: "We were challenged by Drink Aware to get the Scottish to drink less alcohol."
Instead, Kearon’s team decided to get people in Scotland to drink more water. The method that worked best was "just to have a poster of someone drinking water behind the bar," which increased the amount of water drunk by people "massively".
Personal – it’s 5* advertising
The best predictor of actual purchase intention, Kearon said, "is not [the concept of] purchase intention," adding that market research firm TNS "published a paper last year acknowledging there is zero correlation between purchase intention, and what people do."
"A much better prediction is how people feel – how we feel drives our behaviour," he said.
The way to make "five-star advertising" is stop trying to engage people’s system twos with devices like voiceovers.
Kearon said: "Whether it’s P&G ‘Thank you mums’ or Three mobile’s dancing pony, or Cadbury’s gorilla, it defies the notion of what makes a great ad.
"A great ad is [traditionally] a fist of proposition wrapped in a velvet glove of emotion. But that is not the most commercially powerful advertising. The IPA surprised themselves when they did a metro analysis and found that the fist of the proposition was in the middle – the ads that actually had the biggest commercial impact were pure emotion."
Messaging people, Kearon said, and trying to engage system two, is simply "doing it wrong".