Why being audience-first is still number one

November 16, 2016Content marketing

By Carrie Lewis – Senior Strategic Content Planner


When looking back at the last time we made a purchase decision, which probably wasn’t that long ago, it’s unlikely we’d think of it as a particularly negative experience. When making a decision, we would have viewed the products in front of us, either on a screen or in the aisle, weighed out the product benefits with the costs and, with relative ease, made a decision there and then. When confronted with a more complex decision we would have spent more time considering and evaluating, and used the black hole of information (the ‘www’) to aid our choice based on the same calculation. All very simple and rational. Well done us.

But how simple is making these decisions really? With the bombardment of messaging targeting us each day to the vast number of brands inflating every category we can think of, making purchasing decisions has never been more difficult. The fact that consumers have never been more cynical, critical and distrusting of brands also highlights a disconnect somewhere.

Understanding this disconnect comes from understanding how we make decisions – the way we have evolved, and an area known as Behavioural Economics (BE). No matter how rational we think we are in making decisions, we are subject to a number of cognitive biases, emotions and social influences that help shape everything we do. Because a lot of our decision-making is an unconscious process, we’re quite unaware of how complex a decision can be.

According to Daniel Kahneman, the poster boy of BE, we have two cognitive systems to help us make any decision we are confronted with, which, when going back to caveman times, would have been the difference between life and death. That is, when do we run and when do we stay put and fight? In the Duel System Theory, System 1 is an automatic system, which is experience based, intuitive, unconscious and is easy for us to access, but is subject to a number of shortcuts or heuristics. System 2 is the one we all like to believe we use when making a decision. It’s controlled, deliberate and reflective, however not always accessible – especially under a time constraint, for example. Given the huge amount of messages, choices and decisions we need to make each day, it’s easy to understand the role of the first system, the one where rational decisions are challenged by our experiences, likes and dislikes without our awareness. It’s where simple changes in the way information is framed can drastically change the way we behave.

With this in mind, by understanding the way we make decisions and approaching communications from a content marketing framework, we’ll be able to create stories that consider each cognitive system – and importantly, System 1 – as well as the needs of our audience. By just shouting into the ether about product and price like a lot of traditional advertising, we’re not really allowing our audience to register that the product automatically relates to consumers’ intrinsic beliefs and values – other than that of the price itself, of course.

However, by getting to know an audience, understanding their current habits, beliefs and values around the product, category and the brand’s higher purpose, we’re in a much better position to create content that’s intrinsically linked to them. Although this sounds simple enough and is something many of us are aware of (i.e. being audience-first), impacting beliefs, values and therefore habits takes a long time to develop. Brands more than ever need to be able to tell a consistent, authentic story that stands the test of time and will be something people continue to genuinely care about – and isn’t just embedded in what’s trending at this moment. This obviously takes a lot of patience and courage of conviction, however creating brand purpose pays off. Not only does it increase brand affinity and the strongest connection that can develop between brand and consumer, brand purpose has also been reported to lead to exceptional financial success.

So, moving away from the more rational information about product and price and understanding consumer needs and the way we make decisions, and then creating content around this solution, gives brands a reason to stand out in a cluttered market. This allows brands to create purpose and stories that consumers can gravitate towards when using rational System 2, but also when they make an instant emotional decision based on System 1. Bearing this in mind and by implementing this strategy, hopefully in time consumers will become more trusting of brands – and brands more understanding of their audiences – allowing brands to hold a higher position in consumers’ lives.


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