Meet StoryScience: Using behavioural economics for better marketing

Elliott Haworth
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“There’s two different mindsets that someone will be in online,” (Source: Getty)

"Explain this to me as if I was your friend’s mum” I tell Kohlben Vodden, founder of Story Science – a triple threat of sorts – traversing data and analytics, strategy, and creative to bring the dark art of behavioural science into the world of content marketing.

“We started about three years ago now, at the end of 2013 after I left Ogilvy,” he says. “We started with the vision of taking what was a trend at that time – data-driven marketing – and looking beyond that to what would come next.”

Following a career as a strategist, Vodden witnessed the data revolution first hand, but grew bemused and frustrated with the lack of integration with behavioural science to actually make use of the deluge of information he was presented with.

“So all of a sudden, when data was the new shiny toy in the room, that made everything that we did a lot more quantifiable and measurable, and now, when you start bringing science into it as well, you can take that sort of measurability to the next level.”

One problem he saw with the proliferation, and subsequent ubiquity, of data for marketers is the wholesale availability of homogenous datasets.

“I stand by that sentiment,” he says. “That everyone is using the same stuff, they’re buying their data from the same sources, they’re using the same tools. No one’s actually worried about the human element, and sort of saying ‘okay, so all these numbers, they’re about people at the end of the day: what’s the human side of that? What’s the behavioural insight behind that?’”

Vodden says that there’s no point in having all that data if you can’t make sense of it in a way that interprets the people behind the numbers as human beings. “Yes, shockingly!” He jokes, “most seem to just see numbers. What we find a lot of agencies do, from a big data perspective, it’s: ‘here’s what we’ve found out, here’s a whole bunch of numbers, and this is how it performs’ – but there’s no ‘why’. So this behavioural science bit is the ‘why’”.

Kohlben Vodden (Source: Story Science)

Science of sharing

Last year Story Science took the ambitious action of creating a white paper analysing, through the lens of behavioural economics and science, the motivations behind consumer’s interactions with digital content. I ask him why. “We talked to lots of different brands – outside of our client base as well – and the recurring theme over the last year was not viral content – thank god, people have given up on that – but how to make content more organically shareable.

“People have started to realise that all these algorithm hacks, tips and tricks from experts – they only got them so far, and were very often short lived. It’s like they were constantly chasing their tails. So we thought, why don’t we apply science to this? We searched high and low, through all the academic research, and I’m not going to lie, it got pretty boring at times. But yeah, we pulled out what was relevant, pulled out what we thought were the nuggets that could impact real change, and compiled The Science of Shareable Content.”

The paper is an interesting read, regardless of your profession, broken into three parts: Emotional, Cognitive and Motivational factors, with an outcome considering the often diametric worlds of science and creative. There’s far too much to cover in a short feature, but as a glimpse, we discuss the evolving human psyche, as we become further augmented with the internet.

Active vs Passive

“There’s two different mindsets that someone will be in online,” says Vodden: “one is passive, the other is an active mindset. So active means you’re goal oriented, so you’re looking for something online, typically on a search engine or something like that.

“The other is the passive, which as the name suggests, you’re probably at work, browsing Facebook or something. And you might just be looking through your news feed – you’ve got no goal – you’re basically entertained or amused for any period of time.”

He says that for brands, understanding the distinct mindsets can help with sustaining engagement. “When you’re in the active, you’re in the prefrontal cortex of your brain – you’re engaged – so you’re a lot more logical and rational in what you’re doing, you weigh up your options quite carefully. But in the other stage you’re very impulsive and very susceptible to all these emotional triggers, and all these behavioural economics principles. But for brands, fortunately most of us are in the passive state when we’re online, unless we’re specifically Googling a new pair of shoes or whatever.”

In that state, consumers are more susceptible? I ask.

“More receptive to influence” is a better term, he laughs.

“The other thing with that is there are things you can do to stop them drifting from that state of mind as well – you want them to stay in the passive because they’ll be more receptive to brand messages.”

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