"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." So goes the famous quote, and marketers worldwide nod knowingly. But what if missing half your audience was not just, "Oh well, better luck next time" but rather a matter of life or death? This is exactly the situation the military faces when trying to communicate with or research the psychologies of specific groups. Get it wrong and the implications can be deadly.
One London-based brand strategy consultancy has taken complex military techniques, and applied them in a new approach to marketing, with, it claims, outstanding results. Verbalisation was founded by former British military reservist and special forces vet Sven Hughes, who realized the methodology used in a conflict setting, in which very quick diagnoses of a target’s psychology are arrived at using limited information, could also be used in a marketing context.
CEO Alex Van Gestel explains the focus is entirely on the verbal, rather than the visual, and the company’s process provides a deep psychological profile of an audience, which can then be used to drive creative executions. While this could broadly be said of any large customer insight study, the main difference here is the depth of the analysis and shift of emphasis from visual to verbal.
Van Gestel has served as global communications director at Bacardi, and as president and CEO of agency Cheil in the U.S. "I come from a background where the visual is king and increasingly, the world is becoming very cluttered," says Van Gestel. "Even the verbal space, with the amount of messages you get every day, is becoming saturated."
The key outcome of of Verbalisation’s process is an understanding of what kind of language will be most engaging for a brand’s target audience.
So how does it all work? Using data gathered specifically for the purpose, data a brand may already hold, or a combination of the two, the company applies 24 parameters to "decode" the information. These parameters sit in four areas: environment (how the context for communication is provided, this could be social, cultural or legislative), flow (how the audience receives and passes on messages), cognition (the underlying psychological traits that drive the audience’s language use and behavior), and lexicon (the words an audience uses and what it means by them).
There are six parameters within each of the four areas, and Van Gestel says studies use questions designed to cross-reference with each other, to validate findings within each area. The claim is that this takes the depth of insight to a whole new level.
If all this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. The process called RAID (Rapid Audience Insight Diagnostic) was originally carried out manually, but is now automated, and data is cross-tabulated at high-speed, and analyzed by psychologists, academic researchers, and target audience specialists.
The whole point to receive direction for effective messaging—what to say, where to say it, why to say it, and to whom. It’s at this point creativity steps in. The strategy is to create a kind of troika of words to underpin a brand’s positioning and drive all communications, both internal and external. Van Gestel points to President Obama’s 2008 campaign as an example (though not one the company had a hand in). "We arrive at the ‘essence’ and in Obama’s case this was ‘Change,’" he says. "This is joined with a key lead-in line (‘Yes, we can’) and a ‘power word,’ which is usually a benefit to the consumer (Hope)."
"From there, we create a whole lexicon of language, which acts as a consistent verbal identity for a brand," says Van Gestel. "From that we then create sound bites, stories, and metaphors, which get embedded throughout an organization and act as a verbal DNA."
This consistency throughout a company is critical, Van Gestel says, because the call center script is every bit as important, if not more so, than a TV commercial script.
The company had an early success with the process when it was used to identify the psychological drivers of potential jihadists, creating a well-regarded counter-extremism video, "Not Another Brother," for lobby group and think tank, the Quilliam Foundation.
Since then it has worked with several titles in the News Corp publishing empire, including The Times and The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal and British tabloid, The Sun. Van Gestel says its work with the Financial Times, helped it reach a 106% rise in subscriptions in just three months.
Van Gestel believes the application of this level of neuroscience as a foundation to creativity is new to the marketing sector. "The persuasion industry has not really embraced the advances in brain science," he says. "They haven’t got the process and they haven’t got the tools to then apply insight in terms of repositioning brands, or in terms of informing new types of marketing activities or other behavior change, both internal and external."
The application of highly scientific techniques, along with deploying neuroscientists and psychologists alongside more traditional marketing personnel, is intended to take the "I think" out of targeting and creative direction, and replace it with "I know."