A human-centric approach

October 26, 2022
Annie Little
Strategy Director

The world today is radically different from the world of two years ago (or even two months ago). A non-stop barrage of external life forces – health, social, environmental, political and now economical (cost of living crisis) – is affecting day-to-day decisions in unavoidable ways.

As a result, consumers are becoming increasingly inconsistent in their decision making. These paradoxical behaviours are making it harder for brands to provide relevance to their customers.

“At a time when the world feels out of control, consumer behaviour can seem contradictory: People are prioritising themselves … but want to effect change for others. They want to follow their values … but not at the expense of value. They’re taking matters into their own hands … but also want companies to hold their hand.” Accenture

These kinds of inconsistencies might not be new, but they’re becoming increasingly normal. In fact, 69% of consumers globally think that paradoxical behaviours are both human and acceptable.

However, amid the pressures and chaos of everyday life, what people ultimately want is simplicity. Delivering on this has become more complicated, since consumers are now comfortable being multidimensional.

What’s more, people are yearning for brands to demonstrate a commitment to their needs over and above transactional purchases. Despite this need, many businesses continue to see them in just one way: as walking wallets.

As the cost of living crisis adds heightened pressure to an already volatile situation, now is truly the time for brands to foster an innate and up-to-date understanding of consumer attitudes, behaviours and mindsets.

How can this be achieved? Well, let’s take a look.

Today, most brands still utilise pre-pandemic data to direct their campaigns and an outdated framework to map the consumer journey. This linear journey walks through several stages and typically includes key milestones or decision points along that path.

The problem is, today’s world is anything but linear. 

Think about how just one device – your smartphone – opens up potentially infinite journeys. In a single day, most of us pivot between apps, web browsers, social media profiles, email providers, work software, video content, written content and so much more. Now combine that with all of the real-world touchpoints we experience on a daily basis (conversations with friends, billboards we see on the way to work, radio ads on the drive home) and you have an almost impossible web of interactions to track. Clearly this can’t be confined to a static, linear journey.

But here is where it gets even more interesting. It’s not just about mapping the actions we take, the ads we see or the places we go, it’s also about understanding the driving forces that shape our decisions in the first place.

Oversimplifying segmentation and underestimating the impact of life forces on behaviour has led to a growing disconnect between what brands think their consumers want and what consumers say they actually want.

In short, the old playbook for relevance is now obsolete.

When developing advertisements, businesses once looked to a product centric approach focused on performance. Then they shifted to a customer-centric strategy, meant to prioritise experience. But now, the dynamics are even more complicated.

In this new reality, we move away from a linear “relevant, find, buy” style model into a more fluid and seamless path to purchase. This can consist of any number of stages or phases, from which we apply behavioural science principles to combat cognitive biases at play.

Source: Google

It still adheres to fundamentals of marketing but has been adapted for a new age by bringing consumer behaviour, psychology, innovation and data together in ways that recognise individual customer needs.

With various pressures and life forces pulling us in different directions, people are really seeking simplicity. Not just in the products they buy – but in how brands treat them as human beings and to acknowledge that their needs extend beyond pure consumerism.

Consumers are drawn to anything that cuts through the noise and makes their decision-making – and their lives – easier.  This is how the power of behavioural science is justified.
Through behavioural science, we seek to understand human action beyond behaviour and identify the societal, economic, psychological reasons that are influencing consumer decision making.

This is an incredibly important point to note. It shifts the focus away from the end action (ie. a user abandoned their cart at checkout) and instead seeks to understand why that customer abandoned their cart. What was it that led to that decision? If it happened once, can it happen again? How can we close the loop to make sure we better understand our customers’ decisions – whether at checkout or initial discovery?

To answer these questions, brands need to move from customer centricity to human centricity. Simply put, this means adopting a “life centric” approach to marketing. One that takes into consideration the real time behaviours and mindsets of the consumer, their shifting modes and the unpredictable life forces that come into play along the way.

This must push against a sedentary or unitary approach of using outdated customer segmentation based data to inform marketing communications. The brands that engage with consumers as individuals are the ones that are positioned to thrive – and the ones that can understand the psychology of those consumers… well, they will be the real winners.

If we take this “life centric” behavioural science lens and apply it to consumer journey planning, we can move away from a linear model and better adapt to the demands of consumers in real-time.

As we head into the winter months and enter the depths of a recession, a new model must be used to understand the psychology of consumers and truly decipher their fears, concerns, expectations, wants and needs. Not to manipulate or take advantage – but to understand how brands can deliver on what these individuals truly want.

As humans we can be ‘predictably irrational’. This is why marketers cannot afford to ignore behavioural science – it is the tool for unpacking these decisions and can shed light on why people buy or don’t buy your brand.

So, why can behavioural science help brands hack the consumer journey at a time of crisis?

Every business question has become a behavioural question – behavioural thinking has been rocketed up the decision tree

As businesses are forced to place more emphasis on resilience there will be far more questioning into psychology (i.e. less about how we can run efficient flights/more about how we can get people onto planes)

There is a tendency in business to downplay psychological explanations for things 

As opposed to marketing, where one of the goals is to create new desires, behavioural science attempts to comprehend what motivates people to make their best choices, and then try to correct existing biases in order to unlock this potential.

For brands concerned about driving growth at a time of crisis, finding simple ways to define consumers and predict their behaviours is the single most impactful way to drive preference over and above the competition.

Initials CX have designed a new methodology, termed the Consumer Journey Hacker that uses behavioural science to deeply understand the different forces shaping customers’ decisions and deliver the most relevant message and media solutions for those contexts.

As millions of households reassess priorities in the coming months, consumers will cut back on spending and brands will be forced to justify their reason for existing. You don’t want to be the one caught without an answer.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you want to find a clear and compelling solution, then Initials CX can help you uncover the biases in your path to purchase, understand the triggers that drive consumer behaviour and drive relevance at a time of crisis.

Here are a few practical examples that demonstrate how this methodology can be applied to brands of all sizes across a variety of sectors.

Example 1. Applying the Van Restroff effect

For our first example, let’s look at Compare The Market. This is a brand that didn’t have the reputation or budget of other price comparison sites, yet they cleverly applied the Van Restroff effect to their advertising. By subverting the formulaic rules of the category, Compare The Market was able to increase spontaneous awareness and conversion.

Whilst GoCompare, Moneysupermarket and Confused all focused on championing the quantity of insurers they compared and how much money they could say the average consumer, Compare The Market broke ranks. The brand created the anthropomorphic meerkat, Aleksandr Orlov. From this, the site jumped from a ranking of fourth to first in just 12 weeks of the campaign launch.


Example 2. Challenger banks and behavioural science

Today’s banks use behavioural science to create experiences that engage, educate and support customers needs. As disruptive digitally native challenger brands put pressure on established market leaders, these traditional players are trying to sustain loyalty by creating an ‘authority bias’. This involves the usage of phrases such as ‘award winning service’ to their marketing communications to inspire trust.

The ‘power of free’ is also a frequently applied principle, with many online brokers offering “fee-free advice” or promoting the fact that their service was “free and easy” to influence consumer behaviour.


A seemingly endless array of external life forces are having an outsized impact on everyday consumer decision making. These paradoxical behaviours make it harder and harder for brands to stay relevant to consumers.

The truth is now unequivocal: a linear path to purchase is no longer fit for our era. We must move away from outdated thinking and instead adopt a “life centric” approach to marketing. This means considering the real-time behaviours and mindsets of consumers and how external factors influence decision-making.

By combining the best elements of behavioural science to hack the consumer journey and predict behaviours ahead of time,  brands can drive relevance and preference even during a time of crisis.

If you want to find out more about how Initials CX can help you hack the consumer journey, then get in touch with us at aha@initials.co.uk and schedule a complimentary Consumer Journey Hacker workshop.