Could you tell us about your role and journey into Technology?
I have been in the Digital Enterprise and Marketing world for over a decade now so technology has always been intertwined with my roles. My fascination and curiosity towards psychological drivers behind online interactions and what lies beneath surface-level consumer-brand engagement date back to my undergraduate years. Following a few years in the field of strategy in the agency world, my interest and involvement in data and consumer research grew. I soon realized that it had become the favorite part of my day job, so I decided to embark on a journey to properly study the science behind it all and qualify as a Consumer Psychologist.
I work with brands as a Consultant Consumer Psychologist but I’m still an integrated Marketing Strategist too, and today’s technology makes my job more exciting than ever. In fact, it would be fair to say that the advances in Marketing Technology brought Consumer Psychology to new heights, and will continue to do so. There aren’t many of us yet, but there will be so many more Consumer Psychologists in the future. Our discipline does and should lay the foundations of any campaign or product development because consumers interact with brands through diverse technologies in their lives. Understanding the context-level dynamics is more important than ever and I relish the opportunity to blend my Digital Marketing strategy experience and Consumer Psychology expertise. In my eyes, they are symbiotic, complementary disciplines and I can’t think of one without the other.
What is the role of an experienced Consumer Psychologist in modern-day Digital Marketing?
Marketing Technology, brand or campaign executions, and means of consumer interactions associated to these are evolving at breakneck speed. Be it digital or traditional, all Marketing has the objective and challenge to stay on top of where and how they can capture consumer attention to deliver on their targets. In modern-day Digital Marketing, marketers are having to both keep up-to-date with the latest measurement tools available and also try harder to empathize with the consumer, think as they do, search as they do, engage as they do – or set standards for new ways of brand engagement. Working with a Consumer Psychologist equips them with an invaluable asset because it is a very versatile discipline. From behavioral economics to social psychology and decision sciences, it offers multiple academic perspectives. Therefore it takes marketers out of the metric-driven vacuum of Digital Marketing.
A Consumer Psychologist’s only and primary agenda is to see and show any context through the eyes of the consumer and drill down to their psyche so that marketers can have an objective and dedicated voice of the consumer in their strategy. We don’t deduce that consumers need, feel or like something solely based on the hard data, we also validate our assumptions with human dynamics at the foundation of the hypotheses. The future of Effective Marketing is not only in adopting new technology but also in understanding Consumer Psychology in the digital world. By doing so, Digital Marketing will supersede a transactional framework, and focus on building sustainable relationships with consumers. The brands that do this always stand the test of time (and of course, the tech evolution!). Connecting on a core, human level is agnostic of any device, tool, or product; and Consumer Psychologists aid brands on this path.
Which brands and businesses are you currently studying for your Behavioral analysis?
In recent years, adopting new technology in Marketing campaigns hasn’t been as big a challenge as sustaining engagement on the new technology. Each year, we see more brands expanding their offering onto new technology, however building-up on the initial buzz has been what everyone is learning ‘on the job’ to tackle -it’s new to everyone, marketers included! I’m especially interested in applications of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Cross-Reality (XR) concepts, and in the brands that integrate these technologies into their essence in order to improve how they are perceived and consumed. To make the far near, to make the mystery familiar, to make the unimaginable possible – these are all achievable now and it’s fascinating to observe brands’ efforts to make their mark in this field. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no different. With Voice technology, in particular, we have truly stepped into experiencing what used to be science fiction two decades ago.
Brands that enable their consumers to do a search, shopping or consume content through Voice-controlled smart assistants, for example, are laser-focused on re-imagining ease and relevance which are imperative to sustained, deep engagement. Recently, I worked on a project on the Psychology of Search with Yext and it confirms that brands have to strive to be one step ahead of the consumer thought process: not just for personalization of content, but also in satiating the consumers’ appetite to experience the world through the latest technology available. The most accessible way for consumers to explore new technology is through brands’ innovative executions, and consumers love things that ‘add’ to their identities, knowledge and life experiences. Any brand that succeeds in thinking outside-the-box in meeting consumers at this sweet-spot automatically enters my radar.
What kind of tools and techniques do you currently work with?
I’m a big advocate of pairing Consumer Psychology with first-party data, as well as with disciplines that study the societal concepts such as semiotics, cultural insights and speculative design methods in the realm of innovation for a broader, more holistic analysis with long-term projections. Upon assessment of a brand or project unknown or ‘problem’, I always begin with the available intel and data sources so that I can familiarize with the particular consumer cohort and absorb the key traits. Customer segmentation, Marketing personas, social media data, web analytics, for starters, give me the bird’s eye view of the consumer landscape to be able to utilize Consumer Psychology theories in a more informed manner. I then identify gaps and opportunities in the consumer vs brand realm and build hypotheses to explore the ‘problem’.
Depending on the nature and depth of the unknown, I decide on the additional research methods to offer a holistic roadmap to overcome the problem. These can be quantitative or qualitative methods – or both. While quantitative methods are universally straightforward and highly descriptive when we seek correlations to look at what is happening, where, and how, we also get a sneak peek into the ‘why’ behind consumer actions. However, qualitative methods offer a myriad of approaches that help us take a deep dive into the contextual understanding of consumer perceptions and actions.
Some ‘unknowns’ would need a structured method, from surveys to lab research such as EEG (electroencephalogram), fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), etc., whereas some cases won’t need a controlled environment. In fact, the more exploratory a dun/semi-structured the research approach is, the better. Especially when there is an early-stage brief for (re)branding or product development. These opportunities also allow me to branch out into lateral disciplines or methods I mentioned to enrich the analyses and interpretation.
Which trends have been the biggest influencers in this change?
Despite its firm roots in Conventional and Experimental Psychology, Consumer Psychology is a supplementary discipline to Marketing in the academic sense. Broadly, the definition of what it studies hasn’t changed, but the evolving Marketing techniques with emerging technology widened its horizons as an Applied Science. In academic research, more and more theories on consumer interactions and expectations are surfacing as scholars shed light on the new norms in the morphing landscape of digital communication.
Technology empowers consumers, it always has. Until the internet, consumers never had the means to be in control of the information they were exposed to, or choose which ones to engage with. In our mobile-first, social media-saturated era, there is dialogue, reciprocity, and continuity in interactions. Perhaps unwittingly, marketers and tech companies are responsible for the ever-growing, sophisticated consumer expectations they face today. Artificial Intelligence, on-demand media, mobile commerce, personalization, AR – most marketers are on the quest to nail these, but the more they trial with these, the more they prime the consumer to ask for bigger, better, faster experiences. And it’s brilliant because it keeps us and marketers on our toes!
What hasn’t really changed, of course, is the fundamental concepts of Human Psychology. Our actions and decisions are steered by our perceptions, values, judgments, and emotions, and they are all influenced by our personal experiences and associated biases, which are inundated with Marketing messages amongst other passive exposure to brands. Five years ago, Consumer Psychology in Digital Marketing was probably more on the behavioral economics end of the spectrum, where our behavior predictors relied on digital channel and/or device limitations; while now, these alone falls short in defining an effective Marketing strategy – it’s the omnipotent consumer experience that marketers are striving to catch up on, and we do our best to support them.
In the modern context of virtual Brand-Consumer interactions, how easy or hard is it for behavioral marketers to fully understand shopping behaviors?
The purchase journey concept has become a non-linear and complex notion, in which the independent variables that affect the direction of the decisions are unpredictable (and even irrational when we apply predictions from conventional research methods). It is becoming harder for us to apply yesterday’s learnings to today’s analyses because there are too many moving parts and diverse representations of the same consumer, on different devices and channels, with subjective agendas. Machine Learning is our savior in this context, to an extent. It orchestrates and categories the data, and minimizes the margin of error in a way, for us to see the bigger picture, ask why, and indulge in the qualitative context a bit more. It does and will continue to help us identify patterns in Marketing triggers, response loops, and ultimate consumer decisions. It is the future of collecting and rationalizing shopping behavior data regardless of where it takes place – online or offline.
The only red herring, that I alluded to earlier also, is that Machine Learning will give us a massive pool of information and patterns, but the scenarios it shows will be in their hundreds and thousands. So in order to strategize for a seamless shopping experience with smart content/product cues, we still need to talk to the consumers and delve into the values, motivations and psychological drivers. To give you a simple example: let’s say Consumer A and B buys exactly the same luxury product following the same online purchase journey. Without Consumer Psychology and further research, we may not find out that Consumer A bought it because of peer recommendation (word-of-mouth), and Consumer B bought it because of peer pressure (image and reputation management, social identity). This intel is a human dimension that AI can’t predict or interpret (yet). Nuances only come to light if we do the hard work on stretching our efforts to broaden our perspective.
What kind of trust does a consumer seek when dealing with online brands? Do you have a reference to what the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers do with customers?
It is now accepted by marketers that consumers value ease of use, dialogue, on-point, and relevant content or product recommendations when it comes to brand expectations. Incentives and value for money, of course, make a massive difference, too. When provided repeatedly and consistently, these warrant brand preference and loyalty. Trust and loyalty naturally go hand-in-hand, and with these comes the expectation for brands to do right by the consumer, and maintain the standard. While these are the hygiene factors, in the last few years we started to see the element of transparency to secure digital consumer trust, because digital brands have no offline manifestation beyond how they deal with the consumers’ online transaction – apart from above-the-line (ATL) advertising of course. So they are judged by how they deal with consumers’ digital demand and engagement.
People are getting more and more clued up about how their personal and interaction data can be used by brands, so in data collection and consent gathering, it’s crucial for brands to be super transparent, clear and easy to understand in their communications about why they collect what they collect -most importantly, how this will benefit the consumer first, and brand second. Transparency straddles openness, data privacy and safeguarding consumer interest. Most research shows that consumers generally don’t mind parting with their data or usage of their data as long as they are offered desirable products, good deals, and services personalized for them. The consumer expectation to see confirmation that their custom is valued, their needs are seen/heard for their needs and brands put them/consumers first instead of Sales is a growing trend.
Hard-sell can be very unforgiving in Digital Marketing, consumers take note and can search for other options online instantly. Brand reputation is a massive deal-maker in trust for digital-only brands like Amazon, and recently we’re seeing that Amazon’s Advertising strategy is more about getting closer with consumers, opening their warehouses for customers to visit, and focusing on the ‘human connection’ (family concept in ATL campaigns), in a clear attempt to avoid resting easy on the fact that Amazon is the norm for searching for bargains online, instead, to show a human, relatable and trustworthy side to the brand.
What are the unique opportunities for AI-selling Marketing teams in further influencing consumer behavior without invading into privacy?
There is a tendency to think of Artificial Intelligence as the vessel to personal data misuse. Perhaps this is because it’s still a relatively unconquered territory by marketers and consumers alike. Mass application and interpretation of AI has been limited to social media in the consumers’ eyes, but I don’t see why AI should invade privacy as a tech solution as long as the data that powers AI is legitimately collected, and [over]communicated in messaging to the consumers. Marketers shouldn’t be fearful of consumers revoking consent because consumers are actually open to sharing their data, but they have high expectations for the value exchange in return and they want detail without the confusion.
Marketing teams who are selling AI-powered products or features should highlight the fact that the technology actually relieves the cognitive overload on the consumers when they engage with digital properties, and has the potential to distill consumers’ digital experiences to a maximum utility and zero-noise state. If their Marketing focuses on communicating this truth, and product development is consistently proactive and not reactive to emerging consumer expectations, it would open new horizons to consumer relationships. We shouldn’t forget that AI is not just about personalization, it’s the very means that will catalyze product development with minimal disruption. Consumers’ core needs to be heard, listened to and understood for their individual qualities will be made possible, and technology will become the real and natural extensions to our senses.
What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Digitized Branding and Advertising for 2019-2024?
I mentioned AI and AR/VR/XR already, we will see all of these come out of the trial phases to offer accessible, mass service executions – especially in Health, Financial Services and Automotive sectors. The great thing is that none of these technologies are mutually exclusive and can complement each other, or boost older technologies. So far, most haven’t realized their full potential but the next five years will reveal that they can, and will, mimic and blend into the natural human behavior. Most importantly, we will see that they will increasingly be utilized for human benefit, common good and “mindful” Marketing – and as a result push content applications to higher standards of personalized relevance.
AI especially will fine-tune marketers’ understanding of semantic relationships on the ‘trigger to action’ continuum and will make it possible to serve millions of different customized iterations of the same digital service to a million different consumers. Another major thing on my radar is sonic branding and the climb of auditory marketing. It’s funny that radio entered our lives over 120 years ago and consumers/audiences were all about auditory engagement with the non-immediate world around them. Sonic era has come back now, and this time it’s not because there aren’t any other options – quite the opposite! We’re experiencing sensory overload online, and now we’re going back to basics, witnessing the re-imagination of audio.
For example, Mastercard launched its sonic branding last year – we will see more sonic executions in the expanding ecosystem of audio content, podcasts, music streaming, programmatic audio advertising, and self-publishing. Our attention spans shrink and our sense of sight, in particular, is overwhelmed with digital content. However, audio is almost immune at the moment, because it can be consumed alongside other activities. The concept of brand identity will cross visual boundaries and brands will rethink what they stand for in an auditory context.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Psychologist?
I’m very excited about Artificial Intelligence and its incarnations in diverse sectors, both as a Consumer and a Consumer Psychologist. The growing pains of common AI executions are starting to disappear and we will enter a golden age of truly smart devices that will ease and help manage our lives. This technology is revealing new dimensions to long-term consumer engagement and it’s teaching us new things about consumers, humans in general and us as professionals in the field. Of course, with this comes a big list of unknowns and assumptions for marketers, and that’s going to mean more research methods and new Marketing Technologies. For instance, eye tracking or haptic research wasn’t a thing a decade ago, but now they are being used to gauge attention, consideration, and intent.
Forbes reported that over 10,000 AI-related technology were patented in the last year alone. This means that Consumer Psychology will need to remain on the ball regarding the types of applications and products that will have AI at their core. For me, nothing will have the power to change the essence of human psychology and our existential, core needs, but what technology does is that it creates new interaction frameworks that alter how our perceptions, values, and identities manifest themselves. It’s a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope: the parts remain the same, but it’s the input/action that changes how things look. So let’s just say Consumer Psychologists will not be bored any time soon!
Nisa is a firm believer in laser-focusing on “people before product”. With a history in arrays of integrated marketing strategy and consumer research, her key professional driver is not to rely on the accessible ‘what’, but to reveal the [un]comfortable ‘why’ for disruptive and progressive brands.
As an award-winning strategist, consumer psychologist, public speaker, and mentor, Nisa blends her versatile expertise in consumer insights, behavioral sciences, and strategy to help brands understand and meet their target audiences.
In addition to her professional journey on agency and client-side across tech startups, research industry and global entertainment franchises, Nisa’s academic accolades include MSc Business and Consumer Psychology (Distinction); BA (Hons) Media and Communication Systems; Broadcasting; Media and Culture.