“Focus” by Higgins & Halvorson

By Shawn Wicker, Manager – Client Services

Why this book matters?

At their core, marketers are communicators, using strategic messaging to link their products and services to consumers.

In today’s marketplace, there is often a disconnect between the target audience and the marketing messages generated by traditional practices aimed at building awareness and generating preference. Behavioral economics views marketing strategy in a different role, arguing that marketing should bridge consumer behavior and product/service message. Instead of focusing on the marketing funnel, marketers should focus on understanding consumer motivation and then use that to craft better messages that influence and motivate consumers toward desired action.

Key Takeaways

This consumer-focused approach is discussed at length in Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence by E. Tory Higgins and Heidi Grant Halvorson.  The authors contend that people’s behavioral motivation can be categorized as either promotion-focused or prevention-focused, with the main difference being whether people are focused on “gain” versus “loss.”

Promotion-focused people are more eager by nature, meaning they look for ways to ensure advancement.  They cherish opportunities, make riskier decisions, and view the word holistically.

Prevention-focused people are more vigilant by nature, meaning they look for ways to maintain status quo.  They avoid mistakes, make rational decisions, and view the world in parts.

If marketers can determine whether the main focus of their target audience is gain-oriented or loss-oriented, they can then develop content that “fits” this audience’s motivation, and create higher impact marketing messages.

What are the implications?

This behavioral economics approach suggests that marketing research should be conducted on the front-end of the advertising / claims design and development process. Customer research on the front-end allows the team to pinpoint “motivational fit” and then craft marketing messages that “feel right” to the consumer. When it “feels right,” marketing messages are compelling and natural, thereby creating stronger intent and increasing perceived value.

There are limitations and practical implications to consider.  Customer research on the front-end may reduce design time, since it makes the development process more focused, and reinforces the strategy. However, market researchers are rarely consulted at this phase.  So, when testing on the back-end, market researchers can use a “promotion or prevention” lens to interpret the results more accurately.  Instead of hoping that consumers provide positive feedback to advertising / claims content, marketers should leverage consumer research on the front-end to developing marketing messages that better influence desired behavior.