When Nicholas Hall from Stanford’s Behaviour Lab took to the podium at the XLRI Mindscapes symposium his first words were ‘Hi Everbody’ – it took every ounce of my self restraint to not reply with a resounding ‘Hiiiii Dr Nick’. It turned out when I spoke to Nick afterwards that he doesn’t actually hold a PhD and he had been mislabelled, so it’s maybe a good job I didn’t.
Unlike the infamous Dr Riviera, Nick has a very good grasp of his subject. The Stanford Behaviour Lab has been running for several years, so his role at the symposium was to talk about the sort of learning that this kind of set up can generate as XLRI embark on a Lab of their own. I liked Nick’s central point – what this type of work allows us to do is test lay hypotheses about human behaviour. We all have theories about why people behave a certain way – what they do in his lab is design an experiment to test them. Nick urged the nascent behavioural lab at XLRI to do the same. I think it’s worth thinking about how we could do the same more in commercial research as well – I’m not sure we utilise experimental designs enough.
Nick also talked about a couple of cases to illustrate the sort of findings they are generating. Some you would likely be familiar with, dealing with subjects like the paradox of choice and competition in the mental workspace – both of which emphasise how important it is not to overcomplicate when we build brands. It was the third of Nick’s cases that I found particularly interesting as it seems to validate something many of us have been thinking for some time – it is more important to be meaningful than to be nice.
Working with Jennifer Aaker on behalf of a major search engine an experiment was designed to try to understand how brands can increase people’s happiness. I didn’t take any notes, so I may not get the exact details of the study spot on, but as I understand/recall it – students were given sums of money by the brand – some were asked to use it to spread happiness amongst fellow students on campus, others were asked to do something meaningful for others (there was also a third group as a control). Those that had done something meaningful for others were much happier than those who had been simply been spreading happiness, they also rated the brand much more highly as a result.
It’s not (always) enough to get people to consume more of your brand because they like to do so. What brands should be seeking to do is make a meaningful difference to people’s lives and the lives of those around them. True happiness this way lies.