Building brands around human behavior

Building brands around human behavior
Oct 3, 2018
5 min. read

Why you need to be thinking about convergence, interdependence and audience mindset.

When it comes to engagement, “know your audience” might as well be gospel. We repeat it to ourselves, our colleagues, and our customers. We know it is the bedrock of successful marketing.

But if I asked you to tell me about your audience, what kind of information would you share? A few lines in a client brief? A segmented profile or data-driven demographic? A percentage or pie chart, perhaps?

So often we search for trends in the ways our audiences behave. An average or medium will inform the way we target, activate and measure. But averages also create a grey area – one where we can easily lose sight of the real individuals we are trying to reach. Data may have averages, but people don’t. All too often, we’re aiming for the masses and hoping for the best, rather than truly understanding what’s happening.

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Yet in an evolving digital age, we have to paradoxically become smarter at understanding human nature, and the mindset that drives behaviour in all aspects of our lives. Whether you are agency or client-side, there are three key trends to consider in responding to this challenge.

1. Agencies are converging at a rapid pace.

The creative industries are in the process of reinventing themselves for the digital age. They’re trying to become more nimble to serve target audiences across public and private sectors . They’re also looking to zero in on their unique, marketable strengths rather than presenting themselves as jack-of-all-trade generalists.

Consequently, we are witnessing an ongoing convergence across the creative industries, with the increasing emergence of “super agencies” through partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions.

Pooling resources—creativity, innovation, insight, and talent—makes perfect sense in the current climate. Consider the exponential dispersal and diversification of audiences across new platforms and media. Or the increasing alignment of brand proposition and purpose, driven by millennials’ preference for experiences rather than material goods.

The ‘full service’ of the future isn’t integrated channel disciplines across digital, design, film and experiential. It’s 360-degree creative capability—and commercial credibility—across strategy, content creation, data, marketing, public relations, internal communications, and beyond.

But if agencies are converging because the audiences we seek to engage no longer fit neatly in our traditional fields of experience and expertise, what about the clients we serve?

2. Organisations need interdependence to stay a step ahead.

Historically, agencies have often suffered from a fragmented approach to engagement. As a result, customers and colleagues alike internalize completely different—sometimes conflicting—messages about the agency’s goals, capabilities, and mission.

Why? Because the conventional corporate approach, from the top down, is to structure commercial and engagement activities into strict, separate buckets—e.g., product, marketing and communications, human resources, HR and comms, responsible business, social, etc. For many agencies, this kind of structure creates siloes that actively inhibit cross-cutting collaboration.

But to provide authentic brand experiences for customers—and to navigate digital-age disruption in a proactive way—businesses must be organisationally aligned like never before. Today, different departments within an organisation must all be aligned under the same vision and understand their role in bringing that vision to life.

3. Understanding audience mindset is more important than ever.

Realising this kind of interdependence, though, means agencies need to do more than align with colleagues. They also need to take a much deeper look at their audience and start unpacking human behaviour. That is, instead of asking what your audience is doing, ask why they are doing it.

Actions alone can only tell us so much. As individuals, we wear different hats all the time. We might be a consumer one minute, an employee the next, and a social commentator on our coffee break. But all of our actions—what we buy, how we perform at work, what we post on Facebook—are influenced by our core beliefs, attitudes, values, and experiences. And that’s what we need to understand if we want to forge strong, lasting relationships with our audiences.

An agency that bases its work on actions alone is like a doctor that treats the symptom, not the cause. To influence behaviour, you must tap into fundamental motivations. But none of this can be achieved by the creative or corporate worlds working in siloes. Customer or employee, agency or client, it’s time we stopped segmenting people and started doing the hard work that is necessary to understand them a little better.

How do you see organisations and agencies taking an interdependent approach toward engaging audiences in your industry? What else needs to happen for this practice to become the norm? Share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Meet the author
  1. James Wilkins, Managing Partner, Europe and Asia Division Lead

    James is a recognized expert in strategy communications, accelerating change, mergers and acquisitions, and brand building with more than 20 years of experience. View bio

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