Episode 444

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Everybody has a story they’re trying to tell, and brands play a massive role in people’s stories, whether they realize it or not. Most of the time, the stories consumers associate with a brand aren’t what we think they are. This is where behavioral economics becomes vital to creating an effective marketing strategy.

Behavioral economics is a study that attempts to make sense of people’s behavior around spending. We don’t always make spending decisions in our best interest and often base purchasing decisions on our emotions. In fact, people usually connect and interact with brands the same way they connect with people.

This leaves brands with a lot of pressure on their backs. If you ignore your loyal customers’ needs and wants, they will feel deeply betrayed. But if you listen to their stories and get to the core of what they’re looking for, you’ll build a trust that feels like a close friendship.

The psychology behind consumer behavior is complicated but fascinating. Join us this week to discover how brands can use behavioral economics to build an effective marketing strategy that fosters deep trust from your customers.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What is behavioral economics?
  • Why people build human-like relationships with brands
  • How narrative psychology can improve our relationships with our customers
  • Clues that a brand uses narrative psychology well
  • Convincing clients that a strategy based on behavioral psychology is worth investing in
  • How strategic changes ripple throughout a whole organization
  • Getting to the bottom of your customer story
  • What brands get wrong about customer stories
  • Why feelings of betrayal run deep when brands miss the mark

“If my partner has an amazing accomplishment, I feel joy as if that were also my accomplishment, and vice versa. People do that with brands.” - Kristian Alomá, PhD Click To Tweet
“If I feel so connected to a brand when that brand displays confidence, I also feel a little bit of confidence. And so they share that identity, they share that value.” - Kristian Alomá, PhD Click To Tweet
“When we start pulling these stories out of their customers, it's surprising how many marketers never actually listen to their customers.” - Kristian Alomá, PhD Click To Tweet
“What brands think is most important to the customer is often the least important to the customer.” - Kristian Alomá, PhD Click To Tweet
“If the brand is the hero in the story, there's no space for the customer to be the hero. And if the customer isn't the hero, it's not a story they care about anymore.” - Kristian Alomá, PhD Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Kristian:


Hey everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

Running an agency can be a lonely proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn how to be better faster if we learn together. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build, a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market with 25 plus years of experience. As both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here and you guest at I am back with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super excited to introduce you to our guest today. Super smart, really fascinating topic. So I think you’re gonna love this episode. Before we get into that though, I want to tell you a little bit about one of the speakers who’s gonna be at the Build A Better Agency Summit. As you know, unless this is your very first exposure to a AMI o once a year, we bring agency owners from all over the globe together for a conference. We called it the B, we call it the Build a Better Agency Summit. This is year four of the summit, and for the first time we have moved it to Denver, Colorado. So it’s our, our venues for Chicago, we’re changing around.

And as many of you know, Danielle and I live in Denver. So it made sense to bring the conference to Denver, gonna be in a brand new renovated, completely renovated Westin downtown. So great location, great city, easy for everybody to get to. The conference itself is May 21st and 22nd if you are a member. Then we do member day on May 20th. So we come in after lunch and do some member only content, including a two hour workshop with the folks at Mercer Island Group. And then we have dinner together. But for everybody, the conference is Tuesday and Wednesday, the 21st and 22nd. So one of the keynote speakers is a guy named Jim Stern. And so Jim is, he is a data guy, he’s a technology guy, he’s an AI guy.

So what Jim’s gonna talk to us about is the fact that we all know that clients are asking us for better data, better analytics, tangible results, where’s the puck going? How do we move to what the data is telling us? And so Jim’s supposition is that that’s really a challenge for many agencies as as you have experienced, to really deliver kind of on the spot numerical evaluation of the work you’re doing with clients and what that data tells you in terms of helping your clients and also helps your agency in terms of identifying additional work that you could do. So the fact that we have a ton of data, so Jim’s presentation is called Data, data Everywhere, but not a thought to think.

And he is gonna talk a little bit about, obviously we have access to all kinds of data, but what data actually matters? How do we help clients? Actually they say they want the data, they say they want the analytics, but it’s really hard to get them to pay attention to it in a way that is actionable, right? A lot of times you just send them the report, you know, they don’t look at it. So how do you analyze the data? How do you wrap your own head, your agency’s head around how hundreds of data points? Do you need an in-house analyst or do you have to subcontract it? What does a good dashboard look like? So Jim’s gonna talk about all of that and give us some solutions. He is got 20 some years of experience working with agencies around data collection, cleaning, the number crunching, and most important, the interpretation and insight delivery of all of this information that we have.

So it’s gonna be a fantastic keynote presentation. You’re not gonna wanna miss it. So we would love to have you join us head over to the Agency Management Institute website and right in the upper left corner of the navigation, it says BA BA Summit, build a Better Agency Summit. Click on that and you’ll get to the registration button. We cap the attendance at 350. So do not wait too long. And by the way, the price keeps going up. So buy your ticket today. What a while. We have tickets to sell and B, while they’re less expensive, we’d love to have you. Alright, with that, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So our guest’s name is Christian Oma and he runs a, we call it sort of a strategic consultancy around brand insights.

So I’ll let him tell you a lot of his own story, but he has a PhD in psychology and they’ve developed a methodology to really get to the sort of the core of how human beings connect with brand and what those brands mean to them, and then works with agencies like ours to help translate those insights for clients. So I think you’re gonna find this fascinating and I want you to listen both in terms of how you can use this to help your clients, but I also want you to listen from the lens of how do your clients experience your agency’s brand. Okay. Alright. With that, let’s welcome Christian to the show ’cause I have a lot of questions.

Christian, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me. Nice to meet you.

You too. So tell everybody a little bit about your background. ’cause it’s a little unusual for what you do for a living and how you sort of blended that background and that education with the work that you do every day.

Sure. So it is a little unusual, I suppose. I started in marketing and I often tell folks that I’m a marketer turned social scientist. So I worked in advertising, I worked in marketing departments. I eventually landed at a consulting firm that conducted market research through the lens of sort of understanding the emotions of consumers. And it was there that a number of light bulbs connected to each other that hadn’t connected for me before, which was the role of psychology and understanding human behavior and its kind of impact on better branding and better marketing and and and better to sort of behavior design. And so there I began pursuing an academic degree in psychology.

I got my master’s in psychology and my PhD in psychology, all with a focus on understanding consumer identity and consumer behavior. And it’s through that lens that I kind of took that and did not plan in staying in academia and decided to come back to the marketing world and bring those insights and bring that sort of expertise to helping organizations basically build better relationships with their customers. And that sort of is where it all kind of combined, where it all connects.

So I know you talk a lot about behavioral economics, so talk to us about what that, what that is, what it means Yeah. And how it translates to the work.

Sure. So behavioral economics is a, a field of psychology, technically not economics. It’s, it’s essentially economics when all the psychologists moved in and said, Hey, it’s not just about supply and demand. And so they started looking at the way behavior sort of was unpredictable, right? The way people made decisions that were, as you probably have seen in different books, things like that, irrational from one perspective or another. And so ehavioral economics attempts to understand and codify and make sense of those sorts of behaviors, right? Why don’t we invest the way we should? Why don’t we make choices that are in our best interest? Always those sorts of things. And it has sort of, through that research brought about a great deal of understanding of how people make decisions the way they are influenced, the way they make choices that are extremely relevant to organizations all over the world.

And so we bring those things, you know, you hear about like loss aversion or risk aversion. You’ll hear things about like choice paralysis for example, where people are in these scenarios that we see repeatedly in consumer behavior and predictably reacting in very similar ways. And so when we start to understand that we can either design to sort of help, you know, make that decision making process easier, or design contexts and scenarios and choices that help them make, you know, what are sort of maybe broadly seen as better choices for them, right? For saving for the future, for taking better care of their health, things like that.

So in the work you do today, you sort of take that truth and then sort of layer that over how a brand behaves, talks, shows up. So talk a little bit about how you, how you think about that. And I know one of the things that you sort of believe is that consumers generate and nurture and connect to brands in the same way that sort of mimics the relationships they have with other people. So talk a little bit about what that looks like and then how do you uncover for with a brand, how do you uncover what that should be? And then translate that into brand behavior.

Sure. And, and this is what was at the heart of my academic focus, was understanding the relationships that consumers have with brands and what research before my time demonstrated and what my research further validated is that consumers, people build relationships that are very human with brands, right? We say we love Nike and we love Lululemon and things like that, right? These are, these are words, these are emotions that are typically reserved for human relationships, right? And so when we started to understand that and we started to look at it, what we, what a number of us in the field start trying to understand is how are those relationships built and how deep do those relationships really become? And what we see is there are, there’s theories around different kinds of relationships that people have with brands from, you know, sort of that intimate sort of deep loved relationship to, you know, what I sometimes call the familiar stranger, which is a brand that kind of just comes and goes and doesn’t sort of stick in a person’s life.

And even to sort of the more negative frameworks of, you know, abusive relationships, right? Where you feel like, I, God, I can’t get off this social media app, for example, and you like, feel bad after using it. So we see all these different sort of relationships exist. And so one of two things sort of that I tried to do in the work, the first was understanding when and why do these relationships sort of merge. And there’s a concept known as trait confusion or inclusion of the other in the self, which is this concept that in humans,

A human good old inclusion of the other in this, in yourself.

Exactly. Yes. It it, I remember talking to, it’s right off the tongue, right?


Yeah. The academics aren’t known for their marketing prowess, right? But you know, it’s, it’s the, the, the, the concept essentially was, and we see this in, in, in per person to person relationships. That the deeper relationship you have, let’s say with a significant other partner, family member, the more your sense of self sort of is connected to their sense of self, right? So if my partner has a, an amazing sort of accomplishment, I feel joy as if that were also my accomplishment, right? And vice versa. And what we saw is that people do that with brands, right? So the closer or the longer relationship they have with a brand that they feel loyal to, if that brand does something really amazing in the world, they kind of feel good about that because they feel connected to that brand in their own.

Now on the opposite end, if that brand sort of does something awful in the world, they kind of feel really embarrassed about that, right? Because they’re such sort of close, they have such a close relationship to that brand. Now, the way we sort of try to clearly understand that is through a framework of, in psychology known as narrative psychology, and narrative psychology looks at the way we make sense of the world by how we tell stories about the world, right? And, and whether we tell those stories to someone else or we tell them to ourselves doesn’t really matter. It’s just the fact that we are constantly creating narratives to help us make sense of what’s going on. And so when we understand those narratives about people’s relationships to brands, we more clearly understand that relationship.

’cause stories are all about obviously sort of a beginning, middle and end and a conflict and a hero, but also about the relationships within that story, right? Who’s doing what to who, who’s an ally and who’s a foe and who’s driving the story and who’s the catalyst. And so when we look at those stories, we can understand what roles brands play in that story or where are they missing, right? What role could they play in those stories? And so that sort of is where we sort of both try to understand the relationship and understand how to get into the relationship or deepen that relationship with those customers.

So talk a little bit about, is there a brand that comes to mind that you think sort of exemplifies doing this well? Yeah. And, and just kind of walk us through, point us to some of the things that maybe we wouldn’t have associated back to this we would’ve missed that are the Clues that a brand does as well.

Yeah, yeah. You know, one of the less obvious, ’cause you’ll hear, you know, obviously all these stories about Harley Davidson or Apple and, and how powerful those brands are. But, you know, one of my favorite is Airy, which is a sub-brand of American Eagle Outfitters. They’re the intimates brand, if you will, for I

Was gonna say it’s underwear.

Underwear, yeah. Bra.

Anyone who has teenage girls, you’ve been in this store. Yep,

Exactly. Exactly. Now, one of the things that they did is to sort of understand the way women all over the world right? Felt about how underwear bras was, was being marketed to them, right? And, and as we’ve seen with other brands and, and, and news coverages, it makes a lot of women feel bad about themselves, right? Right. To see either this impossibly thin supermodel sort of flaunting as if that is every woman, right? Right. And so then they compare themselves in self-confidence drops. What Arie did is said, we’re going to break all of that, right? We are not going to retouch our models. We’re going to have a diverse set of models.

We’re going to have models not only from different backgrounds, but in sort of different life scenarios, right? They’ve got models with colostomy bags and models with different sort of skin conditions and things like that. And what that has done is created this sort of narrative and created this sort of relationship to the customer that says, when I use this brand, I feel more confident about myself. And there’s actually been some research that demonstrates that Hmm, women who are fans of this brand, their measures of self-confidence have been increasing because of the way this brand has been telling its story and fitting into their lives.

Hmm. I wonder if it also makes them feel like they’re supporting other women. Like they’re sort of acknowledging that there are all kinds of sizes and shapes and Oh sure. Moments of women. And so it, I I I just wonder if it also triggers that sense of, you know, comradery that women have about supporting each other.

Yeah. There’s, especially

Around body image, right?

Absolutely. And there’s, there’s a couple of sort of things at play that we hypothesize in regards to what creates that effect. One is, we are most influenced by our peers or people that look like us, people who sort of feel as though they’re in the same community as us, right? And so when women see these models that look like them, right? There is that sort of sense of one, I’m, I can support this idea, but also if that woman has the confidence to be in an Instagram ad wearing her underwear, maybe I can have that confidence too, right? So you sort of borrow some of that confidence as well. You borrow some of those values. And that’s that, back to that sort of point I made, the, the wonderfully brandable term of inclusion of the other into the self, right?

Is that if, if I feel so connected to this brand, when that brand displays confidence, I think I also feel a little bit of confidence, right? Yeah. And so they share that identity, they share that value.

Interesting. So I want to, I wanna take a quick break, but when we come back, I wanna talk about there has to be an unpeeling of all of this, right? To sort of figure out a, where the brand’s audience is, what you want them to feel from and with the brand and how you architect that. So when we come back from the break, I wanna dig into the mechanics of how you come alongside clients and do this work with them. And also, I’m curious if clients, ’cause this all sounds great, but you know, we’re, we’re in an era where clients want stuff they can hold and touch and that they can go, oh, I gave you a dollar and I got $2 worth of leads.

So I’m curious how you sell this into clients too. So let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and we’ll talk about a how do clients react when you talk to them about this and the fact that it is a little ethereal, right? Yeah. Yeah. And then two, what’s the mechanics of sort of unpacking it for a client? So, all right, we’ll be right back guys. I promise I’m only gonna keep you a minute before we get back to the show. But I wanna remind you that the Build a Better Agency Summit, the annual conference where we bring 350 agency owners and leaders together is coming up May 21st and 22nd. May 20th is a AMI family day or member day. But whether you are a member or not, we would love to have you with us May 21st and 22nd to read more about the conference, see who the speakers are, or register head over to agency management institute.com.

And the very first button on the nav is BABA summit. Click on that and all the information is right there. And we would love to see you in Denver in May. All right, let’s get back to the show. All right, we are back and Christian and I are talking about behavioral economics and narrative psychology and how that all infuses into the brand work that he and his team do. So b, before the break, I asked the question how, how receptive we’re, we’re recording this in the first quarter of 2024, how receptive, given the economics and the pressure to deliver sales and leads for that. A lot of CMOs are feeling, how, how do you engage someone into thinking that this is worthy of investment?


A great, really great question. A couple of things that, that we sort of see succeed in sort of helping convince clients and others that this is a valuable investment. One is we, we see a lot of clients facing a lot of noise in the marketplace, right? Where they have competitors that are kind of doing very similar things to them. There is a lot of other sort of content that’s being put out there with very similar messages to their own. And so one of the things we see clients come to us asking is, how do we stand out in this space but not just stand out? Because, you know, you can check the Super Bowl ads, they all stand out, but do they actually work or not as the next question, right? So the next question is, how do we stand out and resonate with this audience?

And so what we help them do and what we sort of explain to them is that when you unpack, when you understand the story of your audience, it is important to have all of the quantitative demographic data that you typically collect through surveys and, and that sort of thing pull from, from different data sources. But this helps you understand what’s really going on with that individual, right? How they make deci