Getting the recipe (and decoration) right – Karen Schofield

Karen Schofield


Posted by Karen Schofield Innovations Director at Join the Dots, UK.

If you ask a consumer walking out of a supermarket why they’ve got so much junk food in their trolley (admittedly, you might want to rephrase that rather than sounding like you’re accusing them, or they’ll never stop to do an interview), they’ll probably give you a rational, and likely very plausible, reason. Probably something like ‘ready meals are convenient’, or ‘the kids like them’, or ‘I was in a hurry’. And to some extent, this might be true, but what they probably won’t be able to tell you is that if they were hungry when they got to the supermarket, the chances are that their hunger, a ‘hot’ – or emotional – state, took over and they probably would have stuck more closely to their list if they’d gone shopping on a full stomach.

We’ve all been there – we’ve skipped lunch and someone passes by our desk with a cake which is so much more tempting when we’re hungry, even if we’re trying to watch what we eat. Giving in to temptation is part of what makes us human, as we’re often (and more than we might think) governed by our emotions.

By the same token, a consumer ordering a meal in a restaurant probably won’t be aware of the anchors within the menu design which affect their choice – like the really expensive steak which makes the standard (lower priced) steak look significantly better value in comparison, or the way they’ve gone for the second least expensive wine, because they’re using price as a heuristic for quality (but don’t want to spend too much or look too flashy with the dearest wine). And it’s not just us mere mortals who aren’t as rational as we might expect; even those paid big bucks to made fair, rational and sensible decisions have the same foibles – including (scarily) judges.

We’re at an interesting turning point for the industry where our understanding of the multiple layers of influence on consumers continues to advance at a rate of knots. Meanwhile, the technology available, especially mobile devices and other tools like wearable cameras, give us more opportunities than ever to get closer to decisions as they’re being made. Joining the dots of this knowledge and tech enables a much better appreciation of the way our minds are influenced, from the people we’re with, to the physical (or digital) environment or the way we’re feeling at the time events are unfolding, and leads us to a place where decision making starts to make a lot more sense, and so becomes more insightful and actionable.

So the opportunities are all about understanding what ingredients we need to use, and then tweaking the recipe to get it right. The basic recipe contains some combination of a big dollop of context, a cup of observation, a handful of self-reflection and a pinch of seasoning, but needs to be adapted according to taste. Then it’s about giving it a big stir and baking the mixture until it’s cooked right through. We shouldn’t be afraid to try new ingredients, or experiment with different flavour combinations to see what works best, as the best chefs will tell you. (Well probably. I don’t actually know any chefs. But I know a lot of other experimenters who would agree, although they don’t work in cake-related industries and the metaphor falls down, so I’ve made an assumption.)

If the bake is the analysis, then we need to make sure the decoration is top notch too. We need to present a beautiful cake, a beautiful story for our clients. A cake so tempting it makes our audience want to devour it, without having to worry about being in a hot state or watching their weight – it’s not a real cake after all. Or maybe it is, I’ve never tried making an actual debrief cake, the closest I’ve been is taking mince pies to a presentation, maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to try…
And we’d do well to remember that we don’t stop being emotional decision makers when we walk into work in the morning, which is why creating stories with our research findings is so much more impactful than boring the pants off everyone with detail and 200 charts. (I’ve already ranted about that recently, so I won’t go over it again here.) Otherwise it’d be like baking a fantastic cake, jam packed with flavour and punch, that no-one will want to go near. And what a waste that would be.

Unfortunately, there are lots of yukky-looking cakes out there. The challenge is to create one our clients want to eat. Let’s bake!

At the risk of mixing my metaphors too much, that’s pretty much our philosophy at Join the Dots – we mix up different ingredients – or dots, if you will – to understand the bigger picture. Hence our name. So whatever your metaphor – whether it’s baking, dots, or something else – whatever you do, join them up, and when you’ve done that, don’t forget the icing on the cake.

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