The next addition to our Book Club Reviews is The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton. Our Project Manager Alex Brown was tasked with this book and below is his very enthusiastic response to it.

"A great read and highly enjoyable"

Whilst designed mainly for those in advertising and communications, The Choice Factory, offers up an intriguing insight into the world of Behavioural Science that can be applied across a wide range of business roles. The benefits of the structure are that there are easily identifiable sections that the Marketer, Researcher or Business Owner can dip into for inspiration and guidance that is, for the most part, backed up by solid experimental evidence.

About Richard Shotton

Richard Shotton is the author of The Choice Factory, a best-selling book on how to apply findings from behavioural science to advertising.

Before specialising in applying behavioural science to business problems, Richard started his career 18 years ago as a media planner working on accounts for the likes of Coca Cola, Lexus and compare the market. As of current, he is the Head of Behavioural Science at Manning Gottlieb OMD, one of the most awarded media agencies in the history of the IPA Effectiveness awards.

The Choice Factory - The Choice

Outline of the book

The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton is echoing a long-known fact of marketing and communication – know your customer! The difference, however, with The Choice Factory is that Shotton doesn’t offer pithy epigrams, stale lectures on who he believes the customer to be, rather he engages past and present research and theories of behavioural science, proven in experiment, to support wider points about how choices are made. It is full of interesting insights, such as this quote about the dangers of claimed data:

Analysis of 1.5 million members of dating websites have found that men are four times more likely to claim they earn over $100K and posted photos of when they were younger. Furthermore their average height was 2” taller than the national average. Men also overclaim on their number of sexual partners. A survey in 2010 found heterosexual men claim to have had sex with on average 12 women whilst women claim only eight.

Shotton splits his work into twenty-five separate chapters with each looking at a different behavioural bias that he believes illustrates the way in which decisions are reached. Each chapter begins with us, the reader, in a scenario that through Shotton’s subsequent analysis we come to recognise as a behavioural bias.

Key points

The foundation of the books hypothesis is that consumers rarely make decisions based purely on ration or logic and that, in part due to the amount of decisions modern consumers are required to make, they are susceptible to decision bias. Understanding how that bias works can give businesses an advantage in the market. Two of the biases are:

Social Proof
One of the most compelling biases Shotton identifies is early on in the book, chapter 2: Social Proof. Like in much of The Choice Factory the premise of this bias is clear, almost obvious – consumers are influenced by the behaviour of their Peers, it is in Shotton’s exploration of the bias however that insight can be gained. Shotton shows how tailored messaging that focuses on the real word behaviour of peers rather than the potential outcome of hypothetical, personal behaviour, has a much stronger impact on consumer actions. When consumers are told how good or how popular a product is among a certain demographic or regionality, their perception of the quality of that product is positively influenced, regardless of the veracity of the claim.

In the case of Social Proof he ends with the case of the Apple earphones; how the simple yet dramatic change from the black earphones that were ubiquitous across the market to a pure white pair gave Apple an instantaneous edge, it wasn’t that everyone was wearing white earphones but through their distinctiveness they were recognised and deemed the most popular. Consumers fed their own narrative until it became truth.

The Influence of context in decision making
Shotton investigates several biases that explore the influence of context in decision making. Shotton manages to draw past the obvious and flesh out insights that can give real advantages to businesses. Of particular interest is how consumer products perform at the mercy of their category. When looking at price relativity for example the category is essential in defining acceptable pricing; a bottle of water at £2.00 is never going to seem acceptable in comparison to a bottle of water that does the same thing at 65p. However, Shotton argues that by redefining the product or even creating a whole new category for that product, thereby removing the comparative competitor set, price relativity becomes increasing flexible and consumers will be willing to pay more, partly due to the fact they believe they are getting something different and partly because they have no competitor set to which they can compare in terms of value.

Overall thoughts of The Choice Factory

Overall, I think The Choice Factory is both an intriguing and enjoyable book to read; it offers proof based findings whilst demonstrating how that insight can be actioned in real world scenarios. Perhaps the best quality of Richard Shotton’s book is that it is relevant to people working in a multitude of commercial roles whether it be marketing, creative, research or sales. For anyone interested in how the mind works and what really goes on inside ‘The Choice Factory’ when a decision looms, this book is definitely worth a read.

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