Why All Marketers Should Pay Attention to Obama’s Latest Executive Order

I don’t know if I have ever done more than glance at an Executive Order from the White House before, but when I saw the latest one I printed it out and pinned it to my office wall. This weekend I may even splurge on a nice little frame from Target or IKEA so that I can hang it properly. It’s worthy of it.

This latest order, issued on September 15th, got me at the headline:

“Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People”

The first paragraph goes on to say:

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people.

You could equally end this paragraph to read “—can be used to design marketing to better serve your brands and the people who choose them”. In fact, with small changes the entire order makes a case for business and marketers to embrace the findings from behavioral science at a far greater level than they have to date.

The Executive Order goes on to tell us that behavioral insights can help “deliver better results at a lower cost”. And POTUS isn’t just suggesting that government agencies embrace behavioral science. He’s directing them to. The order continues

NOW, THEREFORE, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby direct…

Obama’s directions include encouraging government agencies to

  • Develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights;
  • Recruit behavioral science experts to join the Federal Government as necessary to achieve the goals of this directive; and
  • Strengthen agency relationships with the research community to better use empirical findings from the behavioral sciences.

In truth, the White House is following the lead of the UK Government’s Behavioral Insights Team, a think tank that was set up as an experiment in 2010, made of behavioral scientists and others to help design government programs and how they are communicated. It was a successful experiment, and as well as much publicized work in terms of improving organ donation consent rates and improving charitable giving an impressive report of their work from 2013 -2015 shows the breadth of the team’s impact in areas such as reducing the drop-out rate from further education and improving applications to join the UK Army Reserve.

In my book “The Business of Choice: Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts” I make a similar case to this executive order. Marketing is about influencing choice and changing behavior, and a modern understanding of choice and behavior change requires marketers to be familiar with and informed by what is emerging from behavioral sciences. I estimate there are at least 5,000 behavioral scientists studying different aspects of choice around the world, and what they are learning could be critical to unlocking the choices you, as a marketer, need people to make. These insights can also make choices more intuitive and emotionally rewarding for the people making them – your customers. Government has realized this. Marketers and business have yet to embrace this source of insights to the level I believe they should.

For years, government agencies and politicians have looked to marketers and advertising agencies to learn how to influence people to make the choices they need people to make.   Now marketers may do well to learn from government.

Perhaps this latest Executive Order shouldn’t just be a directive for government agencies, but one for marketers as well.