Market to Change Customer Behavior, not Attitudes

Harvard Business School professor John Quelch once said “The purpose of marketing… should be geared to changing and reinforcing customer actions rather than customer attitude.” I recently revisited this quote and feel it still holds true. But in the age of social media, it is likely to come under siege.

Within his quote is the idea that we as marketers need to focus on driving fundamental shifts in customer behavior. Using tactics like pay per click advertising, you can effectively do just that. One well-placed Google AdWords can get prospects to engage in the exact behavior you want them to! It’s short. It works. And John would be pleased!

Other forms of media, however, can no longer deliver a captive audience. Customers and prospects have plenty of reasons to dislike media these days: irrelevance, interruption and just plain clutter.

But now factor in social media. The media balance is shifting from push to pull. Content creators represent 13% of all U.S. adults online. That means command and control of exact behaviors just gets harder every day.

So to think marketers can really affect customer behavior with social media is a dangerous idea to hang your hat on these days. Sure, marketers can perhaps influence behaviors with forms of social media like communities. But to me, it seems like we are getting further and further away from where Professor Quelch was directing us.

What’s your view?

8 comments to Market to Change Customer Behavior, not Attitudes

  • Paul Chaney

    This reminds me of comments John Battelle made in a two-part series (so far) on his blog where he talks about how social media being a catalyst for brand marketing, as opposed to direct response marketing.

    He goes so far as to suggest brand marketing is the next evolution of the Web and that passionate online communities are the environment in which it can thrive.

    As such, he seems to agree with your surmise that social media does not lend itself as well to DR.

  • Paul Dunay

    good point Paul

    and further to that point – in a recent informal meeting I had with a CMO I asked her what is the #1 thing she would change about her marketing organization and it was to decrease her DR activities

    It just wasn’t paying off for her anymore

  • linafuh

    I’m probably one of the hardest person to market to – unless I’m in the mood to “listen” I just don’t. I’m all for the pull versus push. I’m all for SEM. I think now more than ever, it’s all about the power of the user/customer. I don’t think marketers can affect behavior with social media but I do think users/customers will define their behavior for you. Social media finally gives users that power.

  • Paul Dunay


    Interesting comment – I am intrigued by your statement that marketers cant affect behavior and I see your point

    I think the fine line is to allow give the user/customer/prospect the type of content that interests them enough that it ends up affecting them by the experience they have with it

  • paul everett

    It’s perhaps more one-to-one than you mean, Paul – but social media seems to be lending itself to the more practical sales side.

    Last week I saw a demo of Oracle’s latest online CRM offering – headline functionality being that it automatically looks up connections on facebook and LinkedIn between the user and the prospect in the system.

    So if I’m chasing a deal with Bob, I can see that I’m 1 step away from him on LinkedIn via Joe (who just happens to already be a very satisfied customer of mine…).

    Perhaps a sign that people are trying to capitalise on some value in social networks and affect behaviour through them?

    Moving away from one-to-one, I think your point about the right content in the right place for the right prospect/customer is key – if it has the effect of driving them closer to taking a meeting (or being willing to pay more, or more likely to buy) then marketing’s use of social media stands a chance of proving as much value as sales’ use of social networking.

  • Paul Dunay


    thanks for the comment – wow I love that kind of feature in a CRM system

    I had seen another one that took it a step further and looked up members of the board, senior execs and execs that either went to your school or worked in companies you (the sales person) worked at in the past

    taking it a step further

  • Tracey

    Hi Paul,
    Very interesting discussion. As a consumer, my behavior is often affected by online product reviews. Marketers can use social media to address negative reviews and perhaps even to spur consumers to write good reviews. On the B2B side, however, I’m still not totally sold. The picture will become clearer when we see more testing. I’d like to see more rigorous testing along the lines of what Duncan Watt did.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Great post Paul. As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of b2b magazines. They had the opportunity to focus on creating more tools that actually involved a behavior change. Unfortunately, most did not a capitalize on this, and now we see where they are headed.

    Any media business that doesn’t focus on a specific behavioral action is pretty much doomed to failure. Attitude changes don’t bring in revenues.

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