Behavioral Science is a hot topic — but according to Choice Hacking research, more than 50% of agencies in the US and the UK don’t know where it fits, how it can help them, or — most importantly — how to hire for it inside an agency environment.
Most folks assume they need to run out and find a Behavioral Scientist with a Masters or Ph.D. to build out a specialist group from scratch.
But for many reasons, a dedicated Behavioral Science specialist or specialist group might not be the right solution for your agency.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to see if you really need a Behavioral Science specialist (and if you do, how you can set them up for success).
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself before you hire a Behavioral Scientist to work in your agency:
- Do they have advertising experience? Agencies move at a pace and rhythm all their own. Before you bring someone in, consider if they’ll easily slot into your existing workflow or how much training or hand-holding you’ll need to do to get them onboarded. Ask yourself how long you (and the finance team) can realistically spend getting them up to speed.
- Do you (and your department heads) know where and how they’ll fit Behavioral Science and a BeSci specialist into your workflows? If you don’t understand how behavioral science can supercharge agency processes after you hire someone is not the right time to ask. If you want some ideas about where they might fit, check out my article 27 Ways Creative Agencies Can Use Behavioral Science.
- What’s the structure? Are they going to be a SWAT team that swoops in to support specific briefs, or are they going to be individuals embedded across different clients and teams (creative, strategy, etc.)? Where will they sit? Will they be part of the strategy team, the data team, or a completely independent group?
- Will this hire represent a new positioning for your agency? Or will they simply supercharge your existing ways of working? If you’re suddenly going to rework your agency’s positioning to hinge on Behavioral Science, then you not only have a capabilities challenge but a marketing one. It will be an extremely rare talent that answers both how to use BeSci and how to market BeSci to marketing clients effectively.
- Is there a real client need, or is it a “nice to have?” Some types of clients — both industry and temperament — are better fits for pure behavioral science than others. 99% of CMOs don’t sit around contemplating their biggest challenges and then shout to their staff, “Find me a behavioral scientist to solve this — now!” Many don’t know what behavioral science is or have heard of it but don’t know how it can help marketing or customer experience organizations.
- How are you paying for them? Is it realistic to tie this expert to a specific client or retainer? Is it a better long-term plan to devote a few years of salary and budget out of your agency's business development or innovation budget to avoid overhead pressures on this hire? How you decide to budget and pay for this person will greatly affect the work they do, the clients they work on, and their political cover — all incredibly important for a new capability inside the agency.
- Do you test creative? Like really, actually, test? To apply Behavioral Science in a meaningful way, you need to be testing — real tests with fallow/control groups, representative samples, correct sample sizes, and production timelines that allow for testing. That probably means you have a data team or data analyst somewhere who has availability, as well as a client that has the time, money, and desire for testing.
- Do you, or this expert, know how to elevate Behavioral Science to a strategic level — not just keep it at a tactical one? Often when people only know about Behavioral Science in passing, they’ll reduce it to “nudging.” While nudging is a part of the Behavioral Science toolkit, it’s only one part of what BeSci can do. And nudging is a very tactical part — many clients who only see BeSci as nudging only see its benefit in incremental gains. That perception can keep Behavioral Scientists stuck at “smaller tables” inside a client, rather than having their input considered in strategic, CMO-level conversations.
- Are you better off just training your existing employees or finding a strategist who has some behavioral science expertise? Since behavioral science is a lens through which to view the world, it can be really helpful to get your strategy and creative teams working with fundamental principles and approaches before betting the farm on a dedicated Behavioral Science expert or team. (I can help with that.)
- How good is this person at communicating with those who don’t have an interest in behavioral science? There is a big difference between showing clients behavioral science-powered strategies and engaging them with behavioral science. If you bring in someone with the academic knowledge but no storytelling, presentation, or communication skills, you’ll have difficulty getting clients interested.