Consumer Behaviour Prediction and Lyapunov Exponents

It’s nigh on impossible to predict the weather more than a week in advance. So what hope do marketers have of predicting consumer behaviour, humans being much more mercurial than weather systems? Maths agrees. Here’s why marketers should stop trying to predict what people will do next: introducing Lyapunov Exponents. 

Lyapunov Exponents – Forget predicting people’s behaviour

Roll back time to the late 1800s and the Russian mathematics whiz Aleksander Lyapunov invented a series of numbers to describe how sensitive a system is to its starting point. Take the weather. A seemingly small difference in the starting conditions, for example the air pressure or temperature, soon grows exponentially and delivers dramatically different outcomes… in other words, chaos.
The problem is, we can’t measure the many variables that lie behind the weather with total accuracy. Just one tiny error leads inevitably to chaos. There are variations, of course. In the tropics, where climate replaces weather and things are altogether more predictable, it’s a little easier to make reasonably accurate forecasts. In Britain, where the behaviour of air currents is extremely hard to predict, the Lyapunov exponent is a whole lot higher and the likelihood of an accurate longer term forecast is very low indeed. The same goes for people and the way they behave.
Whether you want to predict changes in the stock market, the next Prime Minister, the team that’ll win the FA Cup this season, or what your prospects are going to do next, Lyapunov Exponents tell us we should forget it. You just might strike it lucky, but as a rule predictions are futile. Sadly pollsters, forecasters and marketers will keep on trying.

How can marketers predict consumer behaviour?

If we can’t predict the future when even the smallest uncertainty gets amplified exponentially by chaos, how do marketers predict what consumers will do next? Being brutal, they can’t. So what’s the best way ahead? It makes a lot more scientific sense to do your best to please people at every stage, at every point they come into contact with your business, than try to predict their behaviour beyond any particular starting point. Get that side of things right and I predict you’ll make more sales!

How to fulfil expectations at every consumer touch point

So how do you please consumers whenever they run across your business? There are plenty of ways, including:

  • Give people the information and insight they need at every stage
  • Treat them with respect and consideration, like a fellow human rather than a prospect
  • Go into enough detail so they always get the information they want, but not so much that it drives them nuts
  • Use plain language so people always ‘get’ your messages
  • Make it easy for people to progress to the next level in the buying process
  • Price your stuff competitively
  • Give them choices about ways to pay
  • Make it easy for people to ask questions, and give them decent answers
  • Respond to people in a timely manner, no delays
  • Don’t blast them with countless marketing messages
  • Make all your comms conversational
  • Always major on the benefits

In other words remember you’re a consumer too, and act accordingly.

Exceptions to Lyapunov Exponents

There are a few exceptions. When someone types or speaks ‘I want to buy a yellow widget’ into Google, you can safely assume they’re ready to buy a yellow widget. If someone visits your products page, you can be reasonably sure they’re interested in making a purchase at some point in the future, or at least want to investigate what you’re offering. But bear in mind that where humans are concerned, there’s no such thing as certainty.

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