Will they or won’t they?

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So often it seems to me brand owners hope to bring about change rather than planning to bring about change. They see persuasion as an awareness issue rather than as a behavioural issue – often because they regard their product as the obvious choice that somehow, miraculously will spark a “road to Damascus” moment as soon as consumers encounter it. To that end, they pad out their media schedules with as much presence as their budgets can muster and throw huge amounts of energy and disarming levels of resource into whatever’s trending on social media.

So I was very interested in an article on willpower in the NZ Listener recently that refers to key elements that persuade us to behave differently. It includes some great thinking from David Thomason and the planners at Draft FCB who, like more and more of us in the marketing sector, are looking to the behavioural sciences for clues on ways to shape brands and the behaviours that make brands gel for people.

The article quotes from psychologist Robert Cialdini who decades ago listed 6 key factors that persuade us to make lasting changes:

1. Reciprocity – actions we take based on direct or indirect mutual gain

2. Commitment that can then be carried out consistently – habits, once formed, rapidly become addictive

3. Social “proof” – the power of the crowd to compel the individual

4. Authority – following the bidding of those we perceive as strong, respected or in a leadership role

5. Liking – we’re drawn to, and much more easily persuaded by, people and brands we are inclined towards emotionally

6. Scarcity – making something scarce not only heightens its value, it also elevates its desirability

From this base, Thomason goes on to extrapolate a number of other drivers:

7. The need to display and in doing so to reinforce identity – a phenomenon I often reference as “the handbag of the ego”

8. Framing – the clever use of alternatives to focus buying – usually by making one choice stand out from another as a “bargain”

9. Chunking – breaking big commitments down into small steps

10. Normalising – making activities that had been regarded as unusual or abnormal seem sensible and everyday. As Thomason and his colleague Murray Watt identify in the article, positioning an activity as everyday is actually a highly effective way to overcome inertia and/or indifference.

As the Listener article serves to remind us – brands live in the mind much more powerfully than they do on the shelf, with all the synapsial, behavioural and emotive complications that such perceptions entail. So the key to changing a consumer’s inclination towards a brand, service or action lies in something much more complicated than awareness. It rests on changing their mindset about that brand, service or action.

Most marketers can happily supply plenty of reasons why, in their eyes, customers should change to their brand.

But that’s not the market share-changing question. That question is: why would they change?

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