Time for a change

What did you have for breakfast this morning? Toast? Cereal? Scrambled egg, maybe a smoothie? Whatever you had, chances are it was pretty similar to yesterday. Most of us have a weekday breakfast repertoire of around 3 or 4 options (weekends are a little more adventurous). Have you ever thought of having soup for breakfast instead? Probably not, even though warming up soup is quick and easy. Why not? Because soup simply isn’t on your mental shortlist for breakfast.

Same old same old

As humans, we like routines. It makes life easier for us, and reduces the number of decisions we have to make. Because decisions are hard work so we avoid them wherever possible.

Take shopping. We tend to choose from a relatively small repertoire. Large supermarkets carry over 25,000 products, but we only ever buy a small fraction of these. For example, one of the major grocery retailers currently lists 168 products under ‘Jam, Sweet & Savoury spreads’. Yet, a straw poll of my colleagues reveals that most only had 4 different toast toppings in their cupboard. Why? Any more and they’d have to make choices at 7.30 in the morning – which we all hate to do!

As marketers we spend a lot of time trying to get people to form new habits or change existing ones. The problem is; it’s really difficult. Even when you present people with financial incentives such as £200 for switching bank accounts, the results are underwhelming. According to BACS, only one million bank accounts were switched in the last year. That’s a paltry 1.5% of people who have a bank account. Even though switching is actually very easy to do, it feels hard and we prefer to stick with what we know.

New tricks

Often we need a major life event to change our habits. This could be a real milestone (becoming a parent or retiring) or a psychological one, such as turning 30 or 40. It’s no coincidence that people whose age ends in ‘9’ are more likely to make life changing decisions.

During the Covid-19 crisis we are all going through a major life shift and lots of us are trying new things. I’ve started getting my milk delivered; other people have stopped showering every day!

The exciting news for marketing is that right now is probably the easiest time there has ever been to get people to try something new. Just so long as the process of buying isn’t too complicated.

A trying process

The tricky part is converting trial into habit. Data from Brandwatch shows that from mid-March this year there was a significant increase in social conversations about new activities such as home workouts, making sourdough bread, DIY, learning a new language and Tik Tok.

‘Home workout’ saw the most rapid increase in social mentions at the start of lockdown, but it has steadily declined since then. In contrast mentions of DIY and sourdough have maintained their levels. Why? Because exercise is hard, and doesn’t get any easier.

Conversely, once you’ve made sourdough once, you gain mental fluency. So each repetition becomes easier. (Plus, you get bread so there’s an immediate benefit!) Exercise stays hard with no instant reward. So while a lot of people may have trialled home workouts, they don’t become part of our routine.

Building the link

As marketers how can we turn trial into habit? How can we change one off purchasers into repeat customers? One way is the UberEats Approach or repeated trial. Persuade people to do something enough times and a strong mental link can be built between a relevant need and your brand. Eventually your brand will become a reflex thought at the relevant moment. During the current lockdown, UberEats, Deliveroo et al, are all working hard to combat the drop-off in demand for takeaway delivery. UberEats’ solution is to offer repeated and diminishing discounts that both tempts people to order and familiarises them with the buying process. Eventually UberEats will become the first choice and feel easy to use. Habit created.

Signing up the customer

Another, perhaps even better solution is to make the act of buying so easy, people don’t even have to think about it. That’s why so many direct-to-consumer subscription services are now popping up. Once you’re signed up to a subscription it’s cancelling that requires the effort.

I’m a relatively new parent (15 months in) and the big nappy brands haven’t got much of chance with me despite their huge shelf presence and enormous marketing spend. Why? Because I have a nappy subscription. Nappies from a much smaller brand appear on my doorstep every few weeks, and some money leaves my bank account. What could be simpler?

Is there a way that your business can adapt its model to be more like a subscription? Many garages offer a monthly payment plan for servicing, ostensibly to help spread the cost. Yet it also makes the car owner feel committed and cancelling seem a hassle! Tesco too, has explored subscriptions with Clubcard Plus, which offers savings on shopping in return for a monthly payment.
People are defined by habits. So are brands. Are you happy with the habits that define your brand? If not then please get in touch to see how CreativeRace can shake things up.

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