Thought Leadership

Changing Hard-to-Change Consumer Behavior

August 15, 2012
Author: Randy Hanson
Changing Hard to Change Consumer Behavior

While building a model predicting if someone would choose their current brand/provider again today, my client half-jokingly said, “Yeah, choice is one of those things that you can never move.” He meant, of course, that share and choice are resistant to change in the short term: No matter how hard you try, your efforts seem to have little effect.

Shares do change over time though, so how does that happen? Recently, I found one answer in an unlikely place, the bestseller Superfreakonomics. In one section it’s clear that to change a consumer’s future behavior, we have to understand the relative incentives she has and the why behind them. The key point being: Consumers’ personal choices and behavior are unlikely to change unless and until they believe that change is in their best interest.

That change can come about by being pulled to another provider (something new, better, shiny) or pushed away by the current provider, and there are many ways to decide against re-choosing your current brand. Since commitment focuses on the consumer’s state of mind, it portends what might happen next. From this perspective, here are four paths that lead to not re-choosing your current brand:

  • Category Involvement: If I really don’t care about this decision, it doesn’t matter what I choose.
  • Overall Satisfaction: If this product no longer fits my needs well, I won’t choose it.
  • Quality versus Competitors: If it is the same or worse than others, I won’t choose it over something else.
  • Intensity of Choice: If this isn’t the best choice for me—maybe not even among the few good choices—I won’t take a chance and choose it again.

Certainly, the converse can bind and pull customers to you. Also on the pull front, The Peppers and Rogers Group says that any product must have at least one of five attributes to succeed; if it doesn’t, you have nothing to sell and it will fail:

  • It saves time.
  • It saves money.
  • It does the job better.
  • Based on the reputation of the product or the company behind it, the customer has a better feeling about it.
  • It satisfies a psychological need (variety, prestige); this accounts for people who need to be different or among the early adopters.

In sum, it is critical to discover the incentives or disincentives, and which are strong or insufficient. As Superfreakonomics states, This is what makes the science of behavior change [and prediction] so difficult.” Importantly, there may need to be meaningful negative consequences from not changing before a change will occur. The authors offer this answer to hard-to-change behaviors: You must come up with engineering, design or incentive-focused solutions that render the old behavior or choice less efficient, less modern or less appropriate

Successfully achieving that lets you steal your competitors’ customers; but watch out when a competitor effectively convinces your customers!


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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson
Vice President, Marketing Sciences

Randy Hanson is a vice president of the Marketing Sciences Group at Escalent. He has more than 25 years of research experience executing a wide array of research, consulting and statistical responsibilities. Randy is a sought-after consultant, internally and externally, on most aspects of marketing strategy and marketing research. He is a nationally recognized expert in applications of Customer Experience Management, in particular Churn/Retention, Commitment, Loyalty and Customer Satisfaction. Randy designs, develops and implements project-specific approaches and multivariate analyses and is particularly adept at designing original solutions when textbook solutions fail. He is a Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Missouri, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in statistics, and later an M.B.A. with a marketing emphasis. He was honored as Best Graduate Instructor in the Department of Statistics and Outstanding Marketing Student in his M.B.A. program. Randy has published several articles in industry periodicals and journals. He enjoys teaching and has delivered tutorials and speeches at leading national conferences.