Brand Loyalty and Switching Triggers
By Tom Dougherty
The purpose of all marketing and share-stealing brand development is to influence the purchase decision. This remains true regardless of category and regardless of focus. Every direct-to-consumer brand and every business-to-business brand expects its marketing and brand messages to be persuasive and to somehow change someone’s usage habits, whether that someone is a consumer (business to consumer) or a decision maker (business to business). The target market may be different, but the goals are the same: Enter the considered set of choices and create a preference. Own the switching triggers.
For just a moment, think about the dynamics of change. Why would someone consider changing an existing idea in regards to a purchase decision? How do you get them to notice you in a crowded market space? Once you have gotten their attention, how do you get them to believe that your brand is a better choice than the competitor’s products?
To understand how difficult this argument can be, all you need to do is take a cursory look at human behavior and the hierarchy of your own category of services. Human beings are resistant to change. This is certainly a reflection of a loyalty to a previous idea (the habit of repeated usage).
What is most interesting and revealing is why this loyalty exists. It turns out that this sense of loyalty is often an innate desire to reinforce one’s own belief in our personal “rightness.” Change means re-evaluating a past decision and accepting the possibility that our choice at the time may not have been the correct one.
There is a general desire by all human beings to resist this sort of action. We all want to think of ourselves as fundamentally “right.”
Target audiences don’t like to be wrong
Brands often mistake this dynamic by believing that it represents equity in their brand loyalty itself. As if choosing a particular brand makes the purchase decision easier. I have heard many brand managers tell me “this dynamic represents an extension of the brand’s value because choosing a familiar brand in a crowded market space is a simpler choice.” These managers are correct, but the idea of simplifying the choice is more about the reinforcement of personal correctness then it is about safety or simplicity. Repeating a considered choice is mostly act of self-confirmation.
This idea has profound implications because it demonstrates how much the individual personality is imprinted on the purchase decision. It also explains why improved product innovation and advanced product features often fail to turn the tide.
Consider your own business category as an example. I don’t care what category your brand competes in, ask yourself this: “Is the market leader the best product? Is the market leader the least expensive? Is the market leader the innovator?” Is your brand loyalty unassailable?
The answer is no doubt, “No,” to all of these. Yet, these are the very equities that we “believe” define the market and over which we jostle with the competitive set to out promise or undersell. Stop. Take a step back and take a closer look. What you will discover will change everything.
How to find meaningful switching triggers
Stealing Share understands that switching triggers — the values and understandings that your prospects covet and promise would change their buying habits — are not rational product benefits or lowest pricing are the basis for your brand loyalty. If your marketing research disagrees with this contention, your research is flawed. If you have ever conducted a research U&A (usage and attitudinal) study that suggested that if you cut prices and improve your product offering, you will grow your share and profitability, you have not asked the right questions. The market leader in your segment will continue to win and appreciates your help.
Switching triggers are emotional triggers and they represent two important discoveries. 1) When a trigger is revealed and is highly intensive emotionally, it will change a category. 2) By its very definition, a switching trigger represents what is currently lacking in emotional fulfillment. It represents a void and need in your category.
These are always vastly different from best practices, which are an operational interest that your business must always strive to be in the forefront. In every category, best practices define your brand’s commitment to quality and relevance. Do not, however, confuse these with how your customer chooses. (Remember, look back on your own category. If the market leader is not the best, cheapest, and most reliable, then these are not switching triggers).
We can delude ourselves and convince ourselves that our problem is awareness. You know the story, “If only the customer understood our quality and effectiveness, we would be the market leader.” Maybe we should ask ourselves why we are not noticed?
This brings us full circle back to the difficulty of breaking old habits. Because purchase and brand loyalty is an extension of the customer’s own desire to believe they are, and always have been, “right,” they ignore your message. They don’t even notice you.
Would anyone keep their money in a brand that they thought was not safe? Would they buy a car that they thought was not reliable? Would any company purchase a telephony system that they believed was not reliable and intuitive? Would any person frequent a restaurant where they believed the employees were rude? Would any industry purchase raw materials that they believed were inferior? Would you use a credit card you believed was not accepted by merchants? Would you drink a beer that tasted bad and was not cold?
To be noticed and to change behavior you need to know more about the person or decision maker that you need to influence. We can help you do just that. Because we begin every stealing share project with a brand anthropological research study through our sister company Resultant Research, we set benchmarks for your best practices and create a single minded brand definition that reflects the highest emotional intensity of the customers you wish to influence and promises them the ownership of the switching triggers that propel them to notice you and switch.
Or you can continue to promise them your brand is a better choice. (Here is an article on how to use switching triggers to make your brand more persuasive)