Advertising & Marketing

Positioning your brand to be the obvious choice

For some time now I have been mulling over the implications of the latest learning on how humans think. I have been trying to figure out what the implications are for marketing. Are the implications really as radical as they as they might at first appear?

Many of you will have read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman in which he proposes that we react first and then think. Our instinctive reactions help shortcut decision-making and help us react correctly to familiar circumstances. However, when decisions are unfamiliar or complex our conscious brain cuts in to help make the decision, but it is effortful and slow.

I should point out here that dividing the way our brain works into two systems is a huge over-simplification. In reality, the two systems are inter-related and the balance of power fluctuates between the two depending on the intensity of the reaction, and the difficulty of understanding the situation and making a choice. Much of what informs our instinctive reaction to a situation probably derives from a prior deliberative assessment.

As a marketer the last thing you want to do is make things difficult for consumers. Ideally you want them to respond to your brand instinctively and positively, and not to have to think about their purchase decision. However, when we think about purchase occasions we have to make a distinction between three different types: the first time someone buys the category, repeat purchases in a familiar context and when a person is forced to reconsider a previous choice. There is a huge difference between these three, and the balance between instinctive and deliberative reactions will change accordingly.

If people are choosing for the first time, or are unhappy with their current choice, they will invest more time and effort in the decision and search for the best brand (otherwise why did I spend two hours last night researching hiking boots online – if anyone has a recommendation for lightweight but robust hiking boots let me know). The amount of deliberation given to the decision will vary depending on how important the choice is to the individual, in terms of the risks and benefits, cost and reward.

First and reset choices are hugely important because existing, habitual patterns of behavior are sidelined. For incumbent brands, the ones already in the buyer’s repertoire, it is an additional purchase opportunity; for new brands it is an opportunity for trial. This is the point when consciously-accessed brand attitudes have the most influence on purchase. All of our research suggests that a combination of positive functional and emotional associations is more likely to lead to the brand being bought. This is when a difference meaningful to the individual has the power to sway the purchase decision and justify the price paid.

My conclusion is that focusing too much on instinctive responses on brand choice is as bad as ignoring their role. Marketers need to ensure that their brand is the obvious choice under both conditions, ensuring the brand is immediately recognizable and triggers an instant positive response, but also seeding positive and motivating ideas that come to mind when someone actively considers their choice.


Written by Nigel Hollis, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown

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