The inertial consumer

global brands

You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.

Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights

A strange contemporaneity. While prominent scholars, bloggers and know-it-all guys are explaining us how brands move the world economy (No logo was published 13 years ago), brands are severely fighting to understand consumers. And let me a bit interested…

Like in the evocative Kate Bush’s song, brands are asking “How could you leave me, When I needed to possess you?“. Private labels uprising, local products or the old ugly competition threaten brands daily.

I am fiercely sure that we should study less the fashionable phenomena like Apple i-stuff success and focus more on case like Lotus Smartsuite, Commodore or RIM Blackberry’s struggle to survive. If history could teach something, it is the fragility and sudden fall of whom nurtures himself in the “rentier syndrome”.

If you ask a consumer why he/she chooses a brand product (or rejects another one), the common answer is “I am used to“, or at least is the more agreed sentence. A not inconsiderable portion of consumers say also “Shelf is so well-stocked that I don’t feel the need…“. If you asked explicitly why he/she does not consider a competitor brand you probably obtain answers like this: “It  don’t occur to me when I do shopping“.

I am not “supposing” of course. I experienced such kind of responses several times. Consumers often have not a rational or prejudicial rejections/reasons. If you explore a lot of further potential combinations (price, promotions,  brand call, word-of-mouth, etc.) you will end up again whit this despicable conclusion: consumers are inertial.

Are you not convinced? Ok. Let’s try a little research exercise.

  1. Take a small sample (500) of a brand consumers.
  2. Give them a consistent list of sentences that qualifies choice drivers about the brand: “I choose [brand] because I am used to”, “In our family we prefer to buy products by known brands”, “[brand] products are cheaper”, “[brand] products’ quality is higher”, “I find [brand] products everywhere” etc. – Please, mix some rational drivers with some habits references.
  3. Let the sample score (1-10 scale or anyone else, but a numeric scale, possibly symmetrical and without a median grade) the sentences from “I don’t agree at all” to “I completely agree”
  4. Introduce 3-4 sentences about likelihood to continue to purchase the brand, to purchase more and so on. Repeat the sentences for a competitor brand.
  5. Use regression to understand how much drivers impact on likelihood to purchase. Et voilà… inertial reasons are stronger

Do you know physics and especially the Law of Inertia?

The vis insita, or innate force of matter, is a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line.

Newton explains us an inertial body resist to conserve its state. Consumers do the same.

Until a force does not succeed in winning their inertia: a change in the competitive schema with a brand new player, a great change in lifestyle due to family (i.e.: a lot of prominent spirits producers suffered a severe loss in their revenues when my first daughter was born) or to job evolution (involution, in the present age), a financial crisis.

Inertial consumers resist to change their favorite brands but when they switch, they move like an avalanche. Rim, Nokia, or the past Wendy’s, Commodore, Lotus know what I am saying.

Moral? Marketers should study more physics? Not at all (well.. sometimes). Only remember consumers are not less moody than anyone else (marketers included).

The sole immortal love is the one that last less. I hated you. I loved you, too. (Thanks, Kate)