Punch line: Many of consumers’ buying behaviors are habitual — deeply ingrained and difficult of to change. Marketers have to identify times when consumers are open to change and get them. to break their habits.
The good news: the are times when consumers are, in fact, ripe for change …
In the 1980s, a team of researchers led by a U.C.L.A. professor named Alan Andreasen (now at MSB) undertook a study of peoples’ most mundane purchases, like soap, toothpaste, trash bags and toilet paper.
They learned that most shoppers paid almost no attention to how they bought these products, that the purchases occurred habitually, without any complex decision-making.
Which meant it was hard for marketers, despite their displays and coupons and product promotions, to persuade shoppers to change.
But when some customers were going through a major life event, like graduating from college or getting a new job or moving to a new town, their shopping habits became flexible in ways that were both predictable and potential gold mines for retailers.
The study found that:
- When someone marries, he or she is more likely to start buying a new type of coffee.
- When a couple move into a new house, they’re more apt to purchase a different kind of cereal.
- When they divorce, there’s an increased chance they’ll start buying different brands of beer.
At those unique moments, Andreasen wrote, customers are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers.”
In other words, a precisely timed advertisement, sent to a recent divorcee or new homebuyer, can change someone’s shopping patterns for years.
Note that Prof. Andreasen didn’t just pick off the obvious stuff — e.g. new parents buying baby stuff, new home owners furnishing their new digs, or divorcees buying new duds.
No, the life-changers seem willing to change many of their buying patterns and brand loyalties.
Next: How Target identifies customers who are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers” … and pounces on them.