Choice overwhelm is making brand simplicity reign

Before media fragmented to the extent it has today, customers were far more predictable. You could get their awareness through a focused choice of mass media and when you did, you could gently nudge them through the brand funnel to purchase. It was a lean, mean, lead generating machine, and all you had to do was turn the crank and customers appeared.

Kareen Freeman and Patrick Spenner, of the Corporate Executive Board, recently researched customer behavior, and uncovered the customer funnel model is breaking down. The results of the research have been shared in a recent Harvard Blog (thanks guys!). In their research of over 7,000 consumers, they found a population of people in cognitive overwhelm. This is in line with Hearts and Minds emotional research into the customer mindset, which has consistently uncovered, brand confusion is the biggest barrier to consideration.

Freeman and Spenner’s research identifies that only a third of customers follow the classic brand funnel, another third get caught in a loop of brand trial and switch, forever looking at the options, while another third just opt for a brand and spare themselves the angst of the ongoing search.

The lesson of brand simplicity can be seen in Sony’s loss of  marketshare and the rise of Apple. Sony critics argue the brand lost its ground when it created brand and choice overwhelm. In contrast, Apple’s supremacy lies in its ability to make complex products simple for the consumer.

For the one third that go for the “tunnel” option of brand choice, our research would suggest that another factor is at play here. Hearts and Minds research shows, that typically, these are the people for whom the actions of a trend setter or opinions of a trusted advisor, has led to the focus on a single choice of brand.

The other observation I would like to make is, that even for those who go into the “tunnel” of decision making, they do however like to experience some choice, even if it is not a significant make or break in value. When customers are in over whelm, they tend to use “proxy indicators” as the criteria for brand choice, like the “great sales staff” or the “easy to follow web site”.

Hearts and Minds research has shown the most powerful set of proxy indicators in the market today, is the organizational values. With all else being equal, customers are choosing brands with a value system that aligns with their own, such as fair trade, environmental consciousness or personal well being.

Freeman and Spenner’s research also kicked up another compelling set of facts worth sharing, that brands that crack the code on decision simplicity have 86% increase in purchase intention from customers and 115% increase in propensity to recommend. They go on to say a combination of navigation, trust and weighing options are the three principles to simplify decisions. Hearts and Minds research shows this is true and we will go one step further and close with this observation:

“brands that design the customer journey around the emotional milestones in decision making, will win.”

Louise Kelly

Managing Director

Hearts and Minds

Founder Thought Leaders Circle


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