The average adult makes around 35,000 decisions each day. Almost all are habitual. This is because our brains are efficiency seekers, leading familiarity and ease to win, and habits to rule our lives.
When shopping we often make the easy choice. This product or that? For many needs, we want to know right away, without having to read the ingredient list, speak with a service rep, or research reviews and alternatives.
This trend is driven by many factors such as:
- The attention splitting strength of our digital devices
- Our swollen busyness (causing time urgency and stress)
- Chronic under-sleep
- The nature of our brain to conserve energy, hard-wiring preference for the familiar choice.
These factors, when taken together, are causing us to default more often to the known quantity, rather than to the new, or perhaps better better-fit option for our needs. One example of this is the 50-year reign of Tide detergent over numerous new market entrants that offer superior features in areas as sundry and crucial as toxicity, environmental sustainability, convenience and price.
Years of life have created endless imprints on our brain, implicit memories, that – when we see them again – we prefer. One study1 showed subjects were far more likely to recognize images seen 17 years prior over similar, new ones. This proves people identify things encountered in the past more easily than those they haven’t. This difference in ease is interpreted as preference. It’s what causes us to reach for one deodorant over the other.
How do we capitalize on this reality?
For CMOs responsible for marketing strategy, this means familiarity is a crucial driver of revenue. Key questions to ask include:
- How familiar is your brand to your target buyer?
- How familiar is your product or service to your target buyer?
- How readily do your future customers link your offering with their need? And with their broader job-to-be done?
To win new customers, it needs to be obvious.
Sometimes, even that’s not enough. The fit of the buyer’s need and your solution must be even more obvious that that of your competitor’s offering.
What type of decisions and products does this impact? Low-consideration purchases.
The majority of our monthly purchases are in this low-consideration category, some $1B every day. So it makes sense to really understand how obvious the fit is, in the buyer’s mind, of their need and your solution.
A simple matrix can be used to plot where you think your main product is today, and where you need it to be. This relationship between the Obviousness of Need, and Obviousness of Solution – is called the O-Factor. It can be summarized into a single number. Our hypothesis is that companies with high O-Factors (for example, 8 or higher) will grow faster than companies with lower O-Factors. It shows that making the purchase decision obvious and easy accelerates growth.
The more obvious the fit, the less evaluation, and brain effort, takes place. From a journey perspective, it’s a holy grail – to obviate – and make instantaneous the Evaluation stage. Watch customers go from Awareness to Transact, and – ideally – into the coveted loyalty loop (the Bond Stage). This removes competition from the process. It’s the classic “I get it!” feeling. When you need to hear no more. You make the purchase and move on.
Since purchase takes place in the upper right box (Quadrant #1), CMO’s must determine how to use messaging, creative and other levers to move customers from their O-Factor location toward the upper right.
But, first we need to understand where the customer is, and only then can we determine how to market effectively to them. How should this be done? We suggest interviewing customers.
Suggested questions include:
- What problem were you trying to solve when you looked for this solution?
- What is it about this solution that clicked for you? (This get’s at the O-Factor.)
- How obvious was your need when you chose to purchase this solution? (1-10 scale)
- 10 = Very obvious? (E.g., My friend’s wedding is in two weeks and I need a dress.)
- 5 = Somewhat obvious (E.g., In general I consider myself an athlete, but hadn’t planned to buy a new watch. Your solution looked great and was well priced. So I decided to try it.)
- 0 = Not obvious (I had no plans to register for a new credit card. Your offer made it worthwhile.)
- How obvious was this solution? (1-10 scale)
- What would make it more obvious?
Then plot the real data on the matrix for each customer segment. Below are some realities of how it may play out.
If customers say, “My need was a 9, but your solution was a 5. It was on sale, and in front of me, so I decided to try it.”
- EXAMPLE: This could be a millennial looking for running shoes. He knows he wants new ones that offer good cushion for his knees before the upcoming race (obvious need = 8), but he’s not clear on which of the five brands featured on sale before him – all advertising advanced cushion technology – is the best one for him (not obvious solution = 5).
- IMPACT: Your competitive foundation is distribution and price, making revenue highly subject to competition, even with superior distribution and placement. Additionally, you’re winning based on price, limiting margin improvement from price increases and potentially future premium offerings.
How should a CMO respond?
- CMO ACTION: The O-Factor spans Quadrants 4 and 1. The differentiated aspects of the cushioning solution are not clear. We need to make the solution more obvious to push ratings into quadrant #1 for this need (managing knee pain), if the company wants to target this segment of cushion-seeking/pain-managing buyers. OR, they can compete on price and placement, and hope for the best. This differentiated message should flow through messaging, creative and positioning.
If customers say, “My need was a 5, not so strong, but your solution seemed like an 8, really obvious. So, I decided to try it.”
- EXAMPLE: This could be someone who years ago whitened their teeth, and hadn’t thought about it since, but who has started noticing signs of aging and realized a generalized interest in maintaining a youthful appearance. Bright teeth go along with that. So she purchased the 30 Second Whitening Touch-Up Stick for $14, even though she didn’t come to the store with any intent in this area. The product won because it was an obvious fit, even with a non-predetermined need.
- IMPACT: Your competitive foundation is a clear value proposition, supported by placement and promotion. It is subject to discretionary income levels and competitive programs.
How should a CMO respond?
- CMO ACTION: The O-Factor spans Quadrants 1 and 2. The need was not clear, yet the solution was very clear AND was an obvious fit, compelling an impulse purchase. So the customer went from Awareness to Transact, with little to no Evaluation Stage. To capture this revenue going forward the company should focus marketing on explaining that the latent need does exist and must be met (to bring it into Quadrant 1, above a rating of 5). The product must be simple and should not over-deliver with extra features, complexity or cost since it’s an impulse buy that we’re triggering.
For each O-Factor (placement on the chart), there’s a different mandate for messaging, targeting and creative.
For Quadrant #3, where neither the need nor solution is obvious, we do not recommend investing marketing dollars. This may be a new solution searching for a problem to solve.
This highlights the need to have very well defined, and prioritized, target customer segments. I suggest this be based on what the customer group wants to accomplish (also called the job-to-be-done). Once this is known, a company can ask each segment how obvious the fit is of the solution and the need (the O-Factor), and can revise marketing spend, messaging, targeting accordingly.
Marcy Strauss Axelrod is a Strategy Management Consultant focused on helping companies grow. She is Vice President of Strategy at Digital Media firm, 3Q Digital, a Harte Hanks company
1 David Mitchell of Kennesaw State University, Nonconscious Priming after 17 Years: Invulnerable Implicit Memory? Psychological Science, Vol. 17, No. 11 (Nov., 2006), pp. 925-929