Marketing

What you need to know about two-speed consumers

Bri Williams /

You may have heard of two-speed economies, where some sectors are booming while others flat line? I believe there is such a thing as two-speed consumers as well, and by understanding the difference we can be more effective in how we go to market.

Two-speed consumers

The easiest way to describe two-speed consumers is to start by comparing them to a house.

In a house you have core structures like walls, a floor and a roof. Let’s call them the “foundations”. These things form the basis of the home and don’t change without significant renovation. At this base level, my house is the same as my neighbour’s because they are both made using the same universal design principles.

You also have soft furnishings within a house — things like curtains and cushions, as well as surface materials like paint, wallpaper, floorboards and carpet. Let’s call these types of things the “furnishings”. These you can change more regularly without needing to alter the home’s structure and is how I differentiate my house from my neighbour’s.

Behavioural foundations

In behavioural terms, there are deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour that are like the foundations of a house. You can’t build a house without them, and you can’t be human without them either. I’m talking about universals of human behaviour like:

  • Social norms — consumers are influenced by what other people do;
  • Loss Aversion — consumers are more motivated to avoid loss than seek gain; and
  • Short-term bias — consumers will be more interested in immediate gratification than long-term payoffs.

These foundations of how people behave have been identified through fields such as behavioural economics, and with 170 principles and counting, it means there’s a lot we can draw on to anticipate how our consumers will respond to a campaign or promotion we are running.

The foundations are the basis of my behaviour change model, which distills behavioural economics down to three central universals. To get consumers to buy, you need to overcome apathy (can’t be bothered), paralysis (can’t decide), and anxiety (worried about proceeding).  

Behavioural furnishings

Behavioural furnishings, like the furnishings in a house, are more changeable and prone to trends. One week people might be flock to your store, the next they stay away. The frustrating thing is you don’t know why.

To understand behavioural furnishings requires you be on top of the latest trends in technology, social media, politics and consumption. It’s ‘being on the pulse’ and seeing where the winds of change are blowing.

You need to be a two-speed marketer

My observation is that most marketers are trying to keep abreast of the “furnishings” part of the behavioural landscape, jumping from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat without really exploring why. As a result they’re getting exhausted, irritated and angry.

The answer lies in going back to the foundations of behaviour to understand what’s driving the latest trend. People are people and the fundamentals of human behaviour haven’t substantially changed over time. The veneer of behaviour may change (people use social media to connect for example), but the principles don’t (people will be influenced by what others do, for instance).

Step back from plumping the cushions of consumer behaviour, and consider whether you know how the house is constructed first.

NOW READ: Why fees can beat discounts when influencing customer behaviour

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Bri Williams

Bri Williams is Australia's foremost authority on behavioural economics applied to everyday business and personal effectiveness. Author, speaker and leading consultant, Bri can make your life easier through behavioural science. More at www.briwilliams.com.au.

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