Brands are all about habits. But as this article in Time reminds us, sometimes the best thing a brand can look to do is to change a habit – even if they helped create the habit in the first place. Of course, brands tell themselves they do this all the time – but for many brands, the focus of their problem solving is on increasing consumption.
Their answer to a pattern they feel they know and understand is more of that pattern.
But the insight here is that changing a habit for the better doesn’t necessarily mean just offering the consumer more of what they have, or more of what the brand perceives consumers want.
In the context of the fast food industry for example, generosity is not a competitive advantage. When everyone’s offering bigger portions, the portions aren’t more generous. They quickly become the new normal. The pattern itself hasn’t changed, it’s just got bigger.
One of the reasons why brands are so reluctant to change patterns is that they take so many of their cues from what they perceive to be consumer behaviours. What they don’t always stop to do is check whether those “normal” behaviours are how people want to behave, or whether in fact they are simply how people do behave because a sector is driving the behaviour that way.
Here’s a pattern, by way of example. Consumers are eating the double-stack burger and barrel of chips because that’s what everyone is offering them when they order a family-size meal. And if it’s there, they’ll eat it. Habit. It’s not their fault – “The brand made me do it.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean though that they want to eat that much food. Or that they wouldn’t eat less. Or that they wouldn’t like to be offered less.
But that’s how marketers have taught themselves to analyse what’s going on. If that many people are eating that many big meals, and competitors are offering big meals, that’s the pattern. Which means they need to offer bigger meals. Which they then do. So the consumer eats more. And on it goes …
Until some smart soul breaks the cycle – and renormalises the category.
In fast food for example, consumers fed up (sorry!) with feeling they might have to discipline themselves about portion control, are now asking brands to do it for them – and recalibrating offerings in the process. Super-sizing is out. Miniaturising is in. Small meals, small drinks, small treats … great for the brands, because proportionately consumers are paying more per mouthful for the privilege of having less mouthfuls. And great for the consumers because they feel they’re doing something that’s good for them.
The very clear message: if your brand is competing in a “more is more” scenario, sometimes the wisest thing you can do is make the case for less, not by pointing out why people should abstain, but rather by developing an offering that still feels desirable and yet also seems more responsible.
In broader terms, wherever a market follows a pattern as a pack, the disruptive opportunity is to redraw what you do by packaging an answer that makes sense and takes control. Don’t just ask your consumers to break the habit or, worse still, go without. Instead, check whether what they’re doing, and what the market is used to, is the behaviour consumers would like to be making or the one they have been given.
If the habit they’ve got is not the habit they want, your opportunity is to offer them a way to re-normalise that habit, via your brand.