Why do consumers buy competitive brands when ours wins in preference testing?


You know your product is better and it always wins in blind testing, so why do consumers keep buying your competitor?

The problem is that telling them or even showing consumers that your product is better is using rational argument and consumers are just not rational.

Thinking Fast and Slow.

 We know this, Kahneman published Thinking Fast and Slow and introduced the idea of System 1 and System 2 Thinking.

In explaining why our product is better, even in demonstrating how it is better, we are attempting to engage our consumers in a logical, System 2, style.

Even if we include a few emotional phrases and use some appealing images, we are – in essence – saying to our consumer that this is better, this is why it is better, and you should switch to it. But, despite what they tell you in market research, most consumers do not respond to such logical argument.

The Elephant and the Rider

Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis uses the image of the Elephant and the Rider where the Rider represents our rational self, apparently in charge and guiding the Elephant. The Elephant represents our emotional side. When the Elephant decides he wants to head off in a different direction there is very little the Rider can do to control him.

Chip and Dan Heath in Switch extend this metaphor with an additional variable that of the environment or situation, they call this the Path.

We often focus our efforts at persuading the Rider – the rational self – by demonstrating how good our products are, how great they taste etc. and on improving the Path – the environment – by improving access, making our products and services socially attractive by plugging into current trends such as low fat, sustainability, endorsed by celebrities etc.

Even if we use emotive language or images, their basic appeal is to the rider (rational). The rider understands the appeal of the product, she can even see the path clearly in front of her, but if the Elephant is unconvinced, if our emotional self is heading off in a different direction ignoring the clear path, then there is nothing that the rider can do to control him.

Creating consumer desire.

Consumers need to want your product, they need to believe that it will be better for them and for their family. Want and Belief are emotional, they are not rational. The elephant doesn’t do what it should , it does what it wants to do.

We are all emotional beings and the majority of decisions that we take every day are System 1 (automatic, fast and effortless). However, we tend to think that in order to pursuade others we should use System 2 thinking (logical argument requiring agency, choice and concentration). We target the rider and not the elephant.

This is very understandable, it is easier to target the rider, to employ logical reasoned argument as to why our product is better. The elephant is much harder to understand and communicate with.

However, if we invest a little time and effort into understanding the elephant, into understanding the emotional drivers that excite and motivate our consumers. If we learn to speak the elephant’s language, then our life becomes much easier, our consumers start to believe that our product is better, and they want to buy it.

When you are putting together your Brand Plan, or writing your communications brief, pause a little and challenge yourself: Are you really talking to the elephant or are you just putting a few emotional phrases and images in to your communication with the rider?

Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands