Why the status quo is the real competition

Even if we offer customers something new, better and cheaper it’s not necessarily the case that they’ll jump at it straight off the bat.

There’s a difference between the theory and the practice and I always find it refreshing to have my lazy brand assumptions challenged by reality once in a while. It happened most recently when I was lucky enough to sit in on a piece of consumer research. It was for the launch of a new service, and all the homework had been done: market analysis; target audience profiles; positioning; pricing; branding…the lot. We believed that we had a great service for the right people at the right price. We wanted to fine tune a few aspects of the proposition and price points, so the research groups were commissioned. 

It went well, and many aspects of our proposition researched positively. But, in listening to the groups, and reading between the lines, I was reminded that there is a massive difference between the sterility and rationality of the boardroom table and messy emotional reality of the real-world customer.

Because you see, although the proposition was good - the customers made it clear to us that they might be tempted - but there was a raft of reasons why they probably couldn’t switch over immediately (if at all). Existing deals, notice periods, and tangled family accounts made it a real challenge. And we all know what we’re like when we’re faced with having to compare, contrast and must change supplier…we tend not to. The inertia of it is just too powerful. 

In 2013 there was a piece of research published that said people were more likely to get divorced than change the bank account they have on their wedding day. At that time the average marriage lasted 11.5 years, whereas we stayed with a bank for an average of 17 years. That’s a perfect example of consumer inertia right there.

It’s not just in the B2C space. A 2020 study demonstrated the complexities and challenges in today’s B2B buying journey showed that 38% of purchase attempts end up with ’no decision’. In these circumstances I think it’s even more complicated and comes down to the sheer inescapable gravity that holds the status quo in place.

What’s the point then? Well, it seems to me that in many cases we get far too worked up about the competitive marketplace and all the alternatives to our brand, when they’re not thing we should be thinking about. It’s the status quo. That’s where the real ‘can’t be arsed’ friction lies. We all know it and feel it but seem to forget it when we come to work in a marketing sense.

So, I think we should be adding another section to our research when we’re looking at the competition: what’s the status quo for the customer right now, and how to do we look to deal with these challenges. It’s not an earth-shattering insight; but another reminder that it’s always useful to get out and hear customers talking about the reality of their buying experience. Their context is always different to that of the boardroom.