Saturday, May 7, 2011

Item #43: The Great Familiarity

Prepared for the Canadian Marketing Association, January 2011.

In communications, from a strategic perspective, we spend a whole lot of our time thinking about positioning strategy, developing creative briefs and then guiding creative development. I find that objective setting most often includes “raise awareness”, “build opinion” and “improve purchase consideration”. With these priorities set, we create awareness-building media plans, craft messaging strategies that will grow brand value and put tactical traffic driving measures in place.

But of late, I am suspecting we may be overlooking a more important barrier and therefore, objective. Familiarity.

I feel like I have spent every day of the last 12 months of my life in consumer conversations. I executed more research than ever last year. And I heard something new.

I’m calling it The Great Familiarity.

Here’s what I’ve heard: “Well, I’ve had experience with Brand X so next time I’m going to just buy it again.” Or maybe, “Well I have been a Brand X person for a long time, so that’s where I’m starting, but my friends keep going on to me about Brand Y, so I will give it a look, but I’ll be honest, I’m really in the Brand X camp.”

In these discussions, we present compelling, credible, relevant and competitively distinctive reasons to look at our brand, and rationally, consumers will say “yes, we see it…but”… Fact is: most consumers are firmly stuck in the comfort zone of The Great Familiarity.

What is The Great Familiarity?

Well, in a nutshell, The Great Familiarity is a consumer mindset and behavioural state that ‘rests in the comfort of familiar satisfaction’. It is a consumer mindset that tunes out new messages, because there is little reason to attend to them. It is a behavioural state that frequents familiar brands as a routine, because it’s easier and it works.

The Great Familiarity is the outcome of a marketplace currently characterized by:

- Proliferation of Choice. Sure, choice can be a good thing, but it also adds complexity. It requires an evaluation of that choice, a wading through of yet another consumer option.
- Busy Lives. People are busy. Lives are hectic. If there were an extra minute to spare in the day, most people would prefer to spend it in conversation with a friend or child, or cuddled up next to their loved one. Not evaluating a new consumer option.
- Standardized Levels of Quality and Value. Amongst consumer products and services, the risk of a bad decision nowadays is actually quite small. Most computers, any computer will perform the task at hand, ditto a shampoo, frankly, ditto a car. There’s not much motivation to rigorously evaluate a new consumer option.
- Security of Purchase. If for some unlikely reason, it turns out that a bad purchase decision was made, it’s pretty easy these days to get out of it. Return the computer to the manufacturer, throw the vehicle up on Leasebusters, or at worst case, turn to eBay, Craigslist or Kijiji.

Addressing The Great Familiarity

I don’t have a silver bullet answer to that, but awareness-building media plans, brand value adding messaging strategies and tactical traffic driving initiatives might have limited impact. What is needed, when you are faced with the barrier of The Great Familiarity, is a clear objective to ‘Shake Up The Great Familiarity’. The core objective of the marketing strategy in this situation must be to dislodge the consumer from their existing perceptions and attitudes. It must not intrude or disrupt if you really want a positive outcome. But it must surprise, turn a head, boldly pique interest.

In short, the response to The Great Familiarity, might just be The Great Shake-Up.

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