Loyalty is Overrated: The Rise of the Undecided Consumer

By Caroline Krediet, Partner and Head of Strategy, Figliulo&Partners

Advertising Week is here again, when the marketing great and good convene in midtown Manhattan to discuss how to capture American hearts and minds on behalf of today's leading brands. The conversation will be wide-ranging, with this year's most intellectually glamorous themes being ad tech, podcasting (all hail, Ira Glass!), the art of brand storytelling, behavioral economics, the Internet of Things, big and small data, Facebook's dislike button and the hot potato of digital ROI.

Yes, advertising people are smart cookies and we are getting better at surrounding an audience and measuring impact. But for all the media whiz bang, we're neglecting something fundamental: that changing minds is hard.

We still haven't mastered it and it's interesting to me that, as marketers, we don't often acknowledge this fact in how we think about our consumers and their attitude to our brands and categories. Are they loyalists, detractors, passives or on the fence?

Loyalists are largely retained by product consistency. Fighting the naysayers is an expensive uphill battle, and good luck with the people who are outside of the category anyway. Where I see the most significant opportunity - and our research proves it - is among people who are category involved, yet brand agnostic. At F&P, we call them the "Undecideds," and their category-first mindset is reshaping the consumer journey.

When Joe Maciariello, automotive practice lead at Google, talks about the morphing of the classic purchase funnel, he describes a world in which buyers no longer have a fixed set of options that get winnowed down as they spend more time researching. On the contrary, the more time they spend, the more brands they consider, creating a bulging mid-funnel. Most marketers focus on the top and the bottom of the funnel - investing in awareness driving and retail.

The mid-funnel, then, offers a huge opportunity for marketers to invest and reap rich rewards. The best examples are targeted, geared toward educating consumers, and often highly comparative. Comparison is an anathema to brands, who usually want to project themselves as unique. (I find this is ironic, because brands are inherently comparative. A brand with no peer set has no need of a brand. It is a product).

In order to feel that you have made the best selection, savvy consumers need to know what their options are. Our desire to compare and contrast, to dig deeper for more and better information explains the success of aggregator sites like Kayak and the enduring popularity of the unsexy (but solid) US News and Report's powerful media proposition: "Life's decisions made here."

Just think what might happen if brands acknowledged the truth that decisions are as complex and non-binary as the humans that make them. Imagine if they spent as much on creating compelling, journalistic content that help potential customers get educated, and actively encouraged comparison and contextual information. Imagine if, instead of 30-second spots running on cable and YouTube, we had dedicated brand information channels, along with "brandcasts" or "prodcasts" produced and created with the same absorbing editorial skew as a top rated NPR show.

Most most humans like to evaluate things in relation to one another. This is a key learning from behavioral economist Dan Ariely and his experimentation with anchoring. Absent a comparative context, we create artificial ones. Today's enlightened brands should embrace this reality by building, defining and investing in increasing demand not just for the products they make, but the information about them, and what makes them different and special in the context of all the choices people have now.

The world is a comparative place. When brands start to act on that fundamental truth, we might start to get really good at changing minds.