Katie Ewer
Oct 16, 2018

When to make it easy, and when to make it thinky

The golden rule of hacking the mind of the shopper is perhaps easier than we think it is.

When to make it easy, and when to make it thinky

Every year, countless new innovations launch. Some capture our imagination, and others fade into obscurity. Why do people find some stuff interesting, and other stuff unremarkable?

Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of us tend to max out at about 150 people in our relationship circle. On average, we frequent the same 25 places in our daily lives. We sleep-walk through life on autopilot, following the herd, seeking out opinions that confirm our prejudices and selecting information that strengthens our inbuilt biases.

We are hard-wired to seek out the path of least resistance. This mentality becomes accentuated when we have to decode complex information or make split-second choices—like when we’re shopping, for instance. In this context, we choose brands from repertoire, making rapid decisions based on intuition and habit, responding best to the brands that engage us the least. We know what we like, and we like what we know.

It can seem like pretty uninspiring stuff.

But for some brands, in some circumstances, it’s the best news ever.  

Those brands are the ones that exist in established shopper repertoires. For these brands, understanding autopilot behavior is crucial—you need to work with existing behavior rather than against it. Above all, you avoid at all costs asking the shopper to think. If you can do that, you’re likely to end up in their basket week after week.

But for those brands that don’t exist ‘in a category of one’, disruption is the crucial difference between impact and invisibility. Challenging expectations is the only thing that matters. Because when we’re presented with information that runs counter to our expectations, we notice it. We notice it because it demands that we think. And thinking, of course, is a key to memory, because thinking is hard work.

In essence, we remember ideas that challenge our assumptions, but we forget the ones that affirm them. (sociologist Murray Davis wrote a paper on this called ‘That’s Interesting’. It is quite).

Sounds simple in theory, but apparently difficult to implement in practice. For brands that are the default choice in given categories, the temptation to find new ways to ‘excite the shopper’ and ‘remain relevant’ can create fatal friction in an otherwise seamless buying process. And for those brands that are new to their market, the pressure to adopt category codes in order to be understood is similarly lethal.

The golden rule of hacking the the mind of the shopper is perhaps easier than we think it is. Just know when to make it easy. And know when to make it thinky.


Katie Ewer is strategy director at Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR) in Singapore, which won our recent cover design competition.

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