In psychological terms, context is almost everything. Much as we like to think that we know how we will act and react in a given situation, without the richness of...
I was working at a client’s store, watching customers for a few hours as I do, but I wished I had been watching my car instead.
It was parked just outside the store, but whilst I was figuring out what was going on in the minds of people looking at products on the shelves, some thieving so-and-so was helping themself to the wing mirror from my car.
My first reaction on seeing part of my car missing was to imagine what would have happened had I seen the thief at work on my car: for a moment I saw myself running across, tapping him on the shoulder and then beating his skull on the side of my vehicle.
However, this fantasy was soon interrupted by a dose of healthy pragmatism: I’m not that brave, I haven’t assaulted anyone since I was in a playground fight at the age of ten and given the way of the world it’s perfectly possible that the person who thought nothing of stealing part of my car would have thought equally little of hurting me. On reflection it was for the best that I didn’t see the act in progress.
But the loss of my wing mirror did give me a fascinating insight into human behaviour. I occupy a strange world where, because I spend so much time analysing the consumer psychology I’m observing, I can sometimes analyse my own unconscious behaviour by observing my own actions and reactions.
So what did I learn and how might it be useful in terms of consumer behaviour?
1. Old (unconsciously programmed) habits die hard.
I had to drive an hour home with no wing mirror. I knew that I didn’t have one – it was a source of considerable annoyance. Had anyone asked me if I knew my wing mirror was missing I would probably have directed some of my anger at the thief at them. But… did that stop me looking at the space where it used to be every time I changed lanes? Of course not.
Similarly, where consumer behaviour is established through repeated actions it will take a huge intervention to change it.
2. Fear is a Great Motivator
With my mirror gone I needed a new strategy for changing lanes. I realised that I usually used a combination of the rear view mirror and wing mirror when looking for a gap in the traffic. With the wing mirror gone it was feasible to only use the rear view mirror: by looking for a space behind I could see the gap and extrapolate accurately where it would be when I changed lanes. However, I needed the reassurance of seeing there was nothing in the space I was moving into: so every time I was about to change I had to look over my shoulder before I could make the progress I wanted to on my journey.
In the same way, consumers need to get past any fears their unconscious mind throws up before they can get to the pleasurable part of buying.
3. Familiar Wins Over Better
Whilst this blind-spot-free method of looking over my shoulder should have been more reassuring I was cursing the fact that I had to do it each time; partly because I was cursing the fact that some git had pinched my mirror. But what really irked me was that the good (i.e. safe, dependable and efficient) means of checking that I’d been using for over twenty years was no longer available. [I should point out that my car’s mirror did have a blind-spot eliminator – although these still leave a small blind-spot.]
Often companies will get frustrated that a customer won’t buy their product when they ‘know’ it is better than the competitors’: it’s important to factor in how familiar an alternative product is too.
So there you have it; I managed to find some useful reminders from an annoying situation. I also managed to find a new replacement mirror and fit it myself for £22.00 (rather than the £150 that BMW wanted to do the job).
So if I do find someone helping themselves to part of my car again it may simplest for all concerned if I give them the money… then whilst they’re surprised I can smash their head against the side of my car 😉