21 Jan 2021 18:33 IST

What influences brand-buying decisions

Once habituated, consumers are in a state of inertia and brands need to appeal to the ‘executive mind’ to win them over

Since Sourav Ganguly had to unfortunately go into a hospital for a suspected heart condition, memes are drowning the internet on an apparent paradox — Fortune Rice Bran oil as a brand has been making a very unambiguous promise — being good for your health, just like its competitor - Saffola. And here, its brand ambassador has had to be admitted due to a heart issue.

Source: Twitter



The debate in this question is whether Fortune should discontinue ads featuring Sourav (For the record, the brand has stopped such ads already). But this article is not about Fortune, but about the paradox that may come up if the brand ambassador's intended or unintended future is not in line with the brand promise. Do we expect Fortune Rice Bran sales to drop because of this incident? The point here is about buyer behaviour of this category. Two key questions arise.

First, how do customers buy such a category? Second, how much influence does the brand ambassador have in swaying buy decisions in favour of the advocated brand? How many of us would have still bought the Kent RO system if Hema Malini did not appear in its commercials?

Habitual minds



Let us deal with the questions one by one. Author Neale Martin, in his brilliant book, Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, highlights an important aspect of the human mind. He argues that we have multiple minds. The most common archetype amongst us has two minds - what Neale calls as 'Executive Mind' and 'Habitual Mind'.

The Executive Mind is that part of our brain that engages in an activity more consciously, whereas, the Habitual Mind deals with the world with greater deployment of subconscious resources of our brain. When it comes to a brand evaluation decision, such as first-time brand selection, one would expect our Executive Mind to lead us on the path. Once a brand decision is taken, subsequent buys are done by the 'Habitual Mind'. Unless a rival manages to dislodge the decision-making and takes it to the Executive Mind and wins over the customer. In simple words, welcome to inertia-driven shopping.

Clever brands

What does this dichotomy mean for competition in the market then? Brands tend to carpet bomb the masses to get what marketers call as mindshare. Clever brands are more discriminating and choose channels carefully and reach out to only those who are their defined target group of customers. Yet, even these brands have something called mindshare as a desired aim.

The question in the light of Neale Martin's book is, share of which mind are we speaking about- Executive Mind, or the Habitual Mind? Reflectively, we can argue that if the desired objective of an advertising campaign is to attract customers to a new product per se or a product category, then the advertising must appeal to the Executive Mind.

However, categories such as edible oil, which is a regular consumption item, is characterised by repeat buys. That is where habit comes in. The campaign now has to hit the habitual mind or the subconscious layer of our brain. That is the challenge. Much harder. So, one can arguably argue that there would be very little impact of this Sourav-Fortune oil paradox on the sales graph.

Celebrity endorsements

The second aspect is message discounting, particularly when celebrity brand ambassadors are seen endorsing brands as themselves (not as characters). This context means, for example, Amitabh Bachchan appearing as himselfin an ad, not as a Jai of Sholay. Whether a brand ambassador's values are in accordance with the promised brand promise (healthy heart in this case) is probably an important factor. Is Dada known for health or predominantly as a fiery, entertaining, charismatic sports person associated with Indian cricketing pride? How many 'executive minds' would match such characteristics with a healthy heart? Or Hema Malini with safe drinking water?

In this case, we can see that there is already a disconnect in selecting the brand ambassador, so the impact of such a campaign, would be even less because the executive mind, for those applying it instead of the habitual mind, has probably already discounted it! Why Baba Ramdev became a potent brand ambassador of Patanjali is because of his own image that is associated with health and fitness! Net-net, while memes are good entertainment at this point of time, in the author's opinion, the brand's mistake in associating Sourav with heart has fortunately come to its rescue.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Digital Business and Marketing, JAGSOM, formerly known as IFIM Business School.)