Overcoming brand habits


I was recently thinking of the struggles that most companies go through while trying to launch new products in markets that are well-saturated with just about every product one would ever need! With about 250,000 new products launched globally each year (of which 85% to 95% are bound to fail!), creating one that stands out seems like quite a challenge. One factor that makes this especially difficult is the habit that consumers have in buying certain products, especially products that are well-known and trusted.

Habits can be great for both buyers and sellers. As a buyer, a habit enables you to put less thought and effort into making a purchase. As a seller, you have commitment and increased likelihood of a consumer buying your product. Breaking consumer habits is not an easy task and a buyer would need a pretty strong reason to make a switch. There are countless examples of companies that failed and even powerful companies are not exempt. Example: Microsoft failing to take market share for search engines from Google with “Bing”, or Google trying to take over social media from Facebook with “Google+”.

The question that companies are faced with is “how do we get consumers to break these habits?”

I stumbled across an article on The Huffington Post that addressed this question exactly and have reproduced parts of it below.


There are many reasons why habits are hard to break. Some of the more important ones are listed below.

  • Physical connections. Once people develop habits, their decisions follow the grooves or established connections, in their brain. In fact, brain research shows that habits are stored, or ingrained, when the dendritic spine component of brain neurons are physically rebuilt. These physical changes make it harder for people to change habits.
  • Switching costs. Another reason habits are hard to change is the switching costs can be prohibitive. To the brain, making a change takes it out of its comfort zone. There is a cost to switch from a Wintel standard computer to a Mac platform, and vice versa. The brain wants to stay in its comfort zone because it feels safer. It takes, time, money and effort to switch.
  • Even if the habit is bad, the brain sometimes rationalizes that it is safer doing what you have been doing since making the change might harm you. This is sort of the thought process people go through when the doctor recommends an operation, but you are thinking that you can die as a result of the operation. Most pick what they believe is the lesser of two evils.

Hard does not mean impossible

Good marketers know how to break through habit barriers because they (1) understand why people have them, (2) appreciate the difficulty of changing them, and (3) they have experience doing the necessary non-invasive brain surgery to counteract them. Too many marketers fail because they do not understand these issues. They presume that it will be easy to convince buyers to switch if they point out the “neat” features their products have that their competitors don’t. Apple smartphone competitors continue to use this tact with little success.

How to break buyer habits so they’ll switch to your brand

It is conceptually easy to break buyer habits so they’ll switch to your brand. You have to apply a sufficiently strong marketing force using the following primary building-block strategies to pull buyers out of the “habit groove” and break the strong bonds they have with other brands.

  • Marketing Information System. Use a marketing information system to find out what buyers want that they are not getting from the brands they typically buy.
  • Devise a branding strategy that positions your products as having sufficiently unique and important capabilities that (1) your target audience wants but (2) your competitors do not provide.
  • Develop products (including technologies) that meet or exceed the expectations promised by your branding strategy.
  • Create promotion strategies that clearly communicate the compelling benefits of your products so that members of the target audience will understand why they should (1) buy products from you and (2) break the habit of buying them from your competitors.

Some examples of habit breakers

There are so many examples of brands that successfully broke habits and took brand positions away from competitors. The following are just a few of them.

Google: Google entered the search engine market after Infoseek, AltaVista, Excite, HotBot and Yahoo! were already providing search services on the Internet. Google unseated them with a very easy-to-use, uncluttered home page that performed searches easier and better. Google broke any habits that had formed with the other search engines and made it easy to switch. The word spread quickly. Microsoft’s Bing has come long after the Google habit was formed and has been unable to make any significant dent in the use of Google for searches.

Facebook: Friendster, MySpace and others predated Facebook in social networking. Yet, Facebook grew faster and became synonymous with social networking because it gave its users more of what they wanted. Google developed Google+ to unseat Facebook, but Google has not provided the marketplace with sufficiently compelling reasons for users to switch.

Apple: Starting with the iPod (and perhaps the iMac), Apple created products with compelling designs that got buyers to take notice and spread the positive word about them. With the iPhone, they created a smartphone that was also a portable computer. It had sufficiently unique capabilities because developers could supply Apps so the phone could do just about anything it was programmed to do. This disrupted a marketplace that was dominated by Nokia and RIM, and caused these established companies to rapidly lose market share and dominance. The habits were broken. RIM, now Blackberry, has been looking for buyers, and Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft.


I think it’s safe to say that entering a market with a new product that is likely to break consumer habits is not going to be an easy task, and a well-formulated marketing strategy would be key. Do you agree? Is it worth the risk?


10 thoughts on “Overcoming brand habits

  1. Hi @nyazdani2015,
    Interesting post, something which every businessman dreams off, to be on the top. A company releases new products only with a single aim and that is to beat the competitors and make its consumers loyal to their brand. Its your product and strategy of marketing which decides the reality and life of the product. There are several brands in and around the world which came out of nowhere and today they are reigning the whole category. You giving out something which no other competitor can provide is what makes the consumer loyal to you. It is not just the perks or better features but all the same features with a higher value. Taking an example from the blog, Google and Bing both almost have the same features when it comes to being a search engine, but Google being more user friendly and providing a greater number of results makes it more superior in the minds of customers. If you ask about the risk of launching a new product in to the market, yes it has many, but that doesnt stop them from being succssful. For example, “Nike” was a started by a middle distance runner Phil Knight who started his business by importing shoes from japan. During those times, they had numerous competitors from the already establshed german market, but they are right now ruling the shoe business than any other popular brand. Wherein as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Not every concept – even those that seem promising in the development and research stages- can survive the marketplace. Even major, successful companies drop the ball once in a while. That is where the competitor strikes and hits the post. Nike did the same thing by launching the products with a difference, it worked for them, so why wont it for anyone else.


  2. Changing consumer buying habits is surely difficult – I really hate it when a brand I have used for years is suddenly not available and I have to choose something else from a myriad of other products. That said – when I do see something better – more useful or user friendly, much better value for money and same effective use, etc – I change brands quite readily. So it is always worth a company’s while to try and bring a new product to the market – especially if they have done their homework and figure they can offer the product with something better attached to it – whether that is cool new design, improved functionality, more environmentally friendly – what ever it is that turns the consumers attention – they should go for it. Innovations on existing products are generally easier to “sell” than brand new products no one has ever heard of before – these products tend to target the “early adopters” – and they only represent about 10% of the population on average – albeit on a global scale that’s potentially a lot of customers. The rest of use wait and see how the new product pans out and whether or not it will be useful for us before we think about purchasing. I guess it’s a hard call with new products – a company needs to test them first on a smaller scale and be open to feedback – then be brave a give it a try!


    • Thanks for your comments, Lynette! So why do you think innovations of existing products are easier to sell than new products? What are the factors that determine this, in your opinion?


  3. Changing the habits of consumers is a extremely difficult task. If you are bringing a new product in to an existing established market it is vitally important companies have done their background research. They need to bring an innovative product that addresses an unmet need. This coupled with a solid marketing strategy will put them in the best position to penetrate the market and ensure their product is a success. So it is definitely worth the risk.


  4. Google has already in consumers’ heart deeply and really difficult for new entrants and rivals to compete and change consumers ‘ habit and switch their loyalty away from Google. This is because Google has “all-in-one”! It has search engine,email service, personal account service and more importantly,YouTube! It only needs one login and consumers can basically do everything! Therefore, the reason why it is so difficult to change consumers habit is either the existing product is wonderfully perfect or the new product is not really good enough!


  5. Thank you for your interesting post. It is definitely true that when a brand creates a product satisfying the consumers needs it will create loyalty of the consumer and once this is set it is hard to change the habit of purchasing the same kind of product from another brand as you nicely describe. It saves you time and energy to keep this habit, so it is really hard to put a new product out on the market when people have these brand habits. However I think that the price of a product can play an important role in being able to break this habit. People can be more inclined to try a product of an alternative brand for which both products have small economic values, as it doesn’t cost you so much to try another brand (e.g. food products) . If this brand pleases too, you might vary your purchases more and thus break your habit. Hence I think that the reason to break a habit doesn’t need to be strong if the price of this kind of product is low, it might be just as simple as wanting to try something else.


    • Interesting comment! Yes I guess price does play a large role. I can imagine with deciding to break habit and go for a new “pen” for instance, there is much less risk and willingness to try out this new product than, for example, spending $1000 on a new blender from a company you have never heard of.


  6. The article addresses a very interesting and difficult question to answer: is marketing the key to overcome consumers’ habits?
    One reason that you mention in the article that explains why habits are hard to break is that “the brain sometimes rationalizes that it is safer doing what you have been doing since making the change might harm you.”
    This problem opens up possibilities for businesses to minimize the perceived risk for the consumer and hence, convince him or her to switch to your product. This can be done by offering warranties, after purchase follow-up calls, and extended trial periods. Therefore, clever designed non-core attributes combined with a marketing strategy that clearly communicates these product attributes can be one measures to overcome habits.


    • I totally agree with you in that a company needs to offer some sort of “assurance” to the customer that he/she has nothing much to lose in trying out the new product. Anything as simple as a money-back guarantee could definitely help to achieve this. I think with such a strategy, a company should accept the fact that they could very well be in for making a loss in its first months/year of operation. That initial hurdle is extremely difficult to pass, but once trust has been established through customer satisfaction, the company can continue nurturing this relationship.


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