A view from Craig Mawdsley

Making plans for Julie: how to appeal to your customer's habits

Appeal to your target customer's habits.

Earlier this week, I saw a PowerPoint chart that seemed to encapsulate my entire career in one sentence and a picture. I’ve changed the lady’s name to preserve confidentiality, although nothing else about the chart betrays the client, brand or project, so I can share this text with you in full. The title of the chart, which may be a marketing haiku of sorts, was this: 

"Julie briefly considered purchasing a different variety but ended up buying her usual product." It was accompanied by a picture of Julie sitting on a very comfy-looking leather sofa. Now, I could be accused of overanalysing this, but I have been obsessed with this chart ever since I saw it because studying it reveals a number of important lessons about our chosen profession.

Julie doesn’t care about you. I know it’s obvious, but it really can’t be stated often enough. The best you can hope for from Julie is for her to consider you (briefly) and then reject you. In most meetings I attend, clients seem to think that Julie spends a lot more time thinking about them than that. When Julie falls into their segmentation study, her life is described in terms that are entirely related to the product or category in question. The way we talk about Julie, you would think her life was shaped around what we have to sell her. It’s not. Get over it. Have you worked out how to deal with that?

Julie is a creature of habit. We often speak of this as though our customers are just too lazy and feckless to conduct a proper review of everything that’s available to them in any given category but – let’s face it – life’s too short. Julie is a creature of habit because evolution developed a really big brain that enables her to hit tennis balls, solve complex equations and think about the future (that doesn’t look like what she’s doing in the accompanying picture, but she definitely has the potential to). That takes up loads of energy, so habit is useful to help save energy. She buys her usual product because her brain has (quite rightly) deduced that the decision of which brand to choose is so irrelevant that she doesn’t need to think about it very much. Have you planned for this predominance of habit?

Julie is happy for things to remain the same. The chart title implies that Julie’s reversion to her usual product was something of a disappointment ("ended up"), but I don’t think that’s how she really feels. I think she’s probably pretty happy with her usual product. It probably serves its purpose more than adequately, like virtually everything does nowadays. I bet her usual product is the brand leader. And it’s popular for a reason, because it does the job. If it didn’t, Julie would change. It doesn’t need to be the best, it just needs to be good enough. If that’s not you, then what are you going to do?

But Julie has given you a chance. Think about it. Despite the evolutionary imperative to save brain energy for the more important things in her life, Julie did briefly consider purchasing a different variety. The title of the chart tells us that, in simple, tragic language. Maybe she did that because of something you did. Maybe you planted a small association in her brain that got her thinking  when tapping your rival’s name into Google. You did something amazing, thwarting millions of years of human conditioning. But then, at the last minute, you fluffed it. How are you going to make the most of that chance next time?

So what to do? Create strategies and executions that encourage Julie to end up buying her usual product (if you’re her usual product), or to turn her brief consideration of you into purchase (if you’re a different variety). Think about the justifiable and sensible dominance of habit. Work out how to use it to your advantage or consider just how hard you might need to work to change it. Think about just how similar you are to all your competitors. Make peace with that and then plan from there, rather than pretending that you’re different. And, most of all, never forget that what you make and sell is not likely to make her life better in any substantial way, so she really doesn’t care about you. And she’s right not to.

Plan for Julie.

Craig Mawdsley is joint chief strategy officer of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO