First, get rid of the barriers

Right after business school, several of my classmates were employed as sales professionals in a host of multinational corporations – Unilever, Nestle, Coca Cola and the like. While all these sales roles were different, they had one thing in common – to travel to local markets and check if their products occupy prominent spots on stores shelves. Their visits ranged from little corner kiosks to the largest supermarkets in their region.

I was surprised when I heard about this. My talented peers went to a leading business school, where they had learnt about consumer behaviour, psychographic segmentation and brand marketing – concepts that are considerably more sophisticated than observing if bars of soaps or packets of biscuits were reliably stocked on shelves. What was I missing here?

Nearly a hundred years ago, the psychologist Kurt Lewin supplied the insight I had missed. Lewin understood that persuasion – changing people’s minds – was hard work. Instead, if we intended for people to behave a certain way, we ought to ask why they weren’t doing that already. In other words, ahead of investing considerable efforts in persuasion, it is more efficient to get rid of the barriers in their way.

If our brand of soap, biscuits or milk-powder is superior to the alternatives, why aren’t consumers buying it already? Perhaps the biggest reason is because our products aren’t easily accessible. Needless to say, marketing and distribution are complementary. But through decades of experience, these companies realized that it is more effective to have their cadres start off with distribution.

A small tweak in the environment can lead to a large shift in behaviour by making it easier. We all know how ineffective persuasive messages are in getting people to eat healthy. Instead, if your office cafeteria stocked healthy foods at the checkout counter, while tucking away desserts and chips, healthy eating would increase overnight.

How easy is it for people to subscribe to the change you propose? Your efforts are better invested in getting rid of obvious barriers before spending millions of monies on blockbuster advertising.

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