If you want insights to drive your disruptive strategy, take a risk and start by disrupting your thinking.

Coffee in hands. The whiteboard fluttered with sticky notes. Consumers, we were told, loved the product. Our sales figures said otherwise. Deep qualitative research was commissioned that explored our brand image. Consumers loved our brand. Our brand personality was younger, smarter, and more fun than our old-fashioned main competitor. But why were they the market leader and not us?

Up to this point, our brand strategy was built on insights about why consumers should buy from us. Our product had benefits that our competitors did not offer. We had found no significant barriers to buying at the shelf. But still, our brand languished. Retailers were losing patience.

If you have ever worked on a challenger brand, you have been in this position. Your brand was loved by many but bought by few. I’ve faced this challenge in consumer goods, banking and financial services, education, and other categories.


Disruptive insights are ‘why’ insights

With the right ‘why’, we could disrupt the market and drive growth. But first, we needed to disrupt our own thinking.

Our breakthrough came from re-framing our thinking away from why consumers should buy our brand to why consumers don’t like changing their brands. This took us beyond the usual ‘gains’ and ‘pains’ analysis to understand the deeper issue that consumers were afraid of change.


All decisions involve risk

Change involves risk. We have an emotional reaction to risk; it scares us. Sometimes we may find risk exciting, but excitement is tinged with fear.

If consumers see something as risky, they will avoid making the change. Avoiding the risk of change is why consumers and business decision-makers stick with a satisfactory choice rather than change. Politicians understand this by positioning their opposition as risky and themselves as the ‘known’.

Brands that understand how consumers perceive choice risk in their category are more successful and can charge a price premium. In the early years of computer adoption in business, ‘nobody gets fired for buying an IBM’ encapsulated the premium IBM had for being the ‘safe bet’.

Is your brand a safe bet?


Understand your category risk profile

For your insights hunting, you need to understand what type of risk consumers associate with choosing your brand. Your category, positioning, and brand image will all determine your brand’s risk profile. This profile includes which risks influence consumers’ choices and how they frame that risk.

Below are the main types of perceived risks that we have found are critical in reliably uncovering insights for disruptive change and are used in the behavioural sciences.

  1. Functional Risk:  Will it work?
  2. Physical Risk:  Will I get hurt?
  3. Financial Risk: How much will I lose?
  4. Social Risk: Will I look foolish?
  5. Psychological Risk: Will I feel like a fool?
  6. Time Risk:  Will I lose time if I’m wrong?

Let’s discuss how these perceived risks drive choice and how we use them to craft disruptive strategies.


1. Functional Risk:  Will it work?

Even slight skepticism about your brand’s ability to meet their need is all a consumer needs to not change to your brand.

When working on Nicabate, overcoming perceptions of functional risk was critical. Like other quit smoking products, Nicabate used nicotine as its main active ingredient, and consumers were wary of swapping one addiction for another. To address this issue, we positioned the nicotine in these products as ‘therapeutic nicotine’ and as a healthier way of quitting compared to slowly reducing their smoking.


2. Physical Risk:  Will I get hurt?

Physical risk may not appear relevant to your category. However, we have found transformational insights in this area. For a childcare client, we discovered that the more of the outside human environment that parents could see or hear, the more concerned they were about the physical safety of a centre. Changing how parents entered and left a centre and creating a more natural wall with the outside world helped us overcome perceptions of potential physical risk to their child.


3. Financial Risk: How much will I lose?

Insights into financial risk come from understanding what costs they are most concerned about. In a financial services study, we found that fees were seen as a risk because consumers felt banks hid fees and that these fees would erode any real financial benefit of changing banks.

Outside of financial services, we found that consumers looking to quit smoking or lose weight were worried that they would spend a lot of money and still have the problem.


4. Social Risk: Will I look foolish?

Losing the respect of others or just having to face their disapproval is a powerful driver of consumer choice. The more likely a choice involves others, the more powerfully social risk. A powerful reason people don’t quit smoking is the fear of judgment if they fail.    

In a recent study involving family planning, we discovered consumers were avoiding the category because they did not want others to know they trying for a baby. We have disrupted categories where social risk is a factor by normalising the product, the buying, or the problem.


5. Psychological Risk: Will I feel like a fool?

Self-respect may not seem important when choosing a savings account, but it is. Preservation of our sense of self-worth drives many decisions. A banking client’s use of introductory rates left people feeling ashamed when rates reverted. When we removed introductory rates, customers took to social media to let others know we could be trusted.

In childcare, we found mothers faced an identity crisis when putting their children into care. To combat this risk, we helped mothers be more engaged with centre activities. Helping them feel their identity as mothers extended into the childcare setting.


6. Time Risk: Will I lose time if I’m wrong?

When making a choice we weigh up how much time we need to invest in searching for a better option and whether there not being a better option. Much like choosing to read this article!

While working with a medical supply company, we found time risk drove provider choice. Timely product delivery reduced business costs, eliminated the risk of patients not being treated, and reduced costs associated with stock-taking.    


Disruptive strategy

You can’t disrupt a market without disrupting your thinking first.

We have created disruptive strategies by changing the types of insights we use. Using the lens of decision risk, we focus more on the consumer as a person and gain a deeper understanding of what emotions drive choice.   

Brands that communicate they are a safer option are better able to convert interest to action; converting consideration to purchase.

Since our initial epiphany, we have helped clients to develop better disruptive strategies; strategies that challenge the status quo and deliver renewed brand growth.

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