On Hunky Dory Bowie sings about ‘Changes’. “Time may change me; but I can’t trace time”. Back then he wouldn’t have been able to; but thanks to Bob, our word-geek robot, we can. In fact, he goes even deeper than just tracing brand and consumer attitudes towards time. He actually traces and measures attitudes towards the nature of change itself. Armed with this knowledge we predicted the struggle to switch customers into new UK banking brands. There was very low emotional demand. And it’s why we’re generally sceptical about the hype around the internet of things. We think this change will happen slower than most people predict.
Bob measures attitudes towards three types of change: tradition, evolution and revolution.
Tradition is based on things being the same, even if you’re offering something that didn’t exist before. It’s where both feet are kept on the ground and forward movement is a shuffle. In recent years tradition has been big, as consumers feared for the future and sought reassurance in the past. Sport brands’ top-sellers have been old-skool, iconic and classic designs. Kitchens and bathrooms are integrating old-fashioned features. And in clothing, vintage has been bang-on trend for a good while. In response, brands themselves have emphasised their history; often, like Marks and Spencer, adding their founding date to their logo. Tradition makes up 36% of customers’ attitudes to change, but just 22% of brand-side conversations. Business was slow to pick up on the demand for it until trend commentators told them. But customers were telling us directly all the time, if you were listening deeply enough.
Evolution is gradual change. It’s a walk towards difference, as one foot takes a step ahead. With each improvement on an existing offer we take a stroll into the future. Evolution is by far the biggest way business change happens. For consumers, it’s 50% of their attitudes to change. And that rises to 59% for brands. Gradual improvement is the way the world moves. It’s vital not to forget this when introducing new things to either consumers or B2B clients. If you don’t listen to what they need then put your money on evolution. You’ve a 50% chance of success by showing them how what you do makes things a little better than they were.
Revolution is a great leap forward. What’s gone before is left behind, as quaint and obsolete as wooden clogs. Revolution is always a hot business topic. Business books, MBA schools and conferences love disruption, breakthroughs and reinvention. But in reality, revolution is a relatively rare way for things to happen. For customers it’s only 13% of their talk of change. And even for business it’s only 19%. So why is it so small if it’s what business people want to hear?
One big thing about radical change is risk. We hear this all the time in healthcare. New things are unproven. For chronic conditions people prefer to stay with the tried and trusted. This alters only when it comes to life-threatening conditions. At that point risk is outweighed by hope. Even in technology, big breakthroughs are relatively rare. When was the last reinvention of the mobile phone? What’s been the biggest recent breakthrough in computing or digital distribution? These tend to be step-changes followed by much longer periods of evolution.
So think twice before believing Bowie when he sings “Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange”. It’s the approach least likely to succeed right now.
What are consumers attitudes to change in your market? With new product or service failure more likely than success, anything shifting these odds is critical. Deeper listening is a small, but important, step towards changing those odds in favour of success. Knowing consumers’ attitudes towards change gives you better odds, quicker.