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How does the rise of
promiscuous decision making affect the way we approach consumer insights? New
proprietary research has uncovered variances in shopping behavior that are
directly linked to brand category, spelling dramatic consequences for brand
equity research. This suggests that there is power in moving away from brand-focused
to consumer context focused techniques to elevate insights and create more
meaningful consumer relationships. How can researchers start to view projects
with a new lens? First, we must understand these core shifts in consumer

Defining the Promiscuous Shopper

Promiscuous shopping is
defined as: “the propensity to look for new brands and products before
considering previously purchased brands”
. This is becoming the norm across
all categories (our bespoke research finds that this behavior encompasses 62%
of consumers) and seems positioned to increase in the future. We found that
there are four main forces putting pressure on consumers to engage in and
continue this kind of promiscuous behavior:

  • Unbounded distribution: Consumers can effectively get their hands on any product made by any brand at any time, giving them the opportunity to seek out new experiences
  • Rapid innovation: Innovation and technology advancements are snowballing at the most rapid rate the globe has ever seen, so consumers are always looking for the newest “upgrade.”  This means that consumers really can’t be loyal if they want the latest and greatest
  • Expectation economy: Closely related to the point above, the expectation economy means that any current consumer expectations will be quickly replaced by new ones.
  • Digital filtering: In most categories, brand is a secondary consideration after consumers have filtered search results on price, reviews, and features. Even traditional categories like automotive and CPG are seeing large declines in consumer loyalty because of this behavior.

What does this mean for
insights professionals? The traditional approach to a consumer funnel is no
longer valid. Loyalty is no longer the endgame for a brand, and brands need to
keep in mind that brand is often one of the last things that consumers
consider, if at all. Surveys ask consumers to evaluate brands against their
competitors, but this is no longer reflective of how people are making purchase
decisions. Moving away from brand narcissism when building questionnaires and
market research studies is one of the first steps toward understanding the
promiscuous consumer.

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Shopping Style by Category

There are nuances in
shopping styles that vary by category and can have dramatic consequences for
brand equity research. Brands need to understand the unique context of their
category in order to discover their true position against the competition.

Right now, most brand
equity research treats all categories and shoppers as the same. A soda brand
will ask the same questions of their customers that an automotive brand asks.
But, is that how the category truly operates? 
We’ve seen in our research that consumers will change their shopping
styles depending on the category, which we think is due in part to the
consumer’s state of mind about the category itself. It is important for brands
to uncover that state of mind before making assumptions about shopping styles.

While brands have long
depended on loyalty for success, our
research found that very few consumers are loyal in the traditional sense of
the word. Those who appear loyal are passive and dispassionate, lacking the engagement
needed to make a brand change. By far, most shoppers fall into varying
promiscuous categories. When you layer category into the mix, we found that the
most dispassionate grocery purchasers switched completely to the rover category
when making a technology purchase. It’s vital for brands to keep these shifts
in mind when trying to understand their audiences.

Changing Our Approach to Consumer Insights

Consumers are becoming
more promiscuous in their decision making – in many ways, these changes are fueled
by factors outside of brands’ control. Our industry’s traditional approach to
understanding purchase decisions is to place them in the framework of a
purchase funnel. But, we know now that consumers are not moving linearly
towards loyalty and that loyalty, as we have traditionally defined it, is
eroding. While many of the same questions are relevant – awareness,
familiarity, consideration – researchers must push beyond these metrics to
understand how their client brands can intercept shoppers who are becoming less
and less interested in loyalty.

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Marketers and researchers
should consider the following when seeking consumer insights:

  1. Brands must operate from a posture of constant
    customer acquisition. Even repeat customers are at risk of abandoning brands
    and must be courted with the same level of enthusiasm and engagement as
  2. Purchasers are often not thinking about brand
    first when considering a decision. In some cases, brand doesn’t factor into the
    decision at all. While having a solid brand is as essential as ever, companies
    can no longer coast on loyalty and brand equity. All aspects of the consumer
    touchpoint are now as or more relevant to their future decisions than the
    brand’s reputation and identity
  3. Competition is coming at brands from all
    angles and marketers and researchers should have a clear-eyed view of not only
    direct competition, but adjacent or emerging threats outside of the traditional
    competitive list we typically track

The onus is on us to keep
up today’s marketplace and understand the way that our audiences are thinking –
and shopping – in order to help brands and marketers make good business
decisions. As the shopping landscape becomes more and more complicated, we need
to be nimble in our thinking and keep our research methodology in step with our
fast-moving consumer.

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