Habit seems to be the hardest word

With apologies to Elton John and Bernie Taupin, “Sorry” doesn’t seem to be the hardest word…”Habit” does.

We talk to a lot of people who make choices about products on a regular basis.  In this context, we’re not talking about the one time, big ticket, purchases; where committees develop the specs, RFPs go out, Purchasing decides the winner, no one is happy.  We’re talking about the purchase decisions that are made every day; pharmaceuticals, medical devices, software, financial products, and the like.

What we hear all the time are words that can be broken down to mean: “it’s habitual”.

Now, everyone will rationalize their choices, often by splitting hairs.  “My choice has a 1% lower incidence of itchy thumbs”, or “”It is the only one available in a package of 31”.  But in the vast majority of cases, if you really dig down to the reason for their #1 choice…Habit.  They started doing it at some point, and they just kept doing it.

It is very difficult to dig back to what the pivotal moment was where product X became their favourite.  Often it’s because it was the first on the market, or the first widely available or reimbursed.  First-mover advantage is a demonstrated benefit.  But often it’s related to a person who introduced them to the product; often a colleague or mentor (eminence-based medicine as a friend calls it), or a sales person who has demonstrated they add personal value.

Occasionally, and very occasionally, a market will be rocked by developments, positive or negative, which causes a significant shift from the habitual practice.  In Pharma this is more likely to be a negative event, Vioxx for example.

So, what do you do to break a habit?  We’d like to tell you there’s an easy answer…but it comes down to hard work.

Understand your customer’s problems and needs

Gather your evidence

Develop a focused message

Sharpen your communications

Get your friends to help (i.e. Key Opinion Leaders)

Be persistent

Give it time to work

Here’s hoping that your customers feel that, in the words of Chicago, you’re a hard habit to break!

Megann and Steve


About Panoptika

You know when you wonder if you really know what your customers want? What I do is help you work with your customers, or potential customers, in a way that connects you more deeply than you thought possible. We can do this through traditional techniques, such as Focus Groups, Qualitative and Quantitative studies, etc. or, if you really want to know your customers and the future of your brand, you can involve them in Innovation Games(TM).

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