Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, Shopper Communication

The Power of WHEN

Are you thinking about when you do things?

Imagine you’re a prisoner about to go in front of the parole board.  What factors do you think would influence whether parole was granted or not?

It might be the severity of the original crime?  Or the amount of time already served?  It could be behaviour whilst in prison or participation in prisoner rehabilitation programmes?

These are all likely to be important factors. But there is one factor that seems to play an even more important role.   It is a factor that can make the difference between 64% of parole applications being granted and 0% being granted.  What is it?

The time of day that the parole hearing takes place.

An Israeli study looked at over 1,000 applications made by prisoners to parole boards.   It found that at the start of the day, judges granted about two thirds of the parole applications before them.  But, as the hours passed, this number fell sharply.  So much so, that if a parole hearing was immediately before lunch, the prisoner pretty much had a 0% chance of parole being granted.

Then once the judges had taken a break and had lunch, the % approval jumped back up to its original rate.

Why did this happen?  Well, judges – just like the rest of us – get tired.  So, when they are freshest, for instance first thing in the morning or after a break, they consider the case in more detail and so often grant parole.  However, as they start to get tired, they spend less time considering the case and start looking for shortcuts.  And one of the easiest shortcuts to take is to uphold the status quo – to deny parole.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, in the FMCG industry a lot of time is spent on targeting.  There is focus on ‘who’ the target is – e.g. consumer profile.  There is focus on ‘where’ to target them – e.g. media and retail channels.  There is focus on ‘what’ you are trying to do – e.g. the behavior change you are trying to drive.  There is focus on ‘how’ you are trying to do it – e.g. what tactics you will use.  These things are all important.

However, there is one element that gets much less attention.  WHEN.  When should you do things?  When do you have the best chance of success?  Often we do things when we can do them, not necessarily when we should do them.   Yet when we do things is often crucial to the outcome of activities.  It can be the difference between success and failure.

So, what are some of the key WHENS you could focus on?

The first purchase.  In our industry a lot of money is spent trying to change habits that are already well established.  Trying to get someone to change the brand of tea or ketchup they have been buying for the last 20 years is tough.  Instead focus your efforts on influencing behavior when it is being established.

This has always been important in Personal Care – think first baby, first purchase of feminine care, first purchase of a razor.  However, as more new categories and sub categories are emerging (e.g. meal kits, healthy snacking, craft beer) new shopper behaviours are being established.  Influence now and you significantly increase your chances of winning in these categories in the long term.

Linked Behaviours.  Think about how many of your daily behaviours are triggered by WHEN.  Brushing your teeth = a WHEN trigger.  First cup of tea or coffee in the morning = a WHEN trigger.  A glass of wine in the evening = a WHEN trigger.  Likewise, the usage of one product is often dependent on the usage of another product.  Sandwich-mayonnaise.  Tea-biscuit.  Beer-savoury snack.  Attaching your product to an existing usage occasion or creating a new, complementary usage occasion can act as a great WHEN trigger.

Time of Day.  A lot of shoppers write shopping lists.  Some even write them in the order of the store (you know who you are…).  Most of these lists have WHATS (products) on them.  But many of these WHATS are underpinned by WHENS.  The roast joint is bought for Sunday lunch.  The bread is bought for sandwiches to go in the lunchbox.  The protein bars are bought for post gym recovery.   A product with a clear time of day (or day of week) WHEN has a much greater chance of being used.  And used regularly.

Time of Year.  Do you remember when you could only buy some fruits at certain times of the year?  A lot of effort has gone into reducing seasonality.  It’s happened in fresh, but many other categories try to do it – sell more ice cream in winter, more soup in the summer.  Yet, why not build on a strength – sell more ice cream in the summer, soup in the winter?  Why not focus all your energy when shoppers are most likely to buy you? If shoppers are more likely to trade up in the lead up to Christmas, then that is your trade up window.

In life, we focus a lot on the WHAT – I’m going to start going to the gym.  But, we focus much less on the WHEN – I’m going to go at 7am on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  But, it is often the WHEN that is the key to success.

Just ask the prisoners who had their parole hearings immediately before lunch.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.