Purchase interval acts as a choke point for brand growth

by Nigel Hollis | May 06, 2019

In discussions with clients and colleagues, I have been reminded that it is all too easy to think a change in attitudes will automatically lead to a change in behaviour. But just because someone would choose your brand today does not mean they are ready to buy it today.

Whether attitude change precedes behaviour or moves in tandem depends on the category. So too does the speed at which an attitude change might result in behavioural change. For instance, a new financial service might create awareness of its relevance to potential customers and still find that people are slow in changing from their existing bank. The problem is that people rarely switch their financial service provider. Even when they are unhappy with their existing service, switching is often regarded as a laborious and painful process; far easier to do nothing and just grumble. For a bank to gain customers quickly it will have to make people feel that the effort of switching is worthwhile.


This is why Santander in the UK decided it needed a “blockbuster product” in order to unify its acquired brands under one name and hit aggressive growth targets. The Santander team recognised that if they were to rely on normal levels of switching they would fail to hit their targets. If it was to be successful, the new 123 Current Account offer had to be compelling enough to shock people out of their inactivity. But even with an attractive offer it takes time for people to switch. The IPA paper documenting the success of the 123 Current Account campaign reports that the initial uptake of the account came more from existing Santander customers rather than switchers and it was a long time before the majority of new customers were being acquired from competitors.

Banks are at one end of a spectrum where – in spite of all the calls to action you see from financial services – the full impact of effective marketing activity will be spread out over time. In these cases, attitudes often lead behaviour and brands can have what I call ‘excess meaning’, not only do some people see the brand as different they can readily appreciate the relevance to their own needs before they buy the brand.

Attitudes and behaviour are far more likely to move in tandem for confectionary, salty snack, or soft drink brands. With a shorter inter-purchase interval, the opportunity for switching comes around more quickly and triggering behaviour change is relatively easy because the risk and cost are low. This is why the relationship between advertising awareness and sales response was obvious in categories like these even in the days before market mix modelling became as prevalent as it is today. However, even in categories like these changing behaviour is more than just changing attitudes. I am reminded of the success of Walker’s Crisps with its Sandwich campaign, where encouraging stores to move the crisp display to be next to where sandwiches were sold was an important driver of the campaign’s success.

My belief is that the inter-purchase interval can act as a ‘choke point’ limiting the immediate impact of marketing. To be effective in longer-purchase interval categories marketing to seed motivating ideas and impressions that are activated when people begin to shop the category. What do you think? Please share your thoughts.

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