Brand Selection as a Heuristic

Ninety percent of the time I buy Charmin, Colgate and Poland Spring when I’m picking up toilet paper, toothpaste or bottled water. Why am I so brand loyal when the shelf I’m staring at is flooded with parity products?

It’s because in these categories, my brand selection has become a heuristic.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that people employ during inductive reasoning and decision-making. Heuristic thinking often occurs at the unconscious level; we are not aware of taking these mental shortcuts as we go through our day. Using heuristic processing allows us to focus our attention on other things, which is an important part of its usefulness. The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. You can think about only so many things at once, and it is difficult to do too many things at the same time, such as picking up toothpaste at a busy Wal-Mart and thinking about where you feel like going for dinner.

How does this work for brands?

Throughout a lifetime people acquire information actively and passively about the things of the world.  As we accumulate information through trial, referrals, media and advertising we develop brand preferences, loyalties and ultimately heuristics.

Creating a favorable purchase heuristic for your product is marketing gold. It puts your consumer in tunnel vision mode in which they specifically seek out your brand. It turns brand selection into a mere reflex, rather than a thought-out process: I quickly scan the aisle for Poland Spring and grab it, rather than examining all waters, their prices, current sales, new products, etc.

Many things including the mood of the shopper, the environment, the involvement level of the category, and the likeability and familiarity of the brand contribute to the creation and strength of a brand purchasing heuristic.

Heuristics are valuable to people because they require minimal cognitive resources. In terms of decision-making, heuristic thinking can be adaptive because it allows for quick decisions rather than weighing all of the evidence each time. How many brand purchase decisions have become a heuristic in your life?