Say you’re faced with making a decision between multiple brands or change service providers. Your willingness to seek variety, or make a change — even if it requires additional effort — may be tied to how confident and empowered you feel at that moment.
A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research looks at how a consumer’s personal sense of empowerment impacts their desire to seek out something new and deal with the hassles of making changes.
“[P]lacing consumers in a high state of power leads to a greater propensity to engage in product/brand switching,” write the researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
The researchers undertook numerous experiments to test their hypotheses. For example, one experiment asked a group off 100 students to first recall times where they felt either powerful or powerless. They were then presented with the situation of moving into a new apartment and being given the option of either sticking with the current Internet service provider or finding out more about a second ISP.
“We found that participants with a high state of power (46.6%) were more likely to consider switching to another brand in the form of seeking out additional information than participants primed with low power (28.4%),” reads the paper.
A later experiment with a different set of subjects changed the scenario to test consumers’ willingness to deal with hassles as it relates to personal notions of power.
One group of subjects was told they had moved into a new apartment and could stick with their current ISP just by making a quick phone call. They could also change to a new ISP, but that would require downloading and printing an installation form, signing it, and then faxing or mailing back to the new company. While most subjects chose to stick with the current provider, those who identified as feeling empowered were 1.5 times more likely to switch ISPs, in spite of the extra effort required.
Meanwhile, a second group of test subjects were given the opposite of that situation — keeping the current ISP would require going through all the downloading/signing/returning of forms, but switching was just a phone call away. Not surprisingly, most subjects said they would switch, but those who said they felt highly empowered were more likely to deal with the pain of maintaining their current service.
The authors say this particular experiment “demonstrated that it is not that high power leads to a preference for switching per se, but that it leads to a preference for action, which typically facilitates switching.”
Another experiment once again started by putting people in mindsets of high/low power, then gave them some party planning obligations.
Subjects were asked to pick from a variety of ice cream flavors for a series of three upcoming parties. In one scenario, the subjects were told that whatever flavors they picked would then be used for all three events. The results found virtually no difference between high and low levels of empowerment.
However, a second scenario involved giving the subjects the ability to change the ice cream varieties from event to event. In that case, the highly empowered subjects made choices that allowed for a wider variety than those selected by subjects identified with low levels of empowerment.
“Many companies have succeeded by empowering consumers,” write the researchers, citing ad campaigns from companies like the Old Spice commercial featuring Brian Urlacher. “Thus, a brand deciding to target other consumers to switch might follow these examples by focusing on the empowered consumer.”