Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inertia in the Marketplace

One of my favorite ways to describe what graphic design really is that it’s a form of pretty potent behavior modification (see my post of 2-7-11). Designers combine words and pictures to persuade and/or inspire the viewer to behave in ways that benefit the clients of the designers. That usually means “Buy my stuff.” Pretty straightforward in its intent, if not in its execution. We’re a pretty manipulative lot, at least when we’re effective. And in order to be effective, it is well to remember the two basic behaviors that marketing is always trying to modify.
When you want to persuade people to take action, you are asking them to do one of two things: 1) either start doing something they’ve never done before, or 2) stop doing something the way they’ve been doing it and begin doing it a different way. This distinction is crucial in crafting your approach. In both cases inertia has to be overcome.
In the first instance, getting people to start doing something that they’ve never done before requires a compelling case for the new thing. Up to now the need hasn’t been perceived because the object hasn’t existed. In this case inertia = no perceived need. How the iPod was initially marketed is a good example. Potential buyer inertia was overcome by positioning the product as surpassingly cool, partly by offering its market a way to enjoy music in unprecedented ways.
In the second case, to get past the inertia of sticking with the comfortable same-old, a strong case must be made for why switching to Product A will be better than continuing to use Product B. This can be based on cost, convenience, quality, efficiency, or any number of characteristics depending on the product’s market. Above all there must be a strong incentive for risking the discomfort of the unknown. Here, inertia = preference for the familiar. So the rivals to the iPod now have to explain why you should buy their product and not the iPod.
I am not sure which type of inertia is harder to overcome. But I am very sure that we need to be aware of which type we are addressing, and craft our approach accordingly. Otherwise our marketing will fall on deaf ears.


  1. Good points about resistance to change! I fall into the inertia category - does that come with age?
    Creating perceived need = identifying a problem you're solving. We humans are great at seeing just about everything as a problem, so - no problem!

  2. It's the core issue in selling services/design products to the small business owner. The thing I hear most often is, "I'm doing pretty well as it is."

    So why wouldn't you want to do better?