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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Last Brand Standing

Choice is a good thing, right? Not so fast.

Having choice has its place, but the staggering array of consumer goods from which we must choose overwhelms the average consumer, and in a 2005 book psychology professor Barry Schwartz argues that that's not such a good thing.

In the book "The Paradox of Choice", Schwartz tells us that constantly being asked to make choices, even about the simplest things, forces us to "invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, and dread." There comes a point, he contends, at which choice becomes debilitating rather than liberating. Did I make the right choice? Can I ever make the right choice?

It would be easy to write off this book as merely an extended riff on that well-worn phrase "too much of a good thing," but that would be a mistake.

Part of the professor's point in the book is that rules and constraints in society help us make decisions and this is a good thing and should be embraced.

The book's concepts are easily applied to media consumption as well. Because of the growing number of choices we are presented with, consumers of media don't always have the time to look at all the information out there to make the best choice or to even consider all of the options. People expect certain decisions to be made for them.

The term "decision stress" has also been tossed around by marketers over the years and Professor Schwartz's concepts hinge on similar rationale that when faced with too many choices a consumer will often "short-circuit" with too much information overload and tend to decide on what to purchase or read or listen to using the easiest method.

In most cases brand is the balm that soothes decision stress.

And it is for this reason that those of us running media companies in 2007 should consider just how powerful our brand is - or should be.

In our recent studies of media consumption - especially in the Internet radio space - Bridge Ratings has discovered that with tens of thousands of Internet radio options, most average consumers of Internet radio will gravitate to a brand they are familiar with. In many cases they do this to reduce or eliminate the "decision stress".

We have seen new consumers interested in Internet radio go directly to for their Internet radio experience without much thought about what else is out there. Why? It's a brand they know and it makes the process of deciding easier.

This process of "going to the brand" is more prevalent in media than in other consumer products and services. Why? Because in most cases, media is simply a utility, something that doesn't hold significant importance to our lives and like the light switch on the wall, we as consumers of media tend to "throw the switch" on whatever media we are consuming without much thought.

Of course, this is a generalized perspective. There are passionate consumers of media that give great thought to what they watch or listen to, but generally, we have found that the average consumer has too many decisions they need to make each day and any time the decision process can be eliminated or reduced, most consumers will take that road.

Certainly, deciding on which radio station to listen to doesn't hold the significance in consumers' lives that selection of which doctor should be seen or which food product will enrich health, and therein lies the most key of all of the factors leading to "decision stress". The hierarchy.

To make the process of decision easier, consumers have an internal mental product ladder upon which they have placed their favorite brands.

They go to a store looking for a product and, in most cases, when faced with too much choice, a consumer makes the easy choice - almost without thought - and goes for the brand they know.

If brand building has not been a part of your business strategy, it is time to invest time, energy and yes, even financial resources, into building, maintaining, supporting and/or strengthening your brand.

Because media consumption isn't getting any easier for the consumer. Whether you run a radio station, and Internet radio business or produce content for other digital and mobile media, your brand will be they key to unlocking consumer use and recall.

The easier you make it for the consumer to make that choice, the more likely they'll choose you.

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