Engaging System 2 in consumer broadband decision making

Fear and apathy are the key system 1 responses that we need to overcome. We have to de-risk the process for consumers and in particular, overcome the preconceptions that System 1 decisions are built on.

Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash

Whether a conscious decision or not, marking tends to focus heavily on System 1 – trying to make people subconsciously elect to engage with and buy/consume a product either (almost) instantaneously or at a friction point.  As such, marketing teams focus on continued exposure to the brand, and too often in this market, on the price above all else.  But broadband truly is a transformative product.  It has a potentially enormous, positive, effect on peoples lives.  Both at work and at play it can make communication, collaboration and interaction with our surroundings effortless, seamless and instantaneous.  The kicker for full fibre broadband is that most people don’t need it right now.

System 1

Consumers don’t tend to think about broadband very often, and when they do it tends to be because they have encountered a friction point and are thus not in a positive mindset.  They think through fast heuristic connections that don’t involve checks for accuracy and are often closer to intuition.  It is a mental-set trap –  a state of readiness to see certain things rather consider others.

Typically when it comes to considering making a change (and linked, the option of changing provider – the goal we are trying to achieve) the thought process often follows the same question “Is it really worth the effort of changing anything?”.  The answer tends to follow one of three paths:

  • “No, I’ve tried changing in the past and it makes no difference.”;
  • “Your provider says they are ‘Superfast’ and show a bigger number for download speeds”; and, the biggest and most common barrier
  • “Changing is too risky and complicated”

And inevitably that leads to a preference for staying with the status quo.

Points one and two above overlap and it is only through engaging System 2 that we will have the opportunity to educate the consumer and facilitate customer onboarding, driving past the 30% take-up sticking point.  The challenge in doing so lies with the fact that System 2 thinking requires a lot more cognitive effort and energy.  It is less impulsive, more cautious and involves ‘reasoning the solution out’.

What effects me now?

As humans, our shortest and the most embedded neural path is always the question “What effects me now?”.  This runs everything from the base level of providing for our survival needs to the most complex decisions about our future, and our brain assigns a significant weighting to this question. Therein lies the problem – for most people at the moment, superfast (DSL) is frankly enough – for right now.  The status-quo of < 80Mbps might not be sufficient for long, but the intrinsically human preference to think about the now, not the future, leads consumers to resist (de-prioritise) change in the short term in favour of energy (and time) conservation.  Realistically as fibre builders (excluding the rural specialists and a few small urban pockets), we are largely trying to sell for future needs but the fear, knowledge gap and perceived risks of changing broadband provider now almost always outweighs the longer-term pros in System 1 thinking.

Fear, Apathy and Problem Solving Traps

Fear and apathy are the key system 1 responses that we need to overcome.  We have to de-risk the process for consumers and in particular, overcome the preconceptions that System 1’s decisions are built on – those historically build: “Last time I changed something it took months to get it working again”; “They’ll have to dig up my drive and will make a mess”; “computers / IT are always complicated and never work”; “I’ll have to take time off work and they’ll probably miss the appointment like last time” (the list goes on) and those built through social influence. 

There is also a tendency for consumers to fall into problem-solving ‘traps’ when meeting a friction point.  Consumers have a mental-set about what the problem is likely to be, or how to solve it, and think less laterally about the problem.  “I need to turn it off and on again”, “My provider must have a problem, I’ll call them” rather than “Let’s look for a compliantly new / better solution”.  These too are often based on the historical preconceptions and they automatically solve these problems with System 1 thinking.  This is normal – it is automatic and involves no (or very little) cognitive effort on their part.

There is a lot of “never have to think about your broadband again” style marketing out there, but this misses the point.  Consumers are not really ‘thinking’, (at least not in a cognitive sense), about it at the moment, and it is our job to facilitate them to do so.

Leveraging Social Influence

The role of social influence on preconceptions provides the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk to our marketing teams.  Humans are hugely susceptible to social influence but are also by default risk-averse.  We are more prone to sharing negative experiences with brands than the positives experiences and how others perceive us is paramount to our social self-placement.  But because of this, we will also take recommendations from those within (or similar to) our social networks as highly creditable and less in need of validation. 

It is for this reason that perceived un-biasable reviews on trust pilot are so valuable.  Word of mouth is the holy grail of all marketing strategies but does not naturally lend it’s self to scaling at speed, precisely because it requires consumers to engage System 2.

The risk here is that infrastructure is hard – guaranteed timelines are not always available and it is easy to end up in a loose-loose position with the consumer.  If you push delivery out it is perceived as too much hassle to consider.  If you bring timelines in and fail to deliver (even when due to reasonable events such as blockages) the consumer automatically feels they have wasted time and energy. 

The Solution

The solution to all three of the System 1 responses above, and to driving engagement without weighting for friction points, is to interrupt System 1 and engage System 2.  By doing so we open up the opportunity to educate consumers about the benefits full fibre broadband offers and to offset the effort (and time) the consumer will have to allocate against the advantages and future time savings. 

To be allowed this opportunity and to persuade the consumer to spend their energy on our offering we have to provide both a hook and tangible, short term, incentive to do so. 

The temptation here is to use price as the leaver allowing another system 1 choice: “They are cheaper so I’ll go with them”, but in so doing we fuel a longer-term, race-to-the-bottom, issue that is tricky (and costly) to reverse.  Instead, it is better to move away from heavy reliance on traditional marketing methods – catchy lines or images that if considered at all, make a poor attempt to engage an emotion to illicit an instant response or build up a generic brand image.  Brand image is vital, as is the persistence of association/identity, but it is only half of the equation.

The marketing focus for network and service providers, therefore, needs to shift to engaging System 2 and educating consumers.  We must identify the key concerns and preconceptions of demographic segments and explain both how and why fibre can improve their lives.

It is only through disengaging System 1 and engaging System 2 that we can overcome the preconceptions and mental mind-set that the consumer has, and relay the truly transformative advantages that fibre optic broadband can offer.  It will shift consumers from a heuristic ‘what effects me now’ mindset to a reasoned decision about the best long term option.  It is the key to breaking down the fear barrier and moving past the 15% of early adopters and the 15% of ‘switchers’ and gain higher penetration in the shorter term, fuelling further growth, unlocking and de-risking capital and ultimately as stakeholders retaining greater control (ownership) of our business.