eleven – Thou Shalt Seek Variety

by Sid

Seeking variety is often construed as something unique, a deviation that could threaten the normal structure of society. We often like to think of our desire for change as something not primal and instinctive, but rather acquired, developed and nurtured. Mostly we are proud to have this trait within our own selves, but in others we sometimes consider the tendency to seek variety or pursue change as an unnecessary distraction; one that the concerned person could do very well without. For example, when someone asks us about the reasons for a recent change in job, we cite such phrases as ‘to try something new’ or ‘wanted a change in environment’. We say it with pride, imagining ourselves to be explorers and adventurers, but we hear it with disguised consternation. We disclose to others in private that maybe the person is being that little bit foolhardy to even seek change ‘in the current economic climate’ or ‘when he has everything going for him’. There it is; so much for change, and so much for variety. But organizations do need to take this seeking variety aspect seriously because it influences their businesses in considerable ways – from customer satisfaction to employee retention, from marketing strategy to human resource practice.

Research has shown that there are both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations as to why people seek variety. Take for example the case of customers. Quite interestingly, the marital status of individuals influences the extent of variety-seeking in their consumption patterns. It has been seen that customers who are divorced change brands often in order to try various available options. But consumers who are separated (but not legally divorced) have a much lower tendency to change brands with variety-seeking in mind. It is possible that with an increase in the availability of liquid money for those who are divorced, be it in the form of support or having to now spend less on the spouse, people develop the wish and the inclination to experiment on experiencing new products – Coke Zero in place of a Pepsi Light, or a Wrangler in place of a Levis, or a Creed in place of a Dior. For a consumer who is separated but not yet legally divorced, maybe the uncertainty of the future has made him or her that bit more frugal, or it is possible that mentally and emotionally they are not just up to trying out various products.

So, if consumers, inherently or based on their circumstances, tend to seek variety, what are the key issues that an organization needs to be aware in order to understand the consumption behaviour patterns and brand loyalties of its customers?

Context of consumption – A recent seminar that I happened to attend dealt with the variety seeking behaviour of wine consumers in Australia. During the course of our discussion it became apparent that in the Australian context wine is consumed more regularly by a greater number of consumers than wine is say for example in South-East Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. As a result more people in Australia have the tendency to try out ever different and ever fanciful varieties of wine, simply because they have too many opportunities to try out something different, or should we say too many opportunities to not try out the same thing ad infinitum. As a side-note, an important and relevant concern is the occasion of the consumption along with the risk appetite of the individual. For a dinner with the prospective in-laws not many would uncork a wine that they have not tried before, or will they?

Perception of factors that influence the quality of the product – Maybe cost? In our example above, some consumers might go for a wine that is more expensive than what they have ever tried before simply because they associate higher price with better quality. Or probably it could be the origin of the wine? For example Bordeaux usually conjures up images of a wine unparalleled in taste and texture. People tend to forget that Bordeaux has around 8500 wine producers or châteaux producing on an average more than 700 million bottles of wine spread over a fifty square kilometre region per year. And such imposing numbers ensure that there is a great deal of variety – some very good and some not so good.

Feel and look – Taste makes a difference as far as wanting a product is concerned, but it is also one of the primary factors driving variety seeking behaviour regarding human consumption patterns. New type of food, a different colour for the bedroom walls, fountain pens to ball-point pens – the wish to try out something new could very well be dependent on the desire to ever better the ‘experience’ related to a particular class of product.

Nature of need – An often overlooked but an important determinant, it represents the values that we attach to our consumptions or our behaviours. For example, a doctor with whom we have had a good experience, we don’t mind going back to her/him every time we fall sick, but irrespective of how much we have liked a particular stay in a city, very few of us would want to go back to the same city every time we take a holiday. We don’t mind trying a new cake, or a new type of tea, a new brand of denim or sunglasses, but we often take a while before we decide to vote for a different party. Are we as humans prone to seeking variety in matters that we might not consider that profound or important to society or self? When we do believe in a cause, however abstract, can we sway away from our urge to seek variety? How can companies utilize these factors to retain customers and yet indulge their quest for variety? We will look at that and more in a future article piece on this site titled “Companies and their Variety-Seeking Customers”.

Image Source – Yenra