(x)slates

Competitive advantage

I stumbled upon an interesting article from Harvard Business Review that explores how companies build competitive advantage from a behavioral point of view.

A few illuminating excerpts.

(…) the idea that purchase decisions arise from conscious choice flies in the face of much research in behavioral psychology. The brain, it turns out, is not so much an analytical machine as a gap-filling machine: It takes noisy, incomplete information from the world and quickly fills in the missing pieces on the basis of past experience. Intuition—thoughts, opinions, and preferences that come to mind quickly and without reflection but are strong enough to act on—is the product of this process. It’s not just what gets filled in that determines our intuitive judgments, however. They are heavily influenced by the speed and ease of the filling-in process itself, a phenomenon psychologists call processing fluency. When we describe making a decision because it “just feels right,” the processing leading to the decision has been fluent.

Processing fluency is itself the product of repeated experience, and it increases relentlessly with the number of times we have the experience. Prior exposure to an object improves the ability to perceive and identify that object. As an object is presented repeatedly, the neurons that code features not essential for recognizing the object dampen their responses, and the neural network becomes more selective and efficient at object identification. In other words, repeated stimuli have lower perceptual-identification thresholds, require less attention to be noticed, and are faster and more accurately named or read. What’s more, consumers tend to prefer them to new stimuli.

A driving reason to choose the leading product in the market, therefore, is simply that it is the easiest thing to do: In whatever distribution channel you shop, it will be the most prominent offering. In the supermarket, the mass merchandiser, or the drugstore, it will dominate the shelf. In addition, you have probably bought it before from that very shelf. Doing so again is the easiest possible action you can take. Not only that, but every time you buy another unit of the brand in question, you make it easier to do—for which the mind applauds you.

(…) we can formally define cumulative advantage as the layer that a company builds on its initial competitive advantage by making its product or service an ever more instinctively comfortable choice for the customer.