Tipping The Balance In Your Favor


We were out to dinner with a longtime client and despite all of our half-hearted misgivings, the desert arrived as ordered. Just as his fork plunged into the strawberry cheesecake he proclaimed, “Well, that’s another half hour on the treadmill tomorrow!” Of course we all knew that the cheesecake would take two hours on the treadmill to even make a dent in the calories… and he admitted he might not even make it to the treadmill at all. What does this have to do with marketing? A lot. It set us off on a discussion of “balancing behavior” and how we had seen it, no matter the category, in just about every target we’ve ever investigated.


While the specifics of the balancing behavior vary by target and situation, the underlying principle is virtually identical…a process of “rationally” justifying behavior. Sometimes the action is overt, sometimes subconscious…sometimes it’s an honest attempt to offset a difficult or questionable decision, sometimes it’s little more than an excuse for indulgence. But whatever the underlying dynamics, in almost all cases where we’ve seen balancing behavior, it has become the source of a highly leverageable insight. In some cases it has driven messaging or promotion, and quite often, the insight has been powerful enough to drive a brand’s fundamental positioning.

Here are a few of the things we’ve uncovered about harnessing balancing behavior.

Balancing is not about winning One of the unique opportunities in a balancing scenario is that both sides of the balance play a role. It’s not necessary to be on the “winning” side, or to out-market the competition…what is necessary is to be a factor on one side or the other. A brand can be the cheesecake, or the treadmill. Finding where the brand can best play a part and encouraging the target to go ahead and balance is the unique aspect of marketing to balancing behavior.

“Angel on my shoulder” or “Devil get behind me” The quote “Women need underwear, but they want lingerie” has been credited to the founder of Victoria’s Secret. The mental tug-of-war between “need” and “want” is a common driver of balancing behavior. The thing we’ve learned here is that, while it is commonly perceived that “want” most often trumps “need” in human behavior, opportunity may be found on either side. A product can be the rational supporter of the “need” or the emotional supporter of the “want”. But, what is most important is recognizing that the target is balancing both these factors and align the brand with one side or the other in a powerful way.

Be the permission Perhaps the most well-known (and blatant) example of leveraging balancing behavior is L’Oreal’s “because you’re worth it” slogan. The general principle we’ve extracted from that is the target is often looking for permission to justify or rationalize what they see as an indulgence. Give it to them! It’s often easier to see in categories like food or personal care but it exists in more “rational” categories like technology, business and healthcare, too. You might not think that a patient sees using a branded drug instead of a generic as an “indulgence,” but we’ve seen it. We attribute that to the mind-set of many Americans: “you get what you pay for”.

Put a thumb on the scale We’re marketers. Our job is to create advantage in the marketplace. Everything we do is designed to shift the balance in our favor. So when we’ve found a situation where the target is balancing we’ve taken maximum advantage of the opportunity to create leverage. Small differences can be turned to a big advantage when they are aligned with the target’s needs or wants. We’ve experienced what the creation of an emotional connection between the brand and the target can do by presenting the brand in the context of the balancing dynamic. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

With an eye toward balancing behavior as a marketing opportunity, for today’s Strategy Break here are a few questions to ask yourself to help identify and leverage balancing behavior in your target:
  • If I look deeply, is there balancing going on here that is not obvious at first glance?
  • On which side of the balance equation does, or could, my product play the most leverageable role?
  • Can I shake up the target’s behavioral inertia by fostering balancing behavior?

And while you’re looking for balancing behavior in your target we’d be happy to provide some even more specific thoughts on your brand’s unique situation, so give us a call or e-mail.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>