The great defector study

This decade is seeing some of the biggest changes in consumer markets, much of it driven by technology and e-commerce. The so-called ‘disruptors’ are giving consumers reasons to change, and making it easier for them to do so.

In partnership with Lightspeed Research, BDRC undertook a Pan-Asian survey of consumers to establish the extent of brand/vendor switching in Asia through ‘The Great Defector Study – Understanding the dynamics of brand/vendor switching in Asia’. We set out to investigate the extent to which consumers are defecting to new brands/vendors and the ‘dynamics of defection’.

The survey was conducted online as a mobile-compatible survey during the month of February 2018. Around 300 consumers, male and female, across several age groups (roughly equal quotas for 18–29, 30–39, 40–49, and 50+ year olds), were surveyed across major Asian markets.

Consumers are very active in trialling new brands and vendors across a range of categories. They like new products, brands, and innovations, and, however satisfied they are with current brands and products, they are very willing to ‘experiment’ with new brands or vendors.

The economics of customer retention over the cost of acquiring new customers is well known. Depending on the category, estimates on the relative costs of customer acquisition range from 5–15 times greater than those for customer retention. Consequently, there is a temptation for corporations to just concentrate on protecting their core brands, products, and services, forsaking advertising, product development, and research.

But consumers and even businesses are continually seeking new products and vendors. While customer relationship management is important for protecting existing business, simply concentrating on this area will see corporations progressively lose customers over time, and this can ultimately be the slippery slope to brand obscurity!

The BDRC/Lightspeed survey showed that, across 11 consumer categories, the reasons people gave for trying a new brand or supplier recently were far more to do with pull factors to that new brand than push factors from the old brand. Overall, dissatisfaction with the current brand or vendor only accounted for 21% of brand switching, and advocacy (i.e. a customer recommending a brand or supplier to a friend, family member, or colleague) accounted for 37% of consumers trying a new brand.

By far the most important factors in consumers trying a new brand are various forms of advertising or promotion (58%), and product innovation by being ‘something new’ (46%).

What we also see is that somewhat more consumers (28%) go to competitor brands because their usual brand or vendor is not available at the time – e.g. the shop is closed, the website is not working, or the product is not stocked – and 45% try the new brand just through browsing the store or the internet.

This shows that ‘being available’ is extremely important and counts in decisions such as having long opening hours for stores (if not 24 hours) and ensuring that you have the widest distribution possible for your products. Hence, trade marketing for some consumer goods products can be as important as consumer marketing.


Advertising and promotion are the biggest pull factors and have almost equal impact by gender and income groups. Higher-income groups are more likely to defect via browsing and even from direct mail.

Generally, younger generations are more likely to defect due to a wider range of factors – e.g. they are more responsive to advertising, direct mail, point-of-sale promotion, and new products. This shows that younger consumers are generally more responsive to marketing across different media.

The dynamics of defection vary far more by the specific category under consideration. Point-of-sale promotions, for example, have a much higher impact on drawing in new customers for personal care products and home appliances, sometimes encouraged by in-store promotors. Recommendation works more for bringing in new customers in the retail category, which tends to be the category consumers are most likely to talk about among friends and family.

For the push factors, these are actually highest for quick service restaurants, but this is more due to overcrowding, which is ‘pushing’ people toward other restaurants. Dissatisfaction is a higher push factor for mobiles/internet and pay TV, where internet reliability can be a factor.

But ‘something new’ (i.e. new products) has the ability to draw in customers across the full range of categories, demonstrating the importance of product innovation from retail, to media, to financial services. No product is too ‘commoditised’ that it cannot be made different.