Although we’re very much still in the middle of the build up to Christmas, many will already be giving preliminary thought to how the New Year will mean life changes. Not least that it’s time to get fit. But what can we learn from the psychology of the January stampede to the gym? And how could brands take advantage of this?

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1) Support consumers in changing habits, it won’t happen over night

The January dieter sees their aspirations go from 0-60 mph in the matter of a few days. We go from eating thousands of calories in a single sitting to just a few hundred in a matter of days or even hours. Research suggests that the key to a successful transformation requires leadership, an engine (i.e. ideas and energy) and a firm process in place. For brands this means making consumers lives easier to make this change, either by providing a healthy subscription service, easy delivery options, recipe boxes or offers on healthier options.

2) Don’t just be there for consumers for short spells

Dieters often fail because going from one extreme to the other is unsustainable, making it easy to slip back into old habits. Evolutionary psychology shows the body’s tendency to maintain a healthy balance – there’s a reason you crave celery sticks by the end of the Christmas period. Just as yo-yo diets lead to the body going into stress mode which releases the hormone cortisol (the same one produced when early man was faced with a Sabretooth tiger) – leading to an increased appetite. Brands need to avoid a yo-yo strategy with their consumers. A great example are those brands who are dependent on offers alone to drive shoppers to purchase, the rest of the time they are left on the shelf.

3) Tell consumers what your giving them, not what you’ve taken away

Diets in January are often focused on negative emotion – foods like pizza and biscuits are viewed as sins. Which is an unhealthy relationship with food. We all know there’s nothing more appealing than the person our parents told us not to date when we were younger. In our research we’re seeing healthier brands being more successful when they focus on what’s being put in, and the benefits, rather than what’s being taken out. Brands should focus on what they offer shoppers and how they enrich their consumers’ lives.

Overall the January diet craze teaches us a lot about our failures as human beings, but it also tells us how brands must adapt to the consumer mind set. People have strong aspirations but the Neanderthal ape inside of us prevents us from bettering ourselves. Brands have the opportunity to inspire and support over the long term to help us feel like the person we aspire to be. As Phil Dusenberry put it - brands are ‘nothing but an expression of the customer’s loyalty and trust’ 

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