Ten years ago, Jan Hofmeyr, a PhD student at the University of Capetown, found himself wading through deeply philosophical waters. Why, for example, do Roman Catholics abandon Rome for Buddha? At what point will a teetering Protestant jump religious ship? And how, pondered Dr Hofmeyr, could a doctorate in the psychology of religion ever be used to serve both academe and Mammon?
Reconciliation came in the form of Hofmeyr's Conversion Model - a theory of commitment and conversion embraced by marketing departments around the world. 'My original research aimed to discover why people arrive at the beliefs they do,' he says. 'None of the existing models seemed to explain it satisfactorily.' His model has been tested in 350 studies and on more than 300,000 respondents over the past eight years and Hofmeyr is confident that it works: 'Whether it's their relationship, their cola drink or their brand of catfood, the model tells you just how close a person is to switching.' Straightforward customer satisfaction surveys just don't measure up. In fact they serve as extremely poor predictors of what people will do in future, claims Hofmeyr, who recently used his model as a strategic tool in the ANC's election campaign.
Mars, Nestle, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, Unilever and Volkswagen have all undergone their own Hofmeyrian conversion using his model as both a predictive and diagnostic aid. In the UK alone, according to Hofmeyr, customer defections currently run at 15-20%, costing businesses up to £200 billion in sales, marketing and distribution expenses. Yet only one in 10 companies keep tabs on their defectors. 'Most companies have no understanding at all of what customer commitment means', argues the one marketing consultant whose fervour might indeed be described as religious.