Why People Buy Perception And Not Reality
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ~ Albert Einstein
It was well past 5pm and we were still at the office debating about how we should inspire our customers. We were debating the strategy to ‘be like Mike‘ or to ‘be like Joe.’
To be like Mike, meant we would only use famous influencers to inspire our customers to purchase the product. The videos would need to be jaw-dropping and amazing, filled with never-before-seen action by names familiar within the sport.
To be like Joe on the other hand, meant our customers’ personal videos would be the marketing. Instead of showcasing professionals we would make it easy for our customers to share their own videos online, resulting in their friends buying the product because they were so inspired by the timeliness [I would choose a different word here. “Timeliness” means “at the right time” or “in season”] of their videos.
Five years later and the category lost, it turns out the right answer was to be like Mike.
Over the years we came to realize that, for most of us, making an amazing video is really hard. Consumers are reluctant to share once they watch their own footage and realize that they rode a lot slower, their drops were a lot smaller, and the sounds were worse than they remembered.
In the end consumers were more inspired by the perception of what they could create versus the reality of their results.
So why is this?
You can find a wide variety of opinions about how perceptions are formed and why we create them. But the simplest answer is that perceptions are a form of stereotyping, which we use to recognize the patterns we want to see. These patterns can enable us to quickly draw conclusions that may or may not capture the truth of the situation.
Seymore Smith, an advertising researcher from the 1960s, found that people were screening what they saw based on their own expectations. In his research he noted that, “They do so because of their attitudes, beliefs, usage preferences and habits, conditioning, etc.” Seymore went on to conclude that people who like, buy, or are considering buying a brand are more likely to notice advertising than are those who are neutral toward the brand.
Seymore’s conclusion is powerful. It supports the notion that the more consumers that see your advertising in a favorable light, the more likely they are to buy. This helps to validate the old marketing adage, The Rule of Seven.
So does this mean that honest marketing doesn’t work?
A recent study done by Alison Jing Xu and Robert Wyer asked men and women to rate beer and cleaning products after watching a series of commercials. What they found was interesting.
In cases where consumers were familiar with the category, gimmick advertising had a negative impact on their perception of the brand. While in cases where consumers were less familiar, they gravitated to commercials that used phrases they didn’t understand, assuming those phrases must be important.
In their conclusion they found that: “…puffery seemed to influence people who are not major consumers of your type of product, but it turns consumers away who are experts or have higher knowledge.”
The study didn’t conclude why this happens, but its findings begin to provide some insights into how you can engage your existing customers, while inspiring potential customers that have yet to hear about your brand.
If you are struggling with how to inspire your customers here are three things you can do.
- Find Their Motivation
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a great tool as you think about what motivates your consumers to use your product. More often than not, they are driven by a need to belong or a need for esteem. Axe taps into the masculine need to belong, while Land Rover provides an instant status symbol.
It’s easy to fall into a trap of telling people what you do. You’re so proud of your own product that you want to tell everyone the benefits associated with it. Instead, look at how brands like Red Bull, Patagonia, and Nike sell the emotion that their products are associated with. It’s not about the performance of the product, it’s about the lifestyle of the person using the product.
Stretch Their Imagination
This is the hardest of all, but stretch consumers minds with all the ways they could use your product. Pencil’s new video shows people using their product in a variety of ways, while GoPro displays videos that are well beyond what the average user can create. People fall in love with the potential.
As you think about winning a category and grabbing consumer mindshare, get uncomfortable with perception. If you don’t care about being the largest in your market and you only want to market exactly what your product does, than you better consistently deliver the most amazing product in the category. Otherwise you will be fighting the battle over minute features that no one cares about.
Image Credit: Joe Plocki via Creative Commons.