People often buy not for what the products do, but for what they mean.
--By Saurav Satyal
“A need is a basic biological motive; a want represents one way that society has taught us to satisfy that need,” said Solomon. R. To fulfill those needs, products and services are available in society. And people today are left with myriad choices. The companies and service providers, which use their skills and qualities to convince and attract consumers, are competitive sellers in today’s business environment. Making their products and services sellable for their own benefit requires the application of specific ways and methods, also called marketing. Marketing is not static and cannot remain the same in the constantly changing market environment. However, establishing their own brands can help companies strategically tap into the market needs and attract consumers in the long run.
Marketing is not just purely a function of management; it is also designed, in a way, to promote a business or product through the consumer’s perspective. All the information gathered on human behaviour, evolution and genetics has contributed to this field, rationalizing the causes and effects of consumer behaviour. Traditionally, marketing focused on internal stimuli and efforts on how to satisfy the needs of the customer, such as thirst and hunger. Gradually, the use of external stimuli such as touch, hunger, light and cold was recognized and today it is an integral part of marketing.
Current trends show that a growing number of companies are incorporating scents, sounds, material textures and things of external stimuli in order to create strong brands based on consumer experience. The use of external stimuli not only establishes a stronger connection with the products and services but also triggers a drive preference among the consumers for their brands.
Establishing a brand is like feeding images into the human subconscious mind, which could be done through covert marketing, sensory marketing and subliminal messaging, to name a few. Such an approach is mostly used and practiced in niche markets whereby other multiple stimuli could be triggered at the same time. One of them could be guilt buying. So, can it be argued that guilty pleasure dominates the buying pattern of the majority when dealing with high-end products? Guilty pleasure states that although we may experience a feeling of guilt when buying expensive things we, at the same time, enjoy the feeling it gives us.
If the need was primary, guilty pleasure wouldn’t come into existence. Rather, fulfilling that need through the most rational judgment process would be activated.
For instance, when a new iphone is launched on the high-street, we rush to the outlet and try to trade in our old ones. When buying one, the rational part of our brain is dominated by the need to own the latest version purely as a status symbol or for the guilt that comes from buying one.
Another relevant example could be the stickers that say “my next car will be…” Many marketing campaigns do not affect the buying pattern of consumers on the spot, but they can create a space in their subconscious mind, which could later trigger the consumers through external stimuli.
Before a mobile phone manufacturer or a car company starts marketing its new model, it has already planned on how their new product will seep into the subconscious minds of potential buyers.
What we can understand by these examples is, the image of the brand on people’s perception already exists before the purchase and will always remain in the subconscious mind.
Impressions about the products and services are already stored in our brain in the form of images. Emotions or subjects related to that product are already being triggered through conversations with peers or while recommending it to a potential buyer. The same feeling is also triggered off through billboards, posters and advertisements. Eventually, it takes the form of a perception or statement, resulting in the dominance of that particular product or brand.
The use of sensory marketing helps the brands identify the emotional triggers. Such triggers will again help the mind remember and associate the feelings connected with the products before making a purchase.
So, why do we buy the things that we want to buy? The biggest challenge and interest for marketing professionals is to find out the behavioural patterns of the consumers. Such patterns trigger off the emotions or perceptions customers have for their particular brand or product.
So, the need of the hour in marketing is to incorporate subjects such as covert marketing, sensory marketing, and subliminal advertising, approaches which have already gained importance in the international market. In other words, marketing today uses psychology. Hence, the basic root of marketing is to understand people and behaviour, and psychology helps us to understand them.
Another food for thought is, while we are shopping for day-to-day items, we think for ourselves and make up our own minds. However, while buying high-end luxury goods, we focus on outside information, the brand’s image and goodwill of the company and less on the product itself. Why is that?
This is the kind of impact the marketed image of the company’s product has on our minds. We just simply believe in the logic and rationale behind high-end luxury goods brand marketing and become ready to spend a lot on branded goods.
To make a strong brand, the company needs to work on various aspects with the motive to form a perception towards their brand that provides the confidence to buyers to make that purchase. There are six major things in managing a luxury brand. They include advocating beliefs, designing more than a logo, engaging customers, creating exceptional store experience, forming an exclusive circle and associating celebrities with the brand.
With the paradigm shift in consumer buying patterns, the activation of the senses for marketing needs to be strengthened. Above all, humans process information through all five senses and mostly unassuming cues from the environment have a dominant impact in the decision that they make. For instance, when two people are talking with each other, the messages delivered can only be impactful through the use of nonverbal means such as gestures. The same applies to marketing.
The traditional marketing strategy which our companies mostly focus on, that is, attracting customers by using audio and visual stimuli alone, is not enough when marketing products and services in today’s business environment. Until and unless sensory marketing is incorporated, brand performance and brand strength cannot be built up further. Traditional marketing techniques and styles need to be reinvented. Instead of focusing on target customers in a more personal and individualized way, the focus should be on building brands that will create a long lasting relationship between customers and brands. This can be created with the use of creative and distinctive marketing techniques integrated with sensory marketing. Only then can we change the way we see the world, and experience the world of shopping and buying to the next level.
The author teaches marketing and consumer behavior at King’s College.