Marketing’s Role at 3 Key Phases in Every Human Decision
Marketing is often thought of as a formal business function. But it’s so much more than that. It is an element of every key decision in our lives, whether or not a formal advertising and promotion program is in place.
Understanding the natural force of marketing in our lives, and how customers make decisions, can ultimately improve your formal marketing practice and business results.
We humans, we do a poor job of actually understanding and fully comprehending the true value of our experiences and interactions before, during, and after we have them. Good marketing is successful when it helps customers perceive that value.
Just don’t go too far. Marketing can also undercut brand success when it steps over that fine line and overstates that value. We marketers must use our persuasion skills to inform but not mislead in these three key areas of life.
Before we ever get or do the thing, we anticipate it. And that anticipation is a hugely powerful force. It can be irrationally high or low (fear/anxiety) and it hugely colors our ability to perceive value.
A great example is the NFL Draft. This isn’t even a football game itself, it’s just a glorified college hiring fair, and yet the recent draft in Philadelphia attracted 250,000 attendees. The event is pure anticipation. There is anticipation before the event about which team will draft which player. And anticipation during and after the vent about how those new players will impact those teams.
A scientific example of the power of anticipation is the placebo effect. Everything from sugar pills to sham surgeries has shown to actually help patients thanks in part to the power of anticipation.
Some ways you can leverage the anticipation phase of a decision:
- Make pre-announcements of big news. For example, when the Jacksonville Suns re-branded as the Jumbo Shrimp they announced the name change at 10 p.m. the night before and said there would be an official press conference at 10 a.m. the next day unveiling the name and logo.
- Craft a clear, forceful value proposition. For most products – from ecommerce to B2B services to automobiles – potential customers don’t start with a tangible interaction with your product. So anticipation is shaped by your value communication.
- Overcorrect for anxiety. Anticipation can be negative as well. Anxiety isn’t rational. Make sure you understand your customer’s potential anxieties and relive them through communication (e.g. customer reviews and testimonials) and product delivery modifications (e.g. warranty).
While it’s not surprising that anticipation can sometimes be off from reality, we humans don’t do such a great job experiencing things as they’re actually happening either (hence the growth of the mindfulness movement).
Right now, I’m experiencing dozens of products. I’m looking at a Dell monitor, typing on a Microsoft keyboard into a Dell laptop while sitting on an Allsteel chair and cooled by an air conditioner of unknown brand domain. And the thing is, I don’t notice the brand experience I’m having with any of them.
If something drastically different from my expectation happened.
If the air conditioner breaks and it gets really hot, if my computer crashes, etc. Then, all of a sudden, I notice my experience and have a negative view of the brand.
I call it the Left Tackle Challenge. Nobody watching the football game notices the left tackle when he’s working hard in the trenches all game long. But the one play he lets the defensive end slip around him and strip sack the quarterback, he gets all the blame.
Some ways you can leverage the experience phase of a decision:
- Tell the customer when they’re enjoying something. It can actually help them enjoy it more. One way is to highlight how other customers are enjoying the product. Humans are social creatures. When we see someone else enjoying something, we realize we enjoy it more ourselves.
- Make it easy to use. Whether it’s the software user interface, the instructions for putting the thing together, or the onboarding of a B2B services client, all of those touchpoints are a form of marketing as well. The marketing doesn’t stop at the sale, not if you want repeat customers or long-term contracts.
- Make it easy to get help. You can turn a surprisingly negative or confusing experience into a positive one with good customer service. When it’s hard to find an answer, a negative experience becomes even more negative. When it’s easy to find an answer through email, chat, social media, phone, in-store help desk, online forums, knowledgebases, FAQs, etc…that negative experience can be turned around.
- The purchasing experience is part of the product experience. In fact, when we surveyed 2,400 satisfied and unsatisfied customers, the biggest gap between them was in response to the statement “Purchasing experience (whether online or in person) is enjoyable.”
Even more difficult than experiencing something in the present is remembering something from the past. We don’t remember it logically. We remember it clouded by our emotions and who we were at the time. And this is equally true for product decisions.
My first car was a Buick Skylark. I vaguely remember it breaking down a fair amount (most memorably in a national forest on the way home from college in the days before cell phones). While it didn’t perform flawlessly as a product, I have a positive nostalgia for it nonetheless because of what it represented to me – freedom.
That’s an extreme example. But we often remember our product interactions more for how they made us feel than what they were. As a marketer, we can positively influence those feelings.
Some ways you can leverage the nostalgia phase of a decision:
- Send positive reminders of customers’ relationship with the brand. Perhaps it’s an anniversary email. Or a breakdown of achievements in a rewards program over the year. Google Photos and Facebook do a nice job of reminding customers what they were doing “4 years ago today.”
- Remind customers of value, especially at product renewal time. As I said, memories are fuzzy. We don’t really know the value we derived from a product or service. When a B2B services contract is due for renewal, or a B2C membership expires, remind customers of all the ways they used the product or how the service work together accomplished key objectives. Their perception of value will is greatly influenced by their last touchpoint (which can be good or bad) unless you remind them of the many ways they have reaped value over the entire relationship.
- Attach your brand to nostalgic reminders even if you haven’t had a past relationship. Coca-Cola famously attached itself to a nostalgic Santa Clause. But this even works in B2B. Data protection company Intronis launched a multi-channel campaign around a dimensional mailer with an initial incentive of an Atari game console replicator.
We humans are bad at perceiving value. Don’t let them overlook the value they are receiving from your company. By helping your customers understand the value of the products better, you increase the value of the products to them.
Learn how to model your customer’s mind with these 17 charts and tools which have helped capture more than $500 million in (carefully measured) test wins.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.