Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marketing: it's in the mind

Consider this: In taste tests, consumers can rarely tell the difference between different brands of chilled cola (some claim we can’t even tell the difference between a cola and Sprite). Below a certain temperature, all we taste is the cold, the sugar, and the sensation of the bubbles on our tongue. The rest of the experience is in the brand. And the brand resides in the mind, not on the tongue.

In an article published in Neuron a few years ago, and reported in plain language here in the NYT, researchers described the results of a study in which they scanned the brains of 67 consumers whose mental “reward system” lit up when they were given either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. They were evenly split as to which cola they preferred. But when told which brand they were drinking, an entirely different part of the brain lit up. When they were aware of which brand they were drinking, three out four consumers preferred Coca-Cola. Once again, the brand resides in the mind, not on the tongue.

In fact, brewers (and many other marketers) have intuitively known this forever. Have you ever noticed when you sit down and order a beer at a café or bar that the beer glass is often smaller than the contents of the beer bottle (it holds less than the standard 330ml or 25cl)? Brewers that supply the glasses to the retail outlets want the bottle to be left on the table while the beer is consumed. If the bottle is not exhausted, the server will not take it away. That way, the consumer is experiencing the brand, not just drinking beer. This is also the reason for the brand logo on the beer glasses used for draft beer, and in fact it is the reason that brewers supply retail outlets with the branded glasses.

So one way to think about this is that the consumer experiences the world by mentally interpreting market stimuli (product experiences, advertisements, prices, and so on). Marketing positions itself in the mind of the consumer, pre-emptively, awaiting the product experience. And when the consumer experiences the real world (the logo is seen, the product is consumed,..) the stored brand associations spring into action, giving whole new meaning to the experience. A Heineken is what it is because of all we know about it -- otherwise its just a beer, like any other beer.

In this account of the role of marketing, the meaning that consumers ascribe to their experiences is a result of prior marketing activity. Consumers see and experience the world through the lens of marketing. Or, put another way, marketing gives meaning to our world. 

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John Bradley said...

Hmmm, I think it is a little challenging to accept that, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas, was unable to find meaning in the world because of his lack of prior brand experiences and absence of a marketing lens.

I prefer to think of marketing not as a lens without which everything is blurred but as a magnifying glass where small product differences can become huge branding advantages.

It was always a matter of great debate in the company I worked for as to how much we should worry about blind product comparison scores when our brands were never bought or consumed blind. We had the benefit of having the stronger brand, so perhaps were too relaxed by a competitor's product tinkering would sometimes match and occasionally even shade our in blind tests.

The competitive brand in question is now worth a quarter of a billion pound sterling 50 years after its launch, so perhaps we should have worried a touch more than we did.

Hayley Niven said...

Marketing: it's in the mind. Interesting. I would agree with this but also add that it's in the heart. People enjoy giving names and personality to non-person objects. We could just as easily call our dogs "Dog" and he would come to us and likely love us just the same, but we choose to give them names. I think that this is why people become so attached to certain brands, even when, as you mentioned, there really is no difference in the product. Choosing what brands we use is choosing what type of person you are, based on whatever characteristics are associated with that brand. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Obviously for companies, it’s great! Helping determine what type of person we are based on the brands they are selling us, now that’s power. However, it’s a sad way to look at people. I must admit, I occasionally do it.

Are you a Tim Horton’s drinker or Starbucks drinker? (Tim Horton’s) Are you a BMW driver or Mercedes-Benz driver? (I take the bus so I’ll take either of these) Are you a McDonalds or Burger King person? (McDonalds) It is not enough to be a person that drinks coffee, drives a car and eats hamburgers. These companies must push to stay in our minds so that they take a place, more importantly, in our hearts. Marketing gives meaning to our world, as you said, but it also gives meaning to who we are.

Christy said...

It would also be interesting to analyze how a consumer perception of an experience with a brand differs if they had no previous exposure to the brand's marketing. We see an increasingly prevalent trend nowadays with social media where the consumer's peers have become ambassadors for a brand by recommending something to them, and the consumer's experience with the brand is shaped by their relationship with their peers, rather than something dictated by the brand or corporation. It is likely that the marketing experienced after contact with the brand has an even stronger impact on the consumer than any preemptive communication, especially considering the vast array of choices available in the marketplace now.

There are also numerous brands that explode in popularity with little or no advertising or marketing strategy. The brand's growth is entirely homegrown based on word-of-mouth. Here, the company has no control over the type of messaging that is created about their brand. When the product experience comes before any exposure to marketing, consumers are free to decide their own opinions and perceptions about the brand and the marketing is interpreted based on their experience. So while you say that marketing gives meaning to the world, I would argue that other, current consumers give even more meaning to the marketing.

Cydon said...

There’s a constant battle within consumers’ minds between the external want to please others and the internal want of pleasing ourselves. The dilemma of choice is merely a manifestation of these opposing forces, and marketing provides an outlet to justify a choice of one product over another. A well-marketed product with a distinct strategy that aligns well with a consumer’s internal and external wants will have a much greater chance in making this consumer loyal to their brand. While a Heineken can taste great and be a popular choice amongst peers, an equally great-tasting beer will require marketing efforts to cater to the external social wants in order to make consumers even contemplate switching brands.

The “traditional” marketing approach works to induce trial within consumers to build their internal want first, and then proceed to convince consumers that the external social want can also be satisfied (creating a bandwagon for the consumer to join). With increasing adoption of the internet and social media, bandwagons are now formed much faster and even before potential consumers have the chance to try the product. The new approach with the social media buzz created to induce trial AFTER the external social want is satisfied seems to be equally if not more effective than the traditional approach (ex. Popularity with the Doritos Flavors A vs. B campaign). The advent of social media and the ever-increasing speed of word-of-mouth prove that a reversal in the satisfaction of wants (external first, internal second) is becoming the modern approach to marketing.

Chris said...

'Marketing as the product' is a fascinating concept, and it's one that I think challenges marketers to be creative and to find ways to create an experience around a product for the benefit of the consumer.

However, something to consider for the future is the risk of companies starting to allocate resources to marketing that would otherwise have been placed in R&D, innovation and in to creating a product that can better satisfy a customer's wants than the last.

Companies should not lose sight of what they're offering: a product that adds value to consumers.

With new and emerging channels of communication, marketers today have a tremendous opportunity to engage consumers and carve a meaningful place for their brand in the consumer's life. While these are all good things, they are not manifested in a tangible way with regards to the functionality of the product itself.

A good product speaks for itself, and i think marketing's role (in markets with higher product differentiation, at least) should be to find creative ways to enhance the product experience, and that companies should still recognize product quality as paramount.

Harrison Glotman said...

Often executives mistake "brand" as a logo or advertising tactic failing to realize that the essence of a "brand" is what people think of you. Since marketing is in the mind, companies must strive to own a clear message and clear position that can consumers can easily grasp.

When you think of Volvo, you think of "safety"; when you think of BMW, you think of "high performance"; when you think of Lexus or Mercedes, you think of "luxury." These companies have done an excellent job of ensuring that every product and every experience a consumer has with their brand relates to these key words. On the contrary, it is hard to pinpoint one word to associate with the Big Three- this could be one of the contributing factors to their dwindling success.

On the topic of beer, I was recently reading an interesting excerpt from a book on Sleeman ("Brand: It Ain't the Logo" by Ted Matthews). Originally, Sleeman's marketing efforts focused on the family heritage and the rich history behind the beer. This crystal clear message allowed them to grab approximately 10% of Molson and Labatt's market share.

In 2006, they began introducing low-carb products and cliche ads of women dressed in bikinis to appease the younger generation. These changes confused consumers and subsequently, gave up the valuable mind share they earned earlier- consequently, Sleeman announced a profit warning and was eventually bought out by Sapporo. Fortunately, Sapporo realized the importance of a clear consistent message and restored what they had earlier.

Brooke Morrison said...

I would have to agree that marketing gives meaning to our world. It is kind of a scary thought since it makes us sound like robots without the ability to make our own decisions, but we can't deny the truth.
In regards to the Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi discussion I found it very interesting that 3 out of 4 people said they preferred Coca-Cola once they knew what the drink was. I am curious to know what Pepsi can do with this information, and how they can use these psychological studies to there advantage to become more preferred.
I believe that knowing what brand you are consuming, using, etc. will trick your mind and your body to react a certain way. However, companies can not give up making a great product, and sacrifice quality because they feel they have an amazing brand behind them. Eventually a brand name will not be able to carry the weight of multiple failed products.

Danica said...

I agree with Chris’ view that consumer perception of the product’s value is what is most important at the end of the day. It is what seals the deal and encourages the buy. Whether than value is created from word of mouth and referrals, actual quality experienced by the consumer or “just marketing”, consumers are looking for something they consider to be “valuable”.

It becomes imperative then, for marketers to focus on using consumer data, through focus groups and other research methods, to gain consumer insights and learn what it is that consumers are truly searching for.

Marketing is much less about advertising than the true understanding of consumer buying behaviour and psychological thought processes. Only when marketers have this information can they tap into the consumer’s mind and build that brand association.

Greg Bruns said...

I can't decide how I feel about Chris' concern that companies may replace valuable R&D with simply more marketing or ad spend.

On the one hand, I agree that there is always value in developing new products or product categories. It is also true that existing goods and services can be refined. No amount of marketing can replace old-fashioned innovation. But does this hold true across an entire product life-cycle?

As markets/products/brands mature, the value of additional R&D (for individual customers or for society as a whole) definitely decreases. I'm sure that there are subtle improvements that could be made to the Coca Cola recipe that would improve the taste, but are consumers really in need of a superior Cola? My suspicion is no. Instead, Coke has taken it upon themselves to create a myriad of lifestyle associations with their sugar water. As products mature, the line between R&D and marketing becomes quite blurry. These associations (whether conscious or subconscious) are now what consumers are really paying for.

When I am given the choice between a PC Cola for $.50 or a Coca Cola Classic for $1.00, Coke wins every time. It is strange to think that I have engaged in some sort of implicit agreement with Coke where I pay 50 cents for their sugar water and 50 cents for feelings and memories that my brain produces itself. In a weird way I have a hard time separating these benefits from the "tangible" benefits offered by Coke. Is thinking about that glass bottle any different than the caffeine buzz? Is daydreaming about summer any more or less tangible than a brief sugar high? I would argue that these secondary and tertiary associations contribute just as much to my (and consumers') perceptions of quality. So, in the end, doesn't that add value?

Steven Ritchie said...

It's actually really interesting that you read a post on this. Last summer I read a book called "Buy-o-logy", not sure if you have read it, but it talks about how the consumer's mind works and why they buy or act the way they do. This isn't really relatable strictly to branding and the consumer mind/experience, but in terms of effectiveness of marketing (product placement) and labelling. For example, I'm not sure of the exact scientific locations of it, but many smokers actually choose to continue smoking BECAUSE of the hazardous warning labels as it appeals to their "edgy and risk-taking" side and does quite the opposite of its intentions. It is interesting to see that although people may SAY certain things when it comes to their preferences, their actions and inherent mindset are truly what is important when trying to hook them on certain products.

Carly Spears said...

I would have to disagree with Chris’ opinion that firms must focus their budgets on the value of their product offerings to its consumers.

Consider this: an average litre of pop retails for approximately two to three dollars, and we purchase these drinks on the regular, without more than five seconds of thought. However, when it comes to purchasing fuel for our cars, we consistently go out of our way to find the best prices (and complain when gas prices rise over one dollar per litre).

Considering this example, it seems to me that the value of the actual product is realistically irrelevant to the end result – that is, perceived consumer value, and, in turn, willingness to pay. Fuel – a non-renewable resource which undergoes intense processing and which is a critical part of most people’s everyday travelling needs – is not seen as being as valuable as the sugar water that we call cola, according to consumers’ willingness to pay. Here, the power of branding and marketing becomes quite evident. Consumers have been trained to pay a significant premium for a litre of cola, all due to the perception of value that has been created by brands such as Pepsi and Coke.

It is because of this, that I truly feel that marketing budgets should be allocated to the creation of brands and long term establishment of brand equity. While it is important for products to be high quality, it is clear that the perceived value of products is far more important than the actual value that they provide. And that is the power of marketing.