7 Ad Strategies You Can Use to Tinker with Customer Perception

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A research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on (non-sommelier) wine tasters that had been served wine samples that differed in price. Many of these tasters reported that they preferred the more expensive wine samples, and their preferences were even verified with fMRI brain scans.

Were the more expensive wines of better quality?

In reality, the more and less expensive wine samples were actually derived from the same stock wine and had only been marked with different prices.

Going a bit further, a study published in the Journal of Wine Economics found that, in blind tastings of various quality wines, “unless they are experts, individuals who are unaware of the price enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.”

This study highlights how a higher price influences our perception of product quality, and it’s just one marketing strategy that you can use to change the way that customers perceive the quality of your affiliate or other online products. Here are 7 other strategies:

1. Create the illusion of scarcity

Want to know why there are always “limited quantities in stock” or why fist fights over $100 HDTVs break out on Black Friday? Professor John Quelch writes on his Harvard Business Review blog that, “by using the illusion of scarcity, [marketers] can accelerate demand.” Such heightened demand makes us buy sooner, and even to buy more.

The item’s scarcity can also transform it into a brand magnet, enabling the sale of related brand items. Consider what happens when an in-demand Black Friday item goes out-of-stock; consumers generally don’t go home empty-handed but buy other, related items instead. In other words, by strategically not having supply meet demand, we can increase demand.

2. Tap into loss aversion

“Losses loom larger than gains” is a widely expounded marketing theory supported by both anatomical brain studies and marketing research. It’s also one reason why email headings that contain warnings of impending doom work so well. Interestingly, loss aversion is heightened even further when consumers are faced with losing their high-tech and “hedonic” bling, according to a Journal of Marketing Research report. Based on these findings, the authors of the report concluded that marketers could easily charge a premium price for consumers attempting to discontinue the use/consumption of hedonic products (cough, iPhone, cough).

3. Use reverse psychology

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is famous for instituting a set of social, economic and political reforms in order to modernize Turkey. One of his social reforms focused on banning the wearing of the veil by women. However, he knew that outright banning of what was considered a religious choice would cause widespread rebellion. His ingenious solution was to state that Turkish women had the privilege of wearing whatever clothing they chose, including the veil…but prostitutes were now legally required to wear the veil. According to the Turkish press, no women were seen wearing the veil the day after Ataturk’s decree.

Frederick the Great tried instituting the cultivation of the potato as protection against famine but the locals didn’t take to this newfangled vegetable, saying “not even the dogs will eat them.” Frederick’s solution? He decreed the potato to be a royals-only vegetable and placed a heavy guard around his own potato patch. The guards were instructed to guard the patch 24/7…but secretly, they were also instructed to not be completely vigilant. Naturally, the peasants started stealing this “royals-only vegetable” and declaring it delicious.

4. Promote democracy/egalitarianism

There have been many theories proposed as to why Christianity ultimately succeeded and gained such a large and diverse following. In the book The Rise of Christianity, author Rodney Stark proposes that one of the reasons has to with Christianity’s emphasis on human equality, a revolutionary concept in an age when the emperor was worshiped as a deity.

On a more recent scale, Coca-Cola regularly emphasizes the concept of democracy and equality; just think back to its recent (and perhaps intentionally controversial) Superbowl ad. And the company has been using the message of “we are all equal” for a long time, from its 1971 “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad to its more recent “On parle tous football” campaign in France.

5. Offer an experience

Would you pay $50 (the average price of a premium bra) to become attractive and sexy? Apparently, yes, according to the massive success of lingerie stores like Victoria’s Secret. Would you pay $868 (the estimated MSRP of the upcoming iPhone 6) to be an innovative thinker? Apple seems to think so, pricing its “Think Different” wares accordingly.

Selling an experience or characteristic, even in a basic good like underwear or a phone, is one way to increase its intangible value and thus generate a higher profit margin. Grocers create the appearance of freshness by placing their floral department at the store entrance, Marlboro takes you on cool trips across America when you smoke its products, and Jimmy Choo changes you into a fashion sophisticate when you purchase a $595 pair of ingrown toenail-generating stilettos.

6. Capitalize on the placebo effect

We’re all rather familiar with the placebo effect in medicine, or the way in which people feel better (or worse) because something/someone suggests that they should.  However, the placebo effect extends much further than swallowing sugar pills. For example, economics professor Tyler Cowen suggests that, rather than providing us with real world skills (e.g., “studying Walt Whitman rarely gets people a job”), a college education serves mostly to exert a placebo effect on our psyches, making us more confident in our abilities and in this way increasing our employment opportunities and salaries.

How do you take advantage of the placebo effect? Provide research data coupled with case study examples and customer testimonials. Also, if you tell a good marketing story, that story will resonate with certain members of your audience and create product evangelists. It doesn’t matter how true that story is; what matters is that at least a portion of your audience accepts its message. These early adopters are critical to authenticating your story and spreading it to others.

7. Establish your own value

Value is relative, not intrinsic; there is nothing that sets ebook prices at $10 or shoe prices at $25 or cell phone prices at $50. A brand name is unique and can command a 10% or 50% or even 99% profit margin depending on how its value is portrayed; for example, consider the difference in price between a community college versus Princeton degree. And because it’s doubtful you’ll ever win on price (unless you’re WalMart), you’re better off arguing that your products are more valuable.

The caveat to this strategy is that you must show at least some comparable item- otherwise, the first question in a consumer’s mind will be, “It’s more valuable compared to what?” Likewise, in the spirit of still providing a good value, you cannot simply offer one item but a pricing range to fit customers’ budgets; this is often performed by products being offered in the format of “good,” “better” and “best.”

Advertising: Tinkering with Perception

Steve Jobs was quoted as saying that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” In many ways, the above methods create want by tinkering with the perception of consumers and “showing” them what they want.

When navigating through a landscape of many competing and like-minded products all clamoring for consumer attention, tinkering with perception can sometimes become a winning strategy in and of itself.

2 Comments

  1. Wonderful list of strategies. I will work my way through these to see which ones work best for my writing and accounting practice!

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  2. Great list of tried and true strategies. When I was promoting my e-book, I used #5 a lot. The book was about how to overcome emotional overeating, so I pushed the idea that you weren’t just buying a book, you were buying yourself freedom from that struggle.

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