In Your Head, In Your Wallet
When a company takes out an advertisement, they don't have much space to convince you to buy their products. If it's a broadcast spot, they might have 30 seconds to a minute; a print ad, maybe half a page unless they can afford a full-pager. That means they have to choose every word carefully to make the most impact.
Often, the people choosing those words know a lot about how to get in your head. If you don't believe us, just take a look at the marketing curriculum at a business school: there's increasing emphasis on studies of "consumer behavior," and many of the faculty have backgrounds in psychology. For marketers, it's all about choosing the words that appeal to basic psychological impulses.
To find out the sorts of buzzwords that these marketing minds use to get you to spend your money, we spoke to marketing professors at some of the nation's top business schools.
Photo: Yongho Kim/Flickr
There's a reason that companies like to offer "buy one, get one free" deals: Besides the fact that the promotion allows them to move a significant quantity of a product, it also means that they get to use the word "free" in their marketing while still making money.
"Having the word 'free' somewhere in your ad attracts attention and creates a positive feeling," says Dhar. "It seems like nothing is better than free."
This is a trick that's as old as marketing itself, but it's been taken to its logical conclusion with the emergence of Groupon and other daily deal sites, which go so far as to include a big countdown clock next to a deal.
"It creates this notion of scarcity, that you're going to miss out on something," says Ravi Dhar, a professor of both marketing and psychology at Yale University. "That creates a sense of urgency, and it's a signal of value."
It's a remarkably simple concept: If you can plant the notion that something is scarce or limited, customers will assign more value to it. No wonder everyone from Google to Yelp are creating daily deal sites of their own, and Groupon has introduced Groupon Now, where deals only last a few hours.
Stores or companies that promise a money-back guarantee obviously have to make good on that promise if a product is defective, but irrespective of the service element, it's an effective marketing technique that helps companies allay any doubts a consumer may have about a product.
"They can give them with impunity, because people rarely get around to returning a product," says Perner. "And a money-back guarantee may actually influence people to like the product more [after purchase], in addition to being likely to increase initial sales."
People might not trust every company that tries to sell them something, but they certainly trust their doctor. So if you can get a doctor to recommend your product — especially if it has a supposed medical benefit — you're a lot more likely to win the trust of a would-be consumer.
"There's something called expertise heuristics — people have more faith in the advice of people that are experts," explains Michel Tuan Pham, a professor of marketing at the Columbia Business School who specializes in customer and consumer psychology.
Perner adds that having such an expert endorsement also gives the impression that an objective third party has given the product a stamp of approval.
"There's this idea that doctors are supposed to be impartial," he says.
"New and Improved"
Photo: John Loo/Flickr
Everyone wants to be one the cutting edge, which is part of the reason you see people lined up outside the Apple Store whenever the latest iteration of the iPhone comes out. For this reason, marketers are always eager to position their product as new — even if the actual improvements are minimal.
"When you use terms like 'new and improved,' research shows that you will boost sales considerably," says Lars Perner, an assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "In fact, the Federal Trade Commission usually limits firms to six months after a major change to the product [to describe something as 'new']."
Perner, who specializes in the study of consumer behavior, says that such strategies are particularly effective in this country.
"That's the case in the U.S., which tends to be very much into innovation and improvement, but not as much in more traditional societies," he says.
"4 Out of 5..."
Getting a doctor or dentist to recommend your product is good. Getting four out five doctors or dentists to recommend it is great.
In addition to carrying the weight of an expert endorsement, Pham says that this phrase implies widespread social approval.
"It's the social proof heuristic: Consumers are more likely to purchase things that they see other people buying," he explains.