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Issue Date: January 2005

Getting into the head of your consumer

January 2005
Samantha Koenderman

We have more products on our shelves today than we have ever had. Every day large corporations introduce new brands onto the market that they are hoping will capture at least some share of wallet. In order to increase the odds of being a success they bombard the consumer with advertising, competition, sponsorship, samples, websites and anything else they can think of that will get themselves noticed. Some work, some do not, some work maybe, kinda.

Marketers will agree that the successful marketing platforms are the ones that show an understanding of what the consumer is going through at that point of purchase. Marketing tactics that treat Joe Public (not the ad agency, you understand) like a wallet on legs are the ones that are least likely to succeed.
The consumer's relationship with a brand is a complex one. You have heard it said probably a gazillion times that it is much like a human relationship. You have to woo the consumer, appear trustworthy, make them feel good about themselves and not let them down too often. While someone may forgive a partner for coming home late from boozing it up with his or her pals once or twice, too often and they will end up on the couch.
Of course, different brands trigger different needs in people. A fashion label, for example, plays into the need for peer approval. Just like you would not take the class nerd to the Matric farewell because you might be tainted by association, so a fashionado would not buy something questionable for fear of being judged the same.
But while brands must be treated like people, so too must consumers. Consumers are not LSMs but living, breathing feeling people. If you want to reach them you have to think like them. And the good news is, being a person yourself, you already do.
Consumers do not buy products, they buy ideas
In advertising you are very rarely advertising a product. You are advertising a concept. A detergent that cleans kitchen surfaces can, all at once, stand for peace of mind, pride in an hygienic house, comfort that the kids are safe, even pleasure that he or she can occupy their time with other things knowing that they have done the best they can. These are not things that people always consciously consider, but they are emotions that play in the back of every homemakers mind. You just have to find the right idea to play into. Of course, it is also important to remember that there will be that time when you mutter to yourself, "It is only a peg, after all". So, whatever your idea, make sure it is believable.
Consumers want the truth
You know that line Jack Nicholson yells at Tom Cruise - "You cannot handle the truth"? Well, not only can consumers handle it, they insist on it. They will not write to you and say "you know your ad about teabags, I did not believe you." But if they do not relate to a scenario on TV, they will let you know by not buying. It is important to note that this must not be the truth that you want it to be, but rather the real truth as seen by the public. Nike's line "Just do it" taps into the truth that success comes from action. It also plays into the other truth that many people are aware that they are always putting things off.
Consumers do not change their minds easily
This is not to say that it is impossible. But much easier than changing how a consumer perceives something is to play on it. Look at what the public says about a product before deciding on a strategy. If you are advertising an hotel that is perceived as expensive and snooty, you are not going to have much luck persuading people to bring their families. Do not try and convert people away from perceived negatives, find the perceived positives and work on them. Play up the snootiness, or should I say 'elitism'. That way, the consumer has already had the thought themselves, you are just confirming it.
Consumers can forgive
Proof of this is the highly successful crisis-management strategy that Pick 'n Pay undertook after some of their food was found to be tampered with last year. In fact, not only did regular customers rally around to support them but I imagine it won them a bit of respect from non-customers. So why were they so successful when lesser disasters have caused customers of other companies to run for the hills? Because they were fast-acting, transparent and sympathetic to the public's fears. If a brand 'stuffs up' in the consumer's eyes, be it on a minor or crisis level, it is up to the brand to rectify it. And how they go about it determines whether the customer can forgive them.
Consumers do not like choice
Minds are insecure. They want to be told that the product they are being sold is the best. They do not want options, they want direction. Your message must leave no question in their mind that yours is the best product.
Consumers liked to be listened to
A marketing strategy should be like a living being, it should move, feel, adapt and change. Like humans interact with each other and adapt according to the stimuli and reactions they get, so must the marketing interact with people, picking up on their nuances and listening to what they say. Once advertising has proved that it is listening to the consumer, the consumer might, in turn, listen to the advertising.
An advert is like a salesman trying to get into a front door. They were not invited, they are an intrusion and only if they are charming and persuasive will they even get a chance to punt their product. The way to get in is to appeal to real needs and emotions. By acknowledging that consumers have feelings and trying to get into their head, you stand a much better chance of getting into their wallet.
Samantha Koenderman is owner of Sauce Communication Creation and the initiator of, a website aimed at freelance professionals within the marketing, advertising and PR industries. Contact her on 083 4567 206.

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