Last week, we discussed personal or social influence as a tool of marketing strategy. Today, we are talking about impersonal influence as part of your marketing strategy. You can get more information on both social influence and impersonal influence in Robert Cialdini’s book entitled, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Semiotics – A major influence on consumer attitudes toward a product come for product cues. Much of this influence centers on semiotics — which has to do with the meaning associated with signs and how these signs affect behavior. Colors have an impact on how we interpret products – for instance gold implies expensive, exclusive, and high quality, while green implies natural and environmentally- friendly and black implies sophistication. Colors, in fact all semiotics, are very culturally specific, so you need to be careful if you’re attempting to exert influence in several different cultures.
Price – Since its difficult to determine the quality of some products (and services), price sometimes is used as a surrogate for quality. In an example from Cialdini’s book, jewelry sold more quickly at TWICE the original price.
Economists will tell you that consumers prefer cheap products to more expensive products. They contend that consumers are utility maximizers — meaning they want the most for the least amount of money.
In marketing strategy, we know that consumers behave differently when different pricing strategies are employed. Marketing strategies such as odd pricing (also called psychological pricing), bundle pricing, premium pricing, sales pricing all impact consumer behavior and influence purchase of products. To see more about building a marketing strategy using pricing, see this article summarizing Kent Monroe’s The Pricing Strategy Audit.
Product Placement – Which retailers carry your product sends multiple messages. It tells consumers about the quality of the product. It also tells consumers about who the product is for. For instance a product sold in a store with blaring rap music does not sell products for middle-aged consumers.
Brand – Brand is probably the strongest impersonal source of influence. Not only does this provide a statement of quality, but provides a brand personality. For more on using branding as an element of your marketing strategy, see a series of posts in my archives.
Other Impersonal Influences
Scarcity is another influence tool of marketing strategy. People seem to always want what they can’t have. Scarcity appeals to this consumer need. Research shows that consumers will buy more of a product if purchase is limited to, say 4, than if no limit is imposed. Consumers will also buy more quickly if an offer expires at a particular time and are more likely to buy if the product will only be available in limited quantities or for a limited time. McDonald’s uses this marketing strategy in only producing the McRib at certain times of the year.
Follow the Leader
If you see someone doing something, the tendency is to do the same thing. OK, maybe this is more of a personal strategy, but I forgot to mention it last week. We talked about people emulating people they respect, but this even works when we don’t know the other person or have any reason to respect them.
Cialdini talks about how, seeing someone looking up causes nearly everyone around them to look up. So, it you see a long line outside a restaurant, the interpretation is that the restaurant is good. Now, that may not work in the short run — as you may not be willing to wait for a table — but you’ll see a short line in the future as an irresistible force driving you to the restaurant. Clubs get a big boost in patrons when they have lines outside and they manufacture these lines by limiting access or other tools to create a line.
This works for other kinds of following, as well.
Is Impersonal Influence Ethical?
Well, that’s a loaded question. Some people would argue that many forms of influence are unethical and certainly some situations increase this ethical dilemma. For instance, when advertising to children, care should be taken to limit the use of influence in marketing strategies. The same goes for other groups that are overly susceptible to influence.
Some kinds of influence are helpful. For instance, brand gives consumers a lot of valuable information in a short-cut format.
Some kinds of influence may be more questionable. For instance, using celebrities who are paid for using particular products or endorse products by stating they use them when they don’t. Some of these influence strategies are, in fact, illegal because of the potential for undo influence.
Another ethical issue is creating artificial scarcity. Not only is this arguably unethical, it may backfire on you when consumers become aware that you’ve manufactured scarcity.
Finally, the issue of having a sale on products. Again, the law becomes involved in your marketing strategy. For instance, you can’t promote something as a “sale” if the product never sold for a higher price. You can, however, list you product containing both a higher manufacturer’s suggested retail price and your own, lower price.
Are there other influence tools you’ve found valuable in your own marketing strategy? Which influence tools have been most successful for your company? Are these tools ethical?