Since the inception of corporate marketing, marketing professionals have posed the same two questions: what really drives consumer-purchasing habits? And, how can I use this information to increase my bottom line?

Uncovering consumer inspiration

One of my recent blogs titled Perceived versus Real Value stemmed from the results of a several tests that found that higher pricing seems to affect a consumer’s perception of product quality. A wine taste test found that bottles of wine with higher price tags achieved higher scores, due to the consumer perception that price equals quality.

In a similar study, prescription pain pills were tested among consumers to determine if size and price had any affect on their perceived value among consumers. Predictably, the larger pills and the pills with higher price points were perceived as more effective.

But does the link between price and quality in consumer perceptions necessarily lead to the desired result? Namely, do these perceptions actually drive sales?

Detecting what really drives consumers to buy

Conducting focus groups to discover trends in consumer buying behavior is certainly nothing new. However, marketers have learned that analysis of focus group results does not always lead to enhanced sales. But now, for Fortune 500 companies looking to understand the real hearts and minds of today’s consumers, hypnosis has become all the rage. That’s right, hypnosis.

According to a recent inside industry data, Volvo conducted hypnotism on its focus groups to get to real truth behind consumer motivations. Traditional focus group after focus group had revealed the same thing that consumers equate Volvo with safety. This result may be due to the consumers’ conscious memory of Volvo’s branding efforts that have been drilled into them for years. In order to achieve an un-programmed response, the focus group participants were then hypnotized and reevaluated.

Among the hypnotized participants, Volvo found brand perceptions that were vastly different from the norm of “safety.” In fact, the most common response from the consumers’ subconscious found Volvo means being middle-aged. This idea was found to be suffocating to many consumers. This subconscious perception of the Volvo brand may be linked to Volvo’s lackluster sales.
Volvo isn’t the only company utilizing this unorthodox way of determining consumer perceptions. Companies nationwide are jumping on this new hypnosis trend. Why?

The difference between a consumer’s conscious perception of a brand and his/her subconscious perception of a brand can differ greatly. Advocates of hypnosis argue it’s a means of getting past the cliches and making an emotional connection with the consumer on a deeper level. For one thing, as Volvo learned, conscious brand perception can be directly affected by previous marketing efforts. A consumer might recall advertising messages dating back even to their childhood. Neither conscious nor subconscious brand perceptions alone provide marketers with the answer they seek. Indeed, it is the comparison of the two that can be useful in determining brand imprint and predicting purchasing behavior.

Conversely, critics of the practice of hypnosis in focus groups suggest that these subconscious attitudes have little to do with the way consumers navigate the marketplace and make purchasing decisions. These critics believe that consumers use take a more pragmatic approach, making most buying decisions based on tangible benefits and price.

But both the Volvo and the wine study show how participants’ perceptions can be based on irrational responses. After all, no one wants to admit to their peers they favor the taste of a $5 bottle over a $50 bottle. But isn’t it irrational to spend $50 on a bottle of wine when you actually like the taste of the $5 bottle better? In the case of Volvo, interestingly, participants consciously equated the brand with safety, which is an important feature in making a car purchase. However, the subconscious brand perception found “safety” led consumers to connote that Volvo cars aren’t fun. So, while Volvo expects car buyers to prefer safety, they can no longer be surprised when buyers choose a more youthful brand instead. Thus, alternative methods of uncovering genuine consumer perceptions may well lie at the heart of future marketing efforts by companies looking to increase their bottom line and overall market share.

Marketing agencies that “think” like consumers

Hypnosis and other alternative ways of discovering consumer purchasing behavior and brand perception will continue to draw both supporters and critics. What’s vital to the success of your bottom line is to enlist a marketing agency that is in-touch with your customer. It’s the job of any good marketing professional to learn to “think” like the consumer to strip away the cliches and ask the tough questions that get to the ‘real’ answers.

At K&A, we regularly conduct focus groups to determine the underlying causes of consumer motivations. It takes a well-connected agency to truly understand your home and building channel consumers’ where their fear, trust, loyalty, and pre-disposition to buying certain brands come into play. What makes them tick? What makes them buy? What do they really think about your brand? For any marketing agency, it’s important to read between the lines.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to marketing and brand development these days. Each company has its own unique consumer brand perception and therefore the factors that motivate your consumers to buy your brand are also unique. A good marketing strategy takes a multi-faceted approach to your business. Price point and consumer perceptions are only one piece of the puzzle. A good marketing firm will dig deeper, asking not only what consumers think of a brand, but why.

This paves the way for continuous improvement of your brand’s reputation, helps determine a healthy price/value relationship, and creates a balance between perceived versus real value. Ultimately, this all-encompassing approach translates into elevated sales and a boost in your bottom line.

What do you think about hypnosis used in focus groups? I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.
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