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People have a choice — Marketers try to prime it

November 19, 2008

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of choice in marketing. Consumers have a choice, my job is to give them more ammo to make the right one.

So last night, when I listened to Radio Lab’s Season 5 premier, I was excited that it was called Choice. (Aside, they started with the author of a cool book called “The Paradox of Choice.”

Choice is the thing marketers are in constant battle with. Marketing initiatives are basically attempts to try and make people make the right choice with their $$. In this case, the right choice is picking our client’s generic product over some other generic product.

But last night at the end of Radio Lab, a thought occurred to me: branding is priming. if you haven’t already left this blog to listen to Radio Lab, then I’ll fill you in. There’s a pretty freaking awesome experiment in priming explained in the show. Here’s the exert from the site.

John Bargh takes us a step further by describing an experiment where researcher Lawrence Williams was able to alter people’s opinions without their knowledge using nothing but a simple cup of coffee.”

Okay, what does that mean? Lawrence tried an experiment. He took a person called Joe, and wrote up a bunch of generic things about him, including a picture. Joe is this, Joe is that. Etc. This is a basic description of Joe. Then people were asked if they liked him on a scale of 1-10 based on this topical information.

But there was a twist that involved a cup of coffee. Here’s what happened in the experiment. Lawrence Williams would be holding a cup of coffee with a bunch of things that he could barely hold.

The coffee cup vector.  After a full rotation,...

Image via Wikipedia

Before the survey, Lawrence would ask the people to hold the cup of coffee just before asking them about Joe. They would hold the cup for a second, not knowing that it was part of the experiment.

Here’s the utterly freaky part: if the coffee is warm, people like Joe. If the coffee is cold, they don’t. (You can read more here in a PDF about the experiment.)

Now, without getting all freaky and conspiratorial, one can look at marketing, and more precisely branding, as that cup of coffee (obviously the good kind is warm, the bad kind is cold).

Branding is about getting an emotional idea in a person’s head. Not a factual idea, no one cares too much about facts of the product except the client. Think about it, do people drink Coke because of the ingredients?

Anyway, it’s an emotional notion that branding is meant to create. When it comes time to make a purchase, this ‘priming’ will result in the desired purchase.

Thus, branding is really priming. When done well, it plants an emotional idea in a person’s head. This emotional idea is recalled at a time when the purchase is being considered, and bingo, the person buys your client’s brand. Simple as that.

And completely unmeasurable thought potentially indispensable.

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