VALUES GOVERN CONSUMER SPENDING
What one person calls a lifestyle luxury another might call a utilitarian purchase. What may be an indulgence for one is an aspirational luxury for someone else. Where a particular purchase fits in the discretionary product matrix is dependent upon many variables, not the least of which are income, life stage, age, gender, and where the consumer lives. Even more individualistic is the individual's value system, passion, and identity.
An automobile purchase is highly dependent upon demographic factors. For example, if a person lives in a rural area, owning a car may be an absolute necessity, whereas for the city dweller well served by modern mass-transit systems, a car probably falls into the discretionary realm. Discretion also plays a role in what type of car to buy. Do you buy a new car or a used car? Do you buy a sedan, wagon, two-door, four-door, SUV, pickup truck, or four-wheel drive? Do you buy a Ford, Lincoln, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes, Land Rover, or BMW? Who you are; where you live; your age, gender, and income; whether you have children; and what your friends drive all play a role in the decision that goes into purchasing a car.
Beyond demographics, a person's value system influences purchase decisions, as this respondent describes: "I don't need a Mercedes. I think a Mercedes is more than you need to get you from one place to another. It's about our belief system, which we talk about with our kids. We have tension there. On the one hand, we are embarrassed by what we have compared to some of our friends. On the other, some of my kids' friends get something and our kids come home and say, 'Why can't we get this?' That brand [Mercedes] is not me. I don't have that lifestyle. Some people do, but I don't."
A person's value system influences purchase decisions.
Let's look more closely at how a consumer's value system, her individualized judgment, and her self-identity influence her perception of her own discretionary spending.
UTILITARIAN PURCHASES ARE DISTINGUISHED BY USEFULNESS
In the matrix, utilitarian purchases are high in physical gratification and low in extravagance. These extras in life offer some materially measurable benefit or improvement to the consumer. Functionality and practicality play an essential part, usually allowing the consumer to do something that could not be done before. Implicit in the definition of the discretionary utilitarian purchase is the concept of a trade-up from the necessary to the improved, more highly functioning utilitarian item. One respondent expressed it this way: "My latest discretionary purchase was a steam vacuum cleaner. I didn't strictly need it, but I wasn't spoiling myself in buying it. It cost a good amount of money, but I will use it. And it will save in the long run because I don't have to call someone to come into my house and clean the carpets."
Consumers say they achieve a feeling of well-being from the purchase of these life-enhancing objects. Call it empowered ownership. As compared with buying a service to perform a similar function—say a carpet cleaning business to steam the carpets—consumers prefer ownership of the means or the tools (e.g., the steam vacuum) that will allow them to achieve their goal. Here is how one consumer explained her purchase decisions: "Products are easier and more convenient than services. Services require another person and are not so readily affordable. Once you do services, they are gone. Products last and last, and you don't have to depend on another person to get satisfaction from them. Product gives immediate satisfaction. And you can't really measure the quality of services. If you pay double for a haircut, do you really get double the quality? Service is less consistent."
Being able to "do it yourself" is a powerful motivator in the purchase of a utilitarian product. Suddenly you can achieve things you never could achieve before. You are more accomplished, more productive, and have more time and money to spend on other things. Your spouse, children, friends, and neighbors will admire you. You will achieve a new sense of self-fulfillment, confidence, and self-actualization. In other words, you'll be a winner.
Let's look more closely at how Ronco Inventions sells its rotisserie machine using a 30-minute infomercial. It is brilliant marketing because when you acquire the rotisserie machine, you get so much more than a machine that cooks good-tasting and healthful chicken. You become more in the know, more capable, and more resourceful—a "superior" human being.
Sell More Utilitarian Products
Many products are sold solely on product features (e.g., this blender blends better than the other blender) and benefits (e.g., if you use this blender, you will be able to prepare dinner faster). For the past several decades, marketers and advertising practitioners have been banging the drum about focusing on benefits as the key to unlock consumers' wallets. However, benefits as they are presented today do not go nearly far enough. Perhaps we marketers have gotten lazy and have not pushed ourselves far enough in discovering new and creative benefits our products can provide. On the other hand, perhaps the product benefits can never go far enough, because benefits remain strongly left-brain oriented (e.g., saves time, saves money).
Go beyond product features and benefits to life-transforming attributes. Create fantasies and show how the product fulfills them.
Life Transformations through a Small Kitchen Appliance
Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco Inventions, has been called the "salesman of the century," and a study of his latest infomercial for the Showtime Rotisserie Grill is clear proof why. Working without an apparent script, Ron presents his Showtime Grill as a kitchen appliance described by one owner in the infomercial audience as a rotisserie that "has changed my life."
The infomercial is a tutorial in marketing and selling utilitarian products that nobody really needs. Through a simple presentation of information, supported with demonstrations and testimonials from audience members, Ron repeatedly drives home his message that owning the Showtime Grill will truly transform your life, not just the way you cook chicken. He breaks down the product-positioning message into a few essential components: easy to use, wonderful food, and high quality. His infomercial cohost reinforces the message, and his audience members, including regular people and professional chefs, underscore the same essential message. Through this presentation, the viewer sees and believes how everyone in the audience has changed their lives through the purchase and use of the Showtime Grill. It is a magnificent job of showing how a simple kitchen appliance can transform people's lives.
The positioning strategy for the grill combines product features with product benefits. However, what sells the grill is the life-transforming value the grill bestows on the owner, not features or benefits.
According to our research, people craft fantasies—sometimes very elaborate ones—about their purchases. They know what their purchases will feel like, what they will look like, how the acquisition of particular products will transform their lives and make them better, more successful, happier, more fulfilled people. That is what the anticipation cycle that precedes buying is all about. Fantasies about how the product will fill a missing aspect of one's life fire the imagination. This builds stress—positive healthy stress—which is finally resolved in the act of purchase and initial excitement created by the acquisition. Then the cycle begins again, with new fantasies and new aspects of life that need satisfying. Figure 3.2 outlines the product positioning of the Showtime Rotisserie Grill.
Features: Directly observable, physical characteristics
Black and white
Small size (demonstrated with comparison to toaster oven)
Quality construction (demonstrated with hammer hit)
Cooks all kinds of meats (e.g., chicken, turkey, ribs, pork loin, rib roast, steaks, fish, lamb)
Under $100 retail
Comes complete with accessories, recipes, instructional video, heating disk
Benefits: Attributes that are the result of consumers using the product
Saves electricity (uses 1200 watts just like a hair dryer)
Saves time (less time to cook meats; 12 minutes per pound compared with 20 minutes in oven)
Cooks entire dinner with warming tray for two side dishes
Best-tasting meats, crispy on outside, juicy on inside
Fat melts out of meats to make them healthier
Can have best-tasting meat simply and easily
Cooks premium meats like a professional
Values and Experiences: Personal values, beliefs, feelings, and experiences that strongly motivate the consumer to buy
"Hardworking people want to spend money on something that will last a lifetime." Grill becomes an essential part of your life conveying all its benefits (e.g., savings in energy; good, more healthful food; high quality; saved time) to the owner throughout his or her lifetime. Buy it and your life is instantly transformed.
When you serve food from the grill, your guests will be amazed and give you "applause" (as the audience applauds Ron). They will admire you, believing you cook as well as a professional. You will be a cooking "hero."
"This machine is my new husband." Ron's cohost makes this breathless statement that is not explained, but presented for the audience to figure out. To me it implies that this machine grills better than my husband, helps me in the kitchen more than my husband, does work for me unlike my husband, and gives unconditional support better than my husband. It's a weird statement, but it really underscores the message of life transformation through the appliance.
Gives you a nonstress life. Easy cook-at-once meals without work; no need to be in the kitchen doing the hard work; you can be with guests. The grill does all the work for you. An audience member says, "So few products make your life more convenient." Several mentions are made of using the grill in RVs, suggesting that with this appliance you can achieve an RV-vacation lifestyle.
Figure 3.2: Showtime Rotisserie Grill Product Positioning
Fantasies about how the product will fill a missing aspect of one's life fire the imagination.
A brand or product platform describing the features, benefits, and life-transforming values and experiences gives marketers and advertisers the insights needed to touch customers' hot buttons with powerful and compelling marketing messages. Ronco knows how to play to consumer fantasies. As mentioned earlier, the 30-minute infomercial for the Ronco Showtime Grill provides a tutorial in how to position a mundane small appliance that cooks chicken, the most mundane of meats, as a means to transform your life from drab, dull, and ordinary into one that is more fulfilling, rewarding, and satisfying. By spending only $99, in five easy payments, you suddenly become a better person, a better homemaker and wife, admired by your friends and family, and more fulfilled in all aspects of your life.
Eric Schulz, in his book The Marketing Game, makes the assumption: "Consumers are logical. If you say something that makes sense, they will believe you." WRONG! This is wishful thinking on the part of consumer-product marketing executives. On the one hand, consumers are not logical, and what they want, desire, and dream of owning is not logical. On the other hand, they need logical reasons to justify the purchase of products they don't need. But the prime motivator of desire is rooted in passion, not logic. That is why consumer marketers need to come back again and again to selling the "sizzle"—the wish fulfillment, the satisfaction of the consumer's fantasy.
Sell the sizzle.
I recently happened upon a Ralph Lauren commercial on television for its new Glamourous perfume. It shows actress Penelope Cruz and her date dressed in evening clothes walking in the rain to their car. As they dance and caress along the city streets, they are drenched in the rain, but clearly enjoying every minute of it. They are in public and formally dressed, but they act as if they are in the shower together getting ready for a night of steamy romance. The image is sexy and exciting, but I cannot escape the reality of this situation—which is a real turnoff—and get into the fantasy. Every rain shower that I have ever been in has given me a chill, even on the hottest summer day. Here is poor, underfed Penelope in a sleeveless evening gown walking completely unprotected in the pouring rain. Rain causes your makeup to run and your hair to become a mess, but Penelope's face is flawless and her hair, even soaking wet, looks great. Soaking wet clothes are literally a drag, but this couple is dancing around in the street. For me this ad pushes the sizzle envelope too far. A dark, dirty, smelly city street is not where I want to get caught in the rain in my evening clothes. In my fantasy, my date has an umbrella that he uses to sprint, alone, to the car, which he drives back for me.
The prime motivator of desire is rooted in passion, not logic.
Although the Glamourous ad failed to pull me in, water imagery is a recurring theme in advertising fantasy building. During focus groups where we studied consumers' motivations in buying things they don't need, participants were asked to clip ads and photographs from magazines that best exemplify products that transform their lives. They clipped pictures that talked deeply to them about their personal fantasies. Repeatedly, participants clipped images of water—bathtubs, whirlpools, pools, beaches, lakes—and most often these water images were linked with romance. They showed couples on a cruise ship, couples by the water, and couples in a hot tub. In addition to being linked with romance, water imagery is also evocative of purity, cleanliness, nature and natural beauty, relaxation, and adventure. Bathrooms and kitchens figure prominently in consumers' life-transforming fantasies, supporting the link between kitchen appliances and life enhancement. Bedroom pictures in ads offer consumers emotional succor. Outdoor scenes of lush backyards, mountains, valleys, and meadows promise a release from stress by returning to nature. You can sell the sizzle by presenting powerful emotional imagery that creates or extends a consumer's fantasy and the promise that the fantasy will be fulfilled by purchasing the featured product.
Fantasy branding can extend a franchise. At its root, consumer product branding is all about sparking a consumer fantasy. Branding that goes only as far as brand features and benefits will be relegated to the waste dump of consumer brands. Brands that have life and vibrancy, that really speak to the customer, do so on an emotional plane. Coke, Disney, Chanel, Calvin Klein—all truly great brands—have harnessed the left-brain power of features and benefits with the transforming magic of right-brain emotion to craft an identity, personality, and value system that consumers can really accept.
Consumer product branding is all about sparking a consumer fantasy.
Even in the realm of utilitarian purchases, there is opportunity for marketers to take their products to a new level. The Rubbermaid brand comes immediately to mind as one that understands how to communicate with its target market at an emotional level, as well as on a product features and benefits level. Rubbermaid means household organization. Like "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," an organized house is the ultimate achievement for homeowners, whether their realm is the garage and basement, or the kitchen, closets, bedrooms, bathrooms, and everywhere else. Because I am not blessed with the ability to organize my home or office or anything tangible, I am a complete sucker for anything that I can buy that will turn me into an "organized" person. Buckets, baskets, shelves, drawers, and all kinds of organizers to hold things fill my house and office. The only problem for me is that once things are stored away, they are lost forever. So, I remain a disorganized, stack-them-in-a-pile type of person. However, I know in my heart that if I could only use all these wonderful Rubbermaid organizers and exercise organizational discipline, I would be transformed into a truly better, more fulfilled person who'd accomplish much more.