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Self-Help Articles on Psychological Marketing

By Gary Witt, Ph.D.

 Knowing what you're selling is the first critical step in selling it. Sound simple? It ain't necessarily so.

 You are not really selling a product or a service. Did you know that? Count yourself lucky -- because people don't want it anyway. And they sure don't want to pay you their hard-earned money for it.

What you are selling is Satisfaction, with a big capital S. Your product or service is merely a means to satisfy some set of motivations your customers currently have, like using a wrench to tighten a leaking faucet. Now if you sell lawnmowers, you might be thinking that your buyer's Satisfaction comes from having a machine which cuts grass well. If you believe that, you are only looking at the surface of the psychological Satisfaction your buyer craves -- and YOU ARE LOSING SALES because you are not looking deep enough into his mind.

The most effective marketing strategies plumb the depths to locate the hidden motivations of buyers. Remember when you were a teenager and starting to date? On Saturday night you went to the drive-in, paying good money to see a terrible movie, the scarier the better. But seeing the movie was not your motivation for giving up $1.50. That product was just the necessary means to an end. Having a place to be alone with your date in the dark was the true, inner motivation for your buying decision. Time and privacy were the hidden Satisfactions you were really buying. The product was just the way to get them

Knowing the true, and sometimes hidden, motivations of your buyers is the key to discovering what you are really selling, or, said more properly, what they are really buying. Drive-in owners didn't pay top dollar for films because they knew they weren't selling great entertainment. By discovering your buyers' key needs, wants, fears and desires, you can then highlight the features of your product or service which best satisfies those motivations. In other words, you have to look at life through your buyer's eyes.

Creating ads that captivate your buyer will lead to bigger sales and growth -- all because your ad basically makes this promise: "We will satisfy your true, inner motives if you buy from us."

Perfume ads are a great example. They don't talk about the smell, the bottle, or the value. They know they aren't selling needs, wants or fears -- they're selling desire, for romance, for closeness, for love. And that is exactly what the ads promise with their photos of a handsome man, an attractive woman, and a romantic place. You're practically back at the drive-in. No need to describe the perfume's features because they are irrelevant, just show readers its name.

I believe that every company, at its heart, is really in the business of selling perfume.

There are many different ways a product or service can provide buyer satisfaction. Performing well is the most obvious. Being a bargain is another. Appearance can also give satisfaction -- one of the joys of owning a Jaguar is looking at it, and watching other people admire it.

The first step is to analyze your product from your customers' point of view. Remember, Gillette doesn't sell blades, it sells smooth shaves. 3M doesn't sell tape, it sells convenience and time. Voit doesn't sell exercise equipment, it sells health and appearance. Begin by analyzing your product or service along four lines: What are its . . .

1) Concrete Features -- These are the tangible things about a product that a buyer can see, hear, feel. A car's leather interior, front-wheel drive, and racy style are good examples of concrete attributes, as is a good price or loan terms.

2) Abstract Features -- These are the intangible things about a product that you can't see, hear or feel, but which exist nevertheless. You can't see "good quality." It is a conclusion derived from an overall evaluation of the product's features by you and others. But that image is a powerful selling tool. Abstract features of ice cream include "rich taste" and "fattening." A lustrous piece of tile may have an "expensive" look, while an attorney may have a reputation as a "tough guy."

3) Functional Features -- These are benefits created directly by the product. A car "handles well." A toothpaste "whitens teeth." A lending company gives "two-hour approvals." In each case, the benefit comes directly from the product or service to the buyer.

4) Psychosocial Features -- These are psychological benefits that come to the buyer indirectly. A car which produces admiring looks from others, a cookie mix which makes a boy tell his mother, "These are sooo good," or a new hairdo which makes you feel special are all Psychosocial features. These features are important because we want others to approve of us and what we have. It was psychosocial pressures more than anything else that drove many women away from natural fur products.

After doing this analysis of your product, you should also do the same analysis of your brand and your product class. Both can dramatically influence a buyer's thinking.

Your Brand (which may simply be your company or store name) can carry some positive or negative features for the consumer. For example, when some consumers look at the label on a bottle of Fantastik cleaner, they may see the Dow Chemical company name and recall some negative stories about Dow. Such associations may be enough to tilt consumers either for or against purchasing the product.

In addition, your product and brand are both colored by the good and bad features of its product class. For example, when Michael Jordan elevated the national popularity of professional basketball, other levels of basketball also benefited. That increased appeal was even enough to spur the formation of a women's professional basketball league, something which would probably never have happened without the high positive image Jordan created for the product class.

Let's say you manage a fast food restaurant franchise. Let's do a product class analysis. What are some Concrete features of this class of business? Low price, clean but plain setting, young and bored employees, small variety of food, open late, food smell in dining area, good and well-lit parking, drive-through window.

What about the Abstract features? Fair quality food, usually fattening and high in cholesterol, middle class, generally safe, no "presentation" appeal, little perceived danger of food poisoning, fair value for the money.

Functional features? Fast service, easy in/easy out, can be eaten while driving, easy way to satisfy hunger.

Psychosocial features -- Easy way to please kids, acceptable place to be seen by others, could be eating in same area as people who appear dangerous or unwashed.

You can see even this perfunctory analysis helps to reveal some strong appeals which your particular restaurant may have for consumers simply because of the type of restaurant it is. It also reveals some of the image problems which you may need to address in your advertising in order to position your particular restaurant above the rest.

It is important for you to write down both the POSITIVE and NEGATIVE features and attributes of your product, brand, and product class. The positive features are what you have to build on. The negative features are what you must overcome. By matching these features with features that buyers require to satisfy their needs, wants, fears, or desires, you have taken an important step toward creating the best possible focus for your advertising message.


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(c) Gary Witt, 1998

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