You get into your car and drive to your friend’s house for a BBQ. During the drive over you are hit with several advertising messages across the radio, streaming services, billboards, and other signage telling you to ‘BUY’ this product or ‘BOOK’ that service. However, these ads do little to sway you towards any of the products or brands they are pushing. Once you arrive at the BBQ, you are caught in conversation with an old friend about their amazing new bed which is the most comfortable they have ever slept in. You listen to your friend describe how their life has been improved and amplified by the benefits of this amazing product. Later that week, you purchase a bed. Maybe even the same bed that your friend had described at the BBQ. The interesting part is, you don’t even need to be friends with the person or respect their opinion to have them influence your decision making in this way. As long as you can in some way relate to the real-life situation that they are discussing, you are at risk of being influenced to purchase. This ‘Aussie BBQ Effect’ impacts more Australians than you might think.
While it may be true that the world is filled with more advertising messaging than ever before, high-quality messaging with intuitive delivery isn’t as common as it should be. Many brands invest heavily in pushing retail sales messaging to their audiences in an attempt to maximise product/service sales. These businesses are also often of the misconception that their ‘audience’ is made up of people who already have a genuine need for the product or service in question. The reality of the situation is that by the time someone develops a genuine need for something, they are usually already considering a purchase (probably with a competitor). So while most businesses fight over the small piece of the pie that is made up of people who already have a genuine need for a certain product or service, the most successful marketing efforts begin long before the need to purchase exists. Put simply, most successful marketing focuses on the consumer themselves and their lifestyle. These businesses know that the most profitable approach to marketing is to have a conversation with their customers/potential customers long before any need actually develops. Not only do these businesses start the conversation with their customers before those customers have any need for their products or services, but they also choose to focus those early conversations exclusively on the customer and not their own products or services (that’s totally crazy, I know).
Wait, what’s this got to do with me buying things that my friends recommend at BBQs? Remember all those ads you were hit with on the way to the BBQ? They didn’t work, did they? You had no emotional connection to any of the brands, products or services offered to you on that day and so you didn’t make a purchase. That amazing bed that your friend mentioned, however, that really hit home with you. When your friend described their life being better because of the bed and spoke about the problems they had with their old mattress, you could relate. That conversation really impacted you emotionally and you inevitably purchased the product that was being discussed without hesitation. Before the BBQ, you weren’t looking to buy a bed but then after the BBQ you went and bought one. This example reveals something that is (but certainly shouldn’t be) a secret to most businesses – people don’t only buy something when they need it (again – totally crazy, right?). You didn’t need a new bed, you had a conversation about a bed and the information was so effectively contextualised for you that you were able to justify the purchase regardless of the lack of a “genuine” need. Your friend is just a regular old human being and not an ad from a bed store. Regardless of that fact, your friend did something that all those other ads from various businesses didn’t do. Your friend understood you, communicated to you in terms that you understood and could relate to, and they were happy to have that conversation with you regardless of the fact that you had no intention of purchasing the bed being discussed. The unfortunate reality of most businesses is that they aren’t willing to invest in having conversations with people about their own lives, lifestyle and interests if they can’t then immediately try to sell products or services to that person. This is painfully ironic as most people tend to purchase from businesses that they trust and have an established relationship with. This is no ‘Catch 22’ situation, you don’t have to wait until people have a need for your products or services before you can have a conversation with them and begin to build a relationship of trust. Stop trying to think of how to discuss your products/services with the market and start having conversations with the market about their lives, their lifestyles, their interests (I know what you’re thinking – crazy…).
So why would we bother doing any of this? It’s simple – businesses that have conversations with their target market about relatable interests and lifestyles are more likely to be able to influence purchasing behaviour. The fact is, most businesses only ever talk about their brand and product/service offerings. Conversely, the world’s biggest and most successful businesses are the exception to this rule as they focus their conversations on the lifestyle and interests of their target market. The use of this customer-centric communication style and their subsequent success is not an unrelated coincidence. These businesses understand that people either buy things that they “need” (rational decision making) or things that they “want” (emotional decision making). More interestingly, people buy much more stuff for a much higher price when they are making their purchase decisions on an emotional basis. Why is this distinction important? Talking to people about your products and services forces those people to rationalise the situation and interrogate the product or services offering which reduces their potential to experience an emotional reaction and commit to the sale. However, talking to people about their lifestyle, personal interests and how these can be amplified or improved by a proposed solution makes people consider the positive emotions that would be triggered by the potential purchase. Once someone has tasted the emotional benefits of a purchase, it’s hard to then get them to stop purchasing and they now actually require an emotive reason not to purchase.
So how did this process occur in the BBQ example? On the way to the party, you were bombarded with a range of advertising messages providing you with (presumably) sound reasoning as to why you should buy different products or services but you rationalised each time that you didn’t need any of those products/services. You arrived at the party and listened to someone talk about their life, their emotions associated with always being tired or not being able to think clearly when they would wake up in their old bed and you connected with those human emotions. You related to their story because you too experience the same pain-points in your life as well as the subsequent negative emotions generated by these situations. It is the job of the human brain to detect positive and negative triggers and amplify or mitigate these in order to improve our lives. This small taste of what the positive effects of purchasing a new bed could be had actually changed how the decision making dynamic worked within your mind. Where you would previously have rationalised your way out of buying a new bed (pretty easy to do based on finances etc.), you would now be required to find a more powerful emotional reaction in order to counter your strong, emotional desire to follow through with the purchase. As we saw with every advertisement you were exposed to prior to the BBQ, it is very easy to decide not to buy something. The reality of this situation is that where you have a strong emotional driver pushing you to purchase, the only force that can counter that is an equally strong emotional driver not to. It is also fair to say that when you have a strong emotional drive to do something, your drive to seek out a reason not to do that thing is near impossible to summon.
What can we learn from this as businesses that rely on our ability to sell products and services to consumers? Firstly, stop only having conversations with people about your products and services and how they can purchase these. Secondly, acknowledge that the people you want to sell your products and services to are exactly that, people. Your customers and potential customers are all human beings with their own lives and interests and who make their decisions based on emotional drivers. Finally, accept that your products and services, while they may be all kinds of cool and interesting (especially to you, the business owner), are not going to get everyone who could potentially buy from you to experience strong emotional responses. On this basis, it’s important to move at least some of your conversations with customers/potential customers away from a focus on your business, products, and/or services and move them towards the human beings you are talking to. What do I mean? If you sell beds then talk about sleep (no, not how people can sleep on your amazing beds) and all of the relatable human emotions associated with good sleep, bad sleep, no sleep etc. If you are a mechanic then stop only talking about cars and talk about what cars deliver to their human drivers (e.g. freedom, road trips, good times with friends singing songs loudly and badly). Yes, it’s about thinking of the benefits of your products rather than features but it’s so much deeper than that. It’s about being willing to have a good quality conversation with someone about them and their life so that they aren’t rejecting the conversation at the outset. Most businesses make the mistake of only ever talking to someone when they want that person to buy something from them. Businesses that hold meaningful conversations with their customers and potential customers long before a proposition to purchase occurs, will always win. These businesses not only build rapport with the people they are communicating with, they learn enough about them and are then better able to guide their conversations or even guide how they approach their product/service offerings.
Conversations that begin with instruction to buy, end with resistance to do so. This is simply human nature and isn’t really avoidable. They say “Don’t hate the player, hate the game”. I say, “Why so serious?”. Why hate the player OR the game? After all, those in business are already playing the game so they can either learn the rules to become a better player or inevitably lose. The game of selling to human beings is a game of emotion and empathy. When a business lacks an understanding of the human being they are trying to sell to, they lack the capacity for empathy. Marketing is about producing intuitive and helpful journeys for people to embark upon regardless of their immediate need for products or services. These journeys are built on conversations and interactions with people about their own needs and desires. A good business provides solutions for a customer’s needs but a great business listens to and understands a customer’s needs to help provide a seamless and intuitive intersection in that customer’s life where a solution is delivered exactly as the need arises. The biggest and best businesses in the world aren’t trying to buy as many eyes as possible to view their aggressive product/service advertisements, they are instead engaging in conversations with and about their audience to help guide them in shaping their sales conversations and offerings around relevant, emotive factors in order to elicit an emotional response, resulting in a greater sales conversion-rates and revenue for their businesses.
About the Author
Lawrence Fox is the Head of Strategy at M2F. Lawrence is a Strategist specialising in Performance-based Marketing and Data Analytics. Lawrence has previously managed digital marketing projects and campaigns for some of the largest businesses in Australia including Medibank, Roadshow Films, Qantas, Novotel, Specsavers, and Holden (Aus & NZ).
Marketing Strategy, branding, website development, and digital campaign management across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Google marketing platforms (incl. YouTube).