If you haven’t already seen the series on the ABC, I would strongly recommend that you watch the three part series The Men Who Made Us Spend made by investigative reporter / filmmaker Jacques Peretti. Although the series first started airing a couple of years ago, it somehow managed to escape my attention until earlier this week. Needless to say, as a person who loves documentaries, especially those that look at the forces that motivate human behaviour, I watched all three parts in quick succession, and I’m glad I did.

Although, for the most part, Peretti weaves a disturbing narrative of how the corporate world surreptitiously trains consumers (that’s us) at a subconscious level to unquestioningly and repeatedly buy stuff we rarely need, or even want, there is much we can learn as small business operators. Some of the most useful and powerful concepts you may take away from the series.

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Repeat business is a major key to profitability

The most profitable businesses are often those that compel their customers to keep coming back to buy and buy again, even if these repeated purchases are completely unnecessary.

To underscore this point, Peretti clearly takes aim at Apple, that uses a powerful blend of ‘planned obsolescence’ and zealotry-style marketing to keep its customer base upgrading to the latest iPhone model almost annually, even though such upgrade are rarely necessary.

We all know just how powerful these tactics are each time Apple has a new release, and devoted followers line up outside the stores for days to be the first to get it.

At the small business level, we would avoid such scurrilous tactics, and nor do we need to, simply because by offering exceptional service to our customers and providing a diverse portfolio of quality products and services, we too can enjoy the benefits of repeat business.

Customers buy on emotion, not logic

People almost always buy on emotion, not on logic, and successful marketers apply this powerful principle to all aspects of their marketing messages. In fact, as Peretti so clearly establishes, marketers don’t want us to ‘think’ about the product being offered, because in most cases, doing so blocks the decision to buy. Rather, marketers want us to react to marketing messages at a deep, emotional level, for this is the essential prerequisite to promoting the buying decision.

We at the small business level should also apply this principle fully in all of our marketing messages if we actually plan to sell anything to our customers. Whenever I sit with a client to plan a marketing initiative, I always ask them to tell me the ‘emotional pay-offs’ the customers will enjoy upon purchase. Inevitably, they always start rattling off the product’s ‘features’, at which point, I stop them immediately. You rarely sell a product or service on its features.

For example, when a bride-to-be hires a photographer, it’s not so much because he or she has years of experience or the latest equipment that matters, as much as it is that they trust he or she will capture perfect memories of their most important day that will allow it to be relived and enjoyed for a lifetime. The latter is what gets the sale!

Fear is still the most powerful motivation of purchase

Fear remains one of the most powerful factors that drives our buying decisions, and big business has made billions of dollars playing on the inherent anxieties and insecurities we all possess.

In particular, I found the hard-hitting, and somewhat confrontational questions Peretti posed to a pair of anti-ageing industry ‘entrepreneurs’ compelling, and at times, mirthful viewing. He clearly views the men as ‘snake-oil peddlers’, who between them, have amassed over 60 million dollars in profit promoting ‘fountain of youth’ products to a legion of willing buyers mortified at the prospect of growing old.

I frequently use the fear factor as a motivator in the marketing campaigns I design for clients, however, only ever indirectly, and never in the form of a straight-up scare tactics. I find the latter approach distasteful, so therefore avoid it.

For example, in a Facebook advertisement I once created for a lawn-mowing business, I used the text ‘be ready for that rental inspection in time’. In this case, there’s no mention whatsoever of the consequences of not being ready for a rental inspection, however, no mention is necessary, because tenants know perfectly well what they are.

This is a classic example of using fear as a motivating factor for purchase, without making any ‘negative’ statements at all, and without dubiously exaggerating the potential consequences of not making the purchase.

In summary

So when you get some time over the weekend, give this series and look, as I’m sure the insights you’ll gain will be quite enlightening, especially in regards to how you go about marketing your small business right now. And if you do watch the series, I’d love to hear your take on it. You can find all three episodes of The Men Who Made Us Spend at this YouTube link.

Vincent Brown - Perth's Business Website Pro

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