What is a brain sell?

Most of us know that the world of marketing and advertising is a dark and sinister place. We understand that dirty tricks and tactics are constantly being employed to get us to buy as much as we possibly can. But do we know precisely what these strategies are? The Brain Sell: When Science Meets Shopping Paperback by David Lewis provides some nifty tips. Here goes.

Shopping: it’s a pretty simple task, right? You need something, you have the money for it, you buy it. Yet for decades, psychologists, neuroscientists and behavioral analysts have all studied the way we shop, and they’ve all drawn the same conclusion: it’s not as simple as we think it is.

For starters, did you know that there are two types of shopper? Those who go shopping and those who do shopping. What kind are you? Some of us go shopping. We do it to have fun, to experience brands, service and entertainment. We welcome shopping as a chance not just to gain new possessions, but to enjoy a break from the daily grind amid the bustling crowd. Going shopping is, in general, highly pleasurable, and not at all something we need to do.

On the other hand, there are those who do shopping, and regard it as a chore. If someone tells you they’ve got to “do the shopping,” you know that they’ll be buying things they absolutely need, but don’t necessarily want. They may even treat the experience as a necessary evil to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. They certainly don’t enjoy the experience.

When you do the shopping you’re like a one-person SWAT team rescuing a hostage. You rush in, grab the hostage (or, in this case, the milk, toilet paper and cat food) and get out ASAP. Conversely, those who go shopping linger in the store and admire the products, and are therefore naturally beloved of advertisers, manufacturers and retailers. These are the people you should attract to your brand.

Ever seen a new pair of sneakers and thought, “I have to have them!” You desire them so much that you can’t keep them out of your mind over the next few days, and you’re constantly struggling with the urge to buy.

In such situations, the thing you want (the sneakers) has turned into something you need – or, as we say in advertising-speak, the product has become a want-need. One way you can elevate your product to the want-need stage is by restricting its supply. Just consider the thousands of people who line up outside the Apple Store awaiting the release of the latest iPhone! Why doesn’t Apple simply meet demand by increasing the number of iPhones sold during the first few days after release?

Because then the excitement and uniqueness would be lost. Because there’s a limited number of iPhones available, the people who do manage to get their hands on one build the hype by showing it off to their friends and discussing it online. These early owners whet the desire of others, and, for a few days at least, get to feel like trendsetters.

But what about those who don’t have the newest iPhone? They may start to feel a little inadequate – an experience you can also use to draw customers in. How? By making them feel they won’t quite fit into their environment until they purchase your product.

This advertising technique goes all the way back to the 1920s, when Lambert Pharmaceutical Co. realized that many Americans struggled with an unpleasant problem: bad breath. The worst part being that you never knew if you had it, because people were too embarrassed to tell you.

Thus was born Listerine. The ads for the strong antiseptic mouthwash depicted dejected men and women who were eager for love but foiled by their foul breath. Listerine cashed in on customers’ anxieties regarding love and acceptance, and the company’s revenues increased from $115,000 to over $8 million over the course of 7 years.

If you thought body language was something you could forget about after your job interview was over, you’ve got it wrong. It’s incredibly important in retail. Imagine entering a store only to see the customer advisor leaning against the wall in the corner, arms folded across his chest. Doesn’t look like he’s too likely to help you out, right? Why is this?

Though we might not realize it, as customers we’ve got a keen eye for high-power poses and low-power poses that allow us to judge a sales representative as competent (or not!). Wide stances or hands on hips create high-power poses, and may evoke self-confidence, competence or sometimes aggression. Compare this to low-power poses: folded arms or crossed legs. These poses are more relaxed but can also seem incompetent or dismissive – not great for sales staff!

It’s clear that posture can significantly impact your decisions as a customer, but would you have guessed that the way you’re made to bend your arms in stores can change your buying choices, too?

Over our lifetimes we learn to associate bending our arms, or arm flexion, with a desire to acquire, while arm extension is linked with rejection. Think about how you’d welcome your best friend – by flexing your arm to hug him. Or what about when someone you don’t like comes too close – you’d extend your arm to push her away.

Because of this, companies should place products on lower shelves so customers don’t have to reach out their arms to grab what they want. Arm-extension just feels counter-intuitive in this context! Even supplying shopping baskets instead of trolleys, which make people bend of trolleys, which make people bend their arms rather than extend them, can encourage customers to pick up more items from the shelves.

The nutty aroma of freshly popped popcorn, the boom of an epic orchestra – we associate these sensory experiences with a night at the cinema. Such is the power of sound and smell, two things of which marketers should be highly aware!

Music affects our mood, and, in turn, our buying behavior. Many retailers use this fact to their advantage. If a company wants us to spend lots of time shopping in their store, they’ll play slow-tempo music, and we unconsciously respond by moving slowly. One department store tried playing slower tunes and found their daily sales increased by 38 percent.

Even the genre of music can affect our buying choices. For example, when a wine store played classical music, they found that their customers did not buy more, but bought more expensive varieties. While our ears are being marketed to without our realizing, what’s going on with our nose? Much the same thing. Just as popcorn brings a cinema to mind, certain other smells evoke feelings in customers that might help companies sell more.

A particularly A scientific approach to marketing – from calculated psychological tactics to increase demand to drawing in your customers with sensory experiences – can take your sales to the next level. As a customer, you’ll have to watch your back, whether shopping in a store or online!

Check out my related post: How a company invented a better model for selling shirts?

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