The Press, September 2009

If you needed a reminder that our buying decisions are driven by emotion, look no further than last week's Air New Zealand Fashion Week. It is something any marketer needs to consider, no matter how unglamorous your product.

While it is no Paris or New York, Air New Zealand Fashion Week is a stunning event that is important for our fashion industry. Buyers and media come from all over the world, and it seems to get enormous publicity.

The Week is a chance for our established designers to gain access to new markets, and emerging designers to make a name for themselves. It also broadens New Zealand’s international image as having some creative horsepower along with our beautiful scenery and world-leading agriculture.

Fashion is also a great example of the marketing truism that we don’t buy the best product but the one that makes us feel the best. We buy on emotion and justify with logic.

If you don’t believe this just take a look at some parts of the Fashion Show. Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson was revered as a fashion icon. And there was a collection that seemed to consist entirely of woman wearing only gold paint and vintage underpants – a fashion show with no actual clothes! The designer even admitted the underwear was found in second hand clothing stores.

To us philestines fashions might look ridiculous and be worn by unusually tall and abnormally thin models, but they will still be in demand in the shops in a matter of weeks. Just by appearing on the catwalk people will want to buy them because they are motivated to stay fashionable.

It is not the features of these fashions that sell them. The cut, the stitching, the fabric are all parts of the buying decision, but not the driver. It is the feeling people get from being stylish, accepted, admired by others.

In sectors like clothing more than anything you are not selling the product but the benefit. Considering brands I’m familiar with Nike represents sporting aspiration, Billabong is the laid-back lifestyle of a surfer, our own Ground Effect a chance to be part of a counter-culture cycling movement.

Their products are of attractive design and good quality but it is emotion that really helps to differentiate. If it didn’t, we’d all buy our t-shirts for $4.99 from The Warehouse.

The fashion industry are very skilled at selling their products this way – how else would vintage undies and gold paint constitute fashion? Our more technical industries could do with some of the same focus.

Imagine if a software company was marketing fashion. It would not be Kate Sylvesters’ collection for woman who “know that it’s far more provocative and stylish to be subtly sexy and have a sense of humour about dressing up.” Instead she would be making fully integrated personal shelter solutions engineered from quality cross-wave fabric offering quick access dressing capability.

NZX Chief Executive Mark Weldon was quoted last week as saying start-up IT companies focussed too much on talking about their product rather than the value their business created for customers. In an investment context that made it hard for investors to back early-stage technology businesses.

"That is why capital markets don't fund them. They want information about the company. What they continue to get out of the ICT sector is information about the product," Weldon was quoted as saying on Stuff last week.

Focussing too much on the product also hampers the success of technology companies when selling. Telling a story that connects with the customer and their needs is more effective. A recent study by the UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) offers some evidence.

The IPA have built a database of 1400 case studies submitted for the organisation’s annual awards over the last 30 years. They recently conducted an analysis comparing the success (in terms of level of profitability) of campaigns based on emotional appeal against those which used rational persuasion. Campaigns with purely emotional messages had twice the impact of those based on a purely rational approach.

How do you apply this to selling complex products business to business? Is it time for our software and electronics companies to hire beautiful models to hand out their brochures to trade shows? Injecting emotion into your marketing doesn’t mean hyping it up but appealing to the emotional drivers of your audience.

Rational assessment of products plays a large part in complex sales. But too often companies only focus on that part of the sell. What features meet what requirements because of what innovative technology.

But you can’t ignore the emotional dimension of a decision, no matter how large and densely technical. Does their market position or shareholder pressure make them want to feel safe about the decision, do they want to appear to the market as brave innovators or are they simply trying to find the easiest solution to their problem?

Like the fashionistas, marketers need to tell a story not just about what the product is, but what it does for people. We don’t all need to be as flamboyant as the fashion world, just a little more customer focussed. And wouldn’t you like the price premium that the best fashion brands get?

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