In Your Head, In Your WalletWhen a company takes out an advertisement, they don’t have much space to convince you to buy their products. If it’s a broadcast spot, they might have 30 seconds to a minute; a print ad, maybe half a page unless they can afford a full-pager. That means they have to choose every word carefully to make the most impact.
Often, the people choosing those words know a lot about how to get in your head. If you don’t believe us, just take a look at the marketing curriculum at a business school: there’s increasing emphasis on studies of “consumer behavior,” and many of the faculty have backgrounds in psychology. For marketers, it’s all about choosing the words that appeal to basic psychological impulses.
To find out the sorts of buzzwords that these marketing minds use to get you to spend your money, we spoke to marketing professors at some of the nation’s top business schools.
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“Limited Time”This is a trick that’s as old as marketing itself, but it’s been taken to its logical conclusion with the emergence of Groupon and other daily deal sites, which go so far as to include a big countdown clock next to a deal.
“It creates this notion of scarcity, that you’re going to miss out on something,” says Ravi Dhar, a professor of both marketing and psychology at Yale University. “That creates a sense of urgency, and it’s a signal of value.”
It’s a remarkably simple concept: If you can plant the notion that something is scarce or limited, customers will assign more value to it. No wonder everyone from Google to Yelp are creating daily deal sites of their own, and Groupon has introduced Groupon Now, where deals only last a few hours.
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“Invitation Only”Speaking of Google, the company has to be pleased with the early returns on its new social network, Google+. The service has been around for just two weeks, but according to one estimate it already has around 20 million users. While early reviews and buzz about the service have contributed to the quick uptake, we’d imagine it also has something to do with Google’s decision to initially make the service invitation-only. That has sparked a frenzy of people desperately trying to score an invite to the service, even if they don’t actually know what it does.
“[Exclusivity] is related to the idea of scarcity,” says Dhar. “It’s like a club, everyone wants to be able to get in. Gilt did the same thing.”
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There’s a reason that companies like to offer “buy one, get one free” deals: Besides the fact that the promotion allows them to move a significant quantity of a product, it also means that they get to use the word “free” in their marketing while still making money.
“Having the word ‘free’ somewhere in your ad attracts attention and creates a positive feeling,” says Dhar. “It seems like nothing is better than free.”
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“New and Improved”Everyone wants to be one the cutting edge, which is part of the reason you see people lined up outside the Apple Store whenever the latest iteration of the iPhone comes out. For this reason, marketers are always eager to position their product as new – even if the actual improvements are minimal.
“When you use terms like ‘new and improved,’ research shows that you will boost sales considerably,” says Lars Perner, an assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “In fact, the Federal Trade Commission usually limits firms to six months after a major change to the product [to describe something as ‘new’].”
Perner, who specializes in the study of consumer behavior, says that such strategies are particularly effective in this country.
“That’s the case in the U.S., which tends to be very much into innovation and improvement, but not as much in more traditional societies,” he says.
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“Money-Back Guarantee”Stores or companies that promise a money-back guarantee obviously have to make good on that promise if a product is defective, but irrespective of the service element, it’s an effective marketing technique that helps companies allay any doubts a consumer may have about a product.
“They can give them with impunity, because people rarely get around to returning a product,” says Perner. “And a money-back guarantee may actually influence people to like the product more [after purchase], in addition to being likely to increase initial sales.”
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“Doctor Recommended”People might not trust every company that tries to sell them something, but they certainly trust their doctor. So if you can get a doctor to recommend your product – especially if it has a supposed medical benefit – you’re a lot more likely to win the trust of a would-be consumer.
“There’s something called expertise heuristics – people have more faith in the advice of people that are experts,” explains Michel Tuan Pham, a professor of marketing at the Columbia Business School who specializes in customer and consumer psychology.
Perner adds that having such an expert endorsement also gives the impression that an objective third party has given the product a stamp of approval.
“There’s this idea that doctors are supposed to be impartial,” he says.
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“4 Out of 5…”Getting a doctor or dentist to recommend your product is good. Getting four out five doctors or dentists to recommend it is great.
In addition to carrying the weight of an expert endorsement, Pham says that this phrase implies widespread social approval.
“It’s the social proof heuristic: Consumers are more likely to purchase things that they see other people buying,” he explains.
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“Official”Every professional sports team, and most major sporting events, have a load of official sponsors. W.B. Mason, for instance, is the official office supplier of a few Major League Baseball teams, including both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
That doesn’t mean that the Red Sox can only get paper from W.B. Mason, but it does mean that the company gets premium advertising placement with the team (including an ad right on the Green Monster) and can use the team logo in its own advertising. In the process, it gets to improve its own brand by association with an established and well-regarded franchise.
“Brands will want to associate themselves with, for instance, the U.S. Open, which has the image of a Grand Slam event,” says Gita Johar, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School with expertise in consumer psychology. “Through their association with the event, they get the halo benefit.”
Still, she says it’s unclear how much of this halo benefit official sponsors really get, noting studies that show that most consumers have trouble remembering the official sponsors of events and teams.
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“i____”Just as companies become official sponsors to experience the halo effect of a team or event’s brand, so too will companies use certain phrases or words to get the residual benefits of a competitor’s brand.
“Following in Apple’s footsteps, a number of companies have begun naming their products with the “i” prefix, as Apple did with the iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc.,” says Adam Alter, an assistant professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “There’s nothing inherently appealing about the letter “i” as a prefix, but it’s become associated with Apple’s products, many of which are market leaders.
Just look at SDI Technologies, which makes the iHome docks for iPods; the name makes it seem like it makes official Apple products, when in fact it’s just a third-party manufacturer.
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“Full-HD Frame Sequential Technology”OK, so the above phrase – which refers to a high-definition television that uses a specific type of 3D video – isn’t exactly a common buzzword. But it’s an example of the kind of technical jargon that many manufacturers and technology companies employ, and it’s as much about informing you as it is about getting you to buy a product.
“One of the cues that appeals to people when they’re processing information rapidly is apparent expertise or sophistication,” says Alter. “They may not know what ‘Full-HD Frame Sequential technology’ means, but it sounds impressive and the product sounds advanced… Put simply, jargon-laden phrases that imply sophistication appeal to the majority of people who process information superficially (because the product sounds impressive, even if they’re not quite sure why), and to the minority who pay more attention (because those phrases actually describe the product in a meaningful way).”
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