Posted by: brandextenders | October 19, 2010

Text and Pictures Just Don’t Cut It

Ever been to one of those fancy restaurants where they bring by the dessert cart after your dinner filled with all sorts of delectable treats? You can see them up close and even smell the rich chocolate, vanilla bean and freshness of the fruit parfait. Chances are you may have thrown your resolve aside and grabbed one of those sumptuous treats despite your bulging stomach.

The funny thing is if you were to just read about those same desserts in the menu or even see a picture of them, the chances are you would have been able to resist. So what does this have to do with anything other than to fuel your hunger?

The California Institute of Technology (known as CalTech) recently completed a study to determine if the way consumer goods are presented to the consumer affects how much they will pay for products. Most behavioral theories assume that presentation doesn’t matter, but researchers in this study were surprised to learn otherwise.

Initially they presented food to hungry recipients in three formats; text only (such as a menu), hi-res photos and the actual food placed in front of them and the subjects placed bids on how much they would pay for each item. The results showed there was no difference in the value placed on the food presented in either the text or picture version. Interestingly though, people were willing to pay as much as 50% more for food they actually had in front of them vs. the text or pictures.

Thinking the test could have been corrupted by the smell of the food (participants weren’t allowed to taste it though), the researchers took products from the CalTech Bookstore and used the same methodology in describing the product in a text version, taking a hi-res photo and showing the actual samples to the subjects. Once again, the subjects were willing to pay, on average, 50% more for the items they could see and touch vs. read about in text or see in pictures.

What does this mean in the real world? With the advent of e-commerce, predictions were dire that tens of thousands of brick and mortar businesses would close because everything was going to be ordered online. Although the ease of ordering off the Net has certainly affected how thousands of companies go to market, the dire predictions of massive layoffs and closings haven’t materialized. This study in fact, while not the be-all-end-all, shows people are more likely to purchase products and spend more for them if they can actually touch and feel.

What this says to all of us in sales is to let your customers touch and feel samples of the products you sell. Probably not a good idea if you sell radioactive isotopes, but otherwise don’t just use catalogs or pictures and instead let them interact with the products they are interested in purchasing.

This study suggests that the Pavlovian response to stimulus triggers something in your brain that makes you more engaged and willing to pay more to have something you can touch. And despite the ever-increasing levels of technology, it might just be that e-commerce experts have over-estimated the level to which consumers will give up using their five senses to stay techno-savvy.

So despite the fact I sometimes feel like Willie Loman from “Death of a Salesman”, I’ll continue to schlock samples to clients in hopes they’ll be more inclined to purchase what they can touch and inspect vs. what they get from a description or picture on a website. Summary of the study from CalTech

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