Sensational Marketing: Weaving Deeper Needs into Branding

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Why did I put on weight because my wife got pregnant?

Some of my fellow dad friends can attest that "sympathy weight" is a real thing. After all, it would be mean to let your pregnant wife eat Oreos all by herself, right? After my son was born, my wife and I both decided to lose the baby weight. Around this time, I also decided to establish healthy habits to be a healthy dad and overall just the fit man I've always wanted to be. Upon making this decision, I researched what I needed to do…which quickly led to what I needed to buy. Rational thought, right?

Stumbling through the digital storefronts of fitness gear companies, it was clear that they all claimed to have the gear I needed to score the ultimate beach bod. Glistening abs, rippling back muscles (yep, I haven't learned the names of back muscles yet), and gym hi-fives dotted their Instagram advertisements. As incredible as all of these people looked, none of the marketing resonated with me…until I stumbled upon one ad in particular. 

The ad didn't feature shredded abs or upside-down-heart-shaped calves. In fact, it didn't feature any muscles at all. The ad was simple — a guy in relatively good shape wearing sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt jumping rope in a drab boxing gym. He was in the zone, putting in work, but not doing anything remotely fancy or impressive.

Did this guy look like he gets the ladies? Not really. 

Did he look like a professional athlete? Not necessarily.

Did I see myself in him? Absolutely.

The feeling of consistency, of quiet tenacity, and almost a zen-like state of focus drew me right in. I immediately wanted to see what kind of jump rope he was using and what kind of shoes he had on his feet. The marketing geniuses behind this brand knew what sensation I was looking to emulate with help from their products.

Every purchase we make is driven not by the need to possess the item or service itself. The purchase is a catalyst for an emotional state we hope will come about. As logical as we tell ourselves our shopping experience is, almost every single purchase is out of a desire to pursue a particular emotional state. Let's look at some examples. 

The Sensation of Perceived Value

For bargain shoppers, the joy of shopping is equal parts having a quality product as well as the rush of finding a great deal. As we discussed before in another piece, for decades, JC Penney was a beacon of savings for department store shoppers. JC Penney shoppers can get a new coat anywhere, but they go there for the thrill of finding one they believe is 40% off — a perceived value. When JC Penney changed its brand image in an attempt to appeal to a broader market, they experienced a billion-dollar loss. Their new brand no longer inspired the old sensation of value, and the loyal customers went elsewhere.

The Sensation of Being Cared For

Many companies consider outstanding customer service to be how quickly customers can speak with a service representative. This usually has the consequence of causing service representatives to be pressured to wrap up calls. Not so with online shoe retailer Zappos. On June 11, 2016, Zappos customer service representative Steven Weinstein set a company record — a service call that lasted 10 hours, 43 minutes. While some companies would reprimand such behavior, Weinstein's call was celebrated. Why? Because Zappos' leans into the brand image of customer service first. The previous Zappos' call record was in 2012 at 9 hours, 37 minutes. As word got out about these marathon customer service calls, Zappos' brand reputation for customer appreciation soared. 

The Sensation of Importance and Luxury

There is a car on the market that not only boasts of a very distracting window reflection, loose steering, a cup holder that is essentially a net bag, a center console full of buttons that do nothing, but also 13 miles to the gallon highway fuel efficiency because it houses an entirely unnecessary v12 engine. Asking price? Starting at $230,000. Yes, the Mercedes-AMG G65 is one of the worst-designed cars on the market, but can still demand such an asking price. Why? It's a luxury car, baby. One drive around the block in this whip and your neighbors will think the Kardashians have moved to town.

Those who purchase this car are not looking for a practical A-to-B commuter. They are looking for a head-turner — a vehicle whose exhaust pipe may as well excrete hundred-dollar bills and Louis Vuitton clutch purses. The owners of these cars are after the sensation of opulence and Mercedes is more than happy to sell it to them. 

The Sensation of Giving Back

In an ideal world, we'd all like to be more charitable…or at least appear that way. Many companies have identified both of these coveted sensations and have pounced on the opportunity to use it to craft an appealing brand image. One of the most prominent of these brands is TOMS Shoes. TOMS' brand message is simple — if you buy a pair of our shoes, we'll give a pair to a child in a third-world country. Deemed the "one-for-one" business model, this brand image made customers feel awesome about purchasing some of the worst shoes $60 can buy.

While you wouldn't think so by seeing their very few ads that appear, TOMS Shoes is very much a for-profit company. Even though they should be applauded for their charitable brand image, that brand image has earned the company hundreds of millions of dollars — mostly due to the sensation of wanting to kill three birds with one stone; you get some shoes, you contribute to someone else getting some shoes, and you look like the hippest saint at the local brunch spot. 

In Conclusion

The reason we buy things is tremendously complex. When we go to market and sell things, we need to remember the complexity of this process. We have to determine and imagine what sensations we want the idea of our services, our products, and brand to make people feel.

  • Will they feel like they received a great value?
  • Will they feel that they are valued?
  • Will they feel like they're helping save the world?
  • Will they feel like they're the social elite?

You have to ask yourself — what sensation are you looking to sell?

The sooner you realize that you're selling a sensation instead of a product, the sooner you can commit to that sensation and provide the most sensation-driven marketing possible.

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