Marketing Strategy / Opinion

Comparatively speaking…


The frame of reference your customers use to evaluate you and your product influence their feelings and behaviours.

Here’s a few thoughts, inspired by Rory Sutherland (Ogilvy) and Suzannah Kinsella (CoI) at Marketing Week Live…

It sounds obvious, but humans compare things all the time. Is this better than that? Is this more expensive than the one I saw yesterday? Will buying/doing this make me better off?

Rory’s thought was that if you want to sell a luxury car, don’t take it to a motor show where it can be compared and contrasted with models costing half the price. Take it to a private airfield on Pilot’s Day and let the people who spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on an aircraft buy it.

By doing this, you change their frame of comparison. £80,000 is not a lot compared to £1million for a plane. It’s almost a bargain.

He then went on to describe how a BMW dealer saw a massive uplift in sales after discontinuing the 3000euro reduction on a new model, in favour of a 3000euro bonus on trade-in vehicles.

Economically, the result is the same. Spend 27,000euro on a new model with a list price of 30,000euro and get a 1,000euro trade in. Or spend 30,000euro on a new model and get a trade-in of 4,000euro.

But to the consumer there’s a massive difference. You’re looking at a 10% reduction in list price, or a 300% increase in the value of your old car.

On the other hand, Suzannah described how changing the tax return form yielded substantial results.

In a nutshell, when people have to file a tax return, they’ll get a letter if they haven’t done it by a certain date, notifying them of the impending deadline.

Threats of fines worked for some people, but not all.

However, by changing the letter to say that 80% of people had already filed the return, Suzannah and the CoI team saw a massive surge in on-time completions.

This was because people naturally compare themselves to other people.

Keeping Up With The Joneses, so to speak.

All three examples rely on the use of comparative processes to guide decision making. A car looks like a bargain compared to a plane. A 300% increase in value sounds better than 10% off. The individual doesn’t like to be out of step with the majority of society.

This isn’t exactly new-news. Advertisers have been doing this for years. But taken together, these examples provide interesting juxtaposition where the frame of comparison goes from external (cars vs planes) to internal (‘added’ value of an old car which isn’t intrinsically worth any more) to societal.

My key take-away from this is that frames of comparison should be integrated into every marketing brief. It’s not enough to look at how the product directly compares to the rest of the category, we must look at how the consumer will frame it across all of their touchpoints.

And that’s a different question entirely…

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