Placebo Marketing - Are appearances worth your time?

Customers can be naive, fickle, or simply ignorant. Their choices are heavily biased towards outward appearances. Why do subtle differences cause so much chaos in your sales? Are appearances so important? Should you treat your products like placebos, and invest heavily in pleasing your customers’ whimsical palate?

Short answer? No, and yes. Confused? Well, placebos can boost sales for a great product, but can cause irreparable damage if used poorly or unethically.

Living with Placebos

The medical community has long since known the power of placebos. While comparing the effect of a painkilling drug with that of a placebo on migraine sufferers, researchers discovered that the placebo “accounted for more than 50% for the drug effect”. From a marketing perspective, experiments show that people found the same wine tastier when it was priced higher.

Your expectations from a product influences its performance. These expectations can be shaped by anything, from the product description to the color of its logo. For example, movie makers, people who thrive on creativity, use similar color palettes for similarly themed movies. This would give their audience a subtle nudge on what to expect.

So, when marketers tell you that they are working on their product’s ‘Brand image’, they mean that they are trying to weave an interesting story for their product. This brand image acts like a placebo and carries a lot of value for the customer. This is specially relevant in the modern age where the products we use are viewed as reflections of our personality.

Give it a personality

Try to think of a personality for your brand while building a placebo. This personality must match the aspirations of your target audience. For example, Levi’s has built an image of being a brand for the youth. It has taken care in ensuring that their website, advertisements, and shops reflect that idea. This has resulted in their customers being the youth and those aspiring to be youthful. Your product’s logo, design, and even its website should remind your audience of its personality. For example, you could use Zoho Sites’ ability to customize favicon, banners, footers and slide shows much more extensively. These would serve to subtly create a brand image.

While it can be a powerful way to attract customers, this ‘Placebo effect’ has its limitations too; working best when outcomes are subjective.

Does Coke taste better than Pepsi? Do these glasses make me look cooler? Does this perfume smell better?

When outcomes can be measured objectively, like the speed of a car, it becomes harder to sell the idea. Jaguar has realized this, molding their image to highlight style and their British lineage, rather than the speed or reliability of their car. While creating expectations around your product, remember that these need to be delivered. In the Jaguar example, they created an expectation for luxury, and style which reflects its deep cultural lineage. If they end up delivering a shoddy pick-up truck, the brand would lose its credibility. You cannot pass vinegar off as an expensive wine!

In conclusion, the success of a placebo depends on the product. A placebo without a great product behind it will fade into oblivion. However, if you have a remarkable product, a placebo can lead to your customers appreciating it more, benefiting everyone involved.


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