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Managed by expectations, irked by messages

Francois Gossieaux reports on experiments described in Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational that show just how influential our expectations are: People who paid more for an energy drink were more refreshed by it and even solved more puzzles. Francois concludes: (1) “We are doomed,” and (2) “…who said that messaging was dead? The things you say about your product may indeed be more important that the product itself…”

Almost from the day the Cluetrain site went up, I regretted point #74: “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.” We are so not immune. Branding works. We think of Volvos as safe and the Ford Fiesta as a car for young folks. We think of Coke as the original and Pepsi as the copy. We can characterize someone as a “wearer of Birkenstocks.” Branding and advertising in some important sense work.

Now, we certainly can undo some of the cognitive damage advertising and branding do. Market conversations in fact often are about the ways in which a product’s promises and sloganeering don’t live up to its reality. But that’s a lot different than saying we’re immune to advertising. We’re not.

I’d still urge companies to move their marketing away from messaging, however. Assuming the studies Francois cites are correct, our reactions to products do seem shaped by what we’re told about them. No surprise there, although it’s always depressing to find out what big dopes we humans are through no fault of our own. But, customers (= all of us) are going to increasingly resist and resent marketing that focuses narrowly on messaging — that is, on finding the simple idea they can pound into our heads over and over. Telling us your drink will make us refreshed or more alert may indeed make us more refreshed or alert, but treating us like freaking morons by droning the same words at us over and over will make your product less interesting to us. The real challenge marketers face in a world of online conversations is how to help us find what’s interesting about their products.

(By the way, although Francois an I have been friends and colleagues for many years, I just this morning realized that his last name uses each of the vowels just once.) [Tags: ]

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