This blog is provided by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center
As communicators, often we focus so intently on what we want our publics to know that we forget consumers hope to make good decisions using as little time and thought as possible. Effectively, the wonderfully detailed messages we craft with what we consider to be important may not persuade or cause a behavioral change in our audience. We should ask ourselves: do the details emphasized in this message matter to my audience? For many decisions, consumers look for a heuristic (defined as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving) that indicates that the decision about to be made will be favorable, or at least not terrible, a strategy Herbert A. Simon called “satisficing.”
In marketing communication, we are fed a steady stream of heuristics, which act as a form of stop, go, and yield signs. Most Americans would be reluctant to bank with a company not F.D.I.C. Insured, would wish to know whether a potential business partner is a member of the Better Business Bureau, and may favor products from certain countries certified as Fair Trade. A person who does not have a comprehensive knowledge of bagged salad manufacturers may ignore the brand and look for a “Certified Organic” symbol, which signals “go.” When deciding whether to try a new-to-market beauty product, the consumer may inspect the product for messages like “Not Tested on Animals” or “Cruelty-Free,” – an absence of which may signal “stop.”
Certifications, however, are not the only heuristics commonly sought. A recent study asked 218 people about whether the U.S. state a product comes from impacts the perceived quality of the product. This work was grounded in research on “The Country of Origin Effect,” which suggests that certain countries have favorable or unfavorable reputations for the supply of certain products. For example, without knowing the brand, a person may presume that perfume from France, a tuxedo from Italy, coffee from Colombia, or electronic devices from Japan will be high quality. If such signals impact the audience’s decisions, the inclusion of these heuristics should be considered.
In this study, respondents were asked about the specific type of products they sought from a specific state, and were asked to rank-order several product categories. Overwhelmingly, the category most mentioned for state-specific preference was foods and beverages. To illustrate with just a few examples, if I am marketing cheese from Wisconsin, wine from California, apples from Washington, blueberries from New Jersey, or maple syrup from Vermont, consumers expressed that the state of origin may sway their purchase decision towards that product.
On the other hand, industrial machinery and technology were not product categories in which consumers cared about the state of their origin. Knowing this is valuable, as industrial machine manufacturers can avoid providing information deemed irrelevant to their audience and devote time to details (or heuristics) that may persuade the audience, such as ISO 9001 certification.
Communicators and marketers cannot always expect their audience to desire the level of detail that they wish to provide. With so much information available, humans are becoming very good at tuning out anything that they deem “noise,” and if your messages are too “noisy” you will likely be tuned out altogether. While this is a communication challenge, it may also be looked at as an opportunity for those that can condense their message to suit the audience’s desired level of detail. For some products and services, heuristics may be the solution to sway your audience efficiently. Next time you are creating a marketing communication, ask yourself, is there a heuristic that may act as a “go” signal for my audience?
Eric Langstedt, Ph.D. is an associate professor at Mount Saint Mary College. The focus of his teaching is advertising and public relations.