What have I become?
I was once an extremely logical consumer. Then it happened. The event that transformed me into an illogical consumer, guilt-ridden to pay a premium and prone to emotion over logic. To a point.
The event that brought the change was my wife's pregnancy. My first child is on the way, a boy, due this month. Consequently, I've been sucked into the world of baby product and service marketing as a consumer, not a marketer. It is an area that I know little about since this is my first child, although I did provide some consulting advice to a manufacturer of baby carrying products a few years ago, mostly related to leveraging the Internet in their marketing mix.Marketers' attempts at manipulating parents and parents to-be in this field can be incredible. Although, even a veteran marketer like myself can hardly resist the mentality of "I only want the best for my little one" when it creeps in and I spend more on goods whether I need to or not, just because "my son deserves it." My wife is sometimes quite surprised to see my normally solid analytical side being overcome by my emotional side during the buying process, but it happens all the time lately. Talk about emotional branding and marketing. And the tactics! Diapers with cute little animals (logically, the baby will never even see this), heavily reinforced buggies that look like they were engineered by Hummer or Brinks, vibrating mattresses (the salesperson tells us it helps the baby fall asleep more easily and, get this, reduces crying)... Is that mattress claim too good to be true? Probably, but I love the pitch. Emotion once again overcomes logic, even though I should know better.
Still, there is one factor that overcomes all of the promotional branding and claims for me: safety. Specifically, safety ratings from an independent research lab. I research everything. No matter what the brand, if Consumer Reports doesn't rank it at or near the top of its list for safety, I won't buy it. I also check out other parents ratings and opinions of products on Amazon.com and baby-related community sites. In this market, for me and many others, brand image and cute design means nothing when safety isn't there. Last, when it is a purchase of $100 or more, I check the Web for prices before running out to a local store. Of course, short of safety ratings, I will rely on a brand known for safety...and still look for the extras like cool features and cute animals too. Remember, my son deserves the best.
If I were handling marketing for one of these firms, I am confident that safety is a key issue for parents and would make sure ads, brochures and packaging for the products prominently feature safety ratings and safety information before getting to the logic-blocking emotional appeal. Of course, I would also make sure that we had plenty of cute little bunnies, doggies, bears and the extras many parents pay a premium for because their child "deserves the best."
Are there any lessons for B2B marketers? I believe there is.
First, about the psychology of pricing. Pricing that is too low may cause a parent to wonder about quality and safety (of course, that is my gut feeling, not the result of any formal studies, but I am confident it is accurate); pricing that is too high, like anything else, narrows your potential market. Second, about awareness and management of the emotional aspect of branding. Business products and services will never have the kind of emotional power that the purchase baby products have. Still, job security and advancement for the parent of a baby can also be a pretty emotional. IBM has made many sales by providing IT professionals with a sense of job security. It is an area more B2B marketers should consider. Last, the Internet makes researching products and services much easier. While I check with third-party ratings services for baby products, I also check what people who have bought the products I am considering have to say.
The baby product purchase decision cycle can span many channels, from online research to asking friends for recommendations. And while a degree of logic significantly impacts the final purchase, I -- as well as many others -- will still end up shelling out additional dollars to get the product with the bunny or doggy on it. It's a good example of the roles of various channels and emotional influences in the purchase decision cycle and can show the opportunity for marketers to better manage channels and marketing communications.
As exprienced parents are surely thinking, I have many more years of learning from baby marketing to come.