Nudging: making the most of the power of suggestion

The power of suggestion

We’re much more susceptible to the power of suggestion than many of us might like to think – at least that was my take-out from more reading from Time: this time on how brands use buying suggestions to entice us to buy more than we might otherwise.

The article quotes John T. Gourville, a Harvard Business School professor of marketing who specialises in studying pricing strategies. Consumers, he says, tend to follow the suggestions listed in brochures or store aisles, so people tend to buy the amount, or buy in increments, that are advertised. If they see five for $5 or 10 for $5, they buy five or ten, regardless of the fact that they normally buy three.

And that, as the article points out, is the key strategy here: to get consumers buying more than they would if there was no sale. It seems we respond positively too to the suggestion of limitation – imposing a limit of two per customer or six per customer incentivises people to buy right up to that limit. The article concludes, “this is the power of suggestion at work, and it has little to do with whether the item’s sale price is good, or whether you, the consumer, actually wanted any of that soda at all.”

So, if you want to increase how people respond to your brand, make suggestions. Try with this, add that, good with three of those, best value when you buy six of them … and then look to put a limit on how many.

Intriguing isn’t it? That retailers can nudge people to buy more and yet restrict how much more they buy almost in the same breath. But it goes back to two things about brands that we need to remain mindful of. As consumers, we’re looking for guidance and value in a world of choice. Brands need to make use of that, but not abuse it. And secondly, exclusivity never fails to intrigue us. The moment we’re told we can’t have as much as we want as consumers, we immediately want all that we can get.

In a world where everyone just expects access, and to have things rammed down their throat, almost so that they can ignore them, making something un-readily available can be a sure way to get attention.

At times, a nudge really is so much more compelling than a push.

Also recommended
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John B. Watson, a key figure in the development of behaviourism, famously said that effective advertising revolved around three basic emotions: love, fear and rage. I’ve added four more reasons.
Should we replace sales funnels with habit paths?
Nir Eyal told me in an interview that as products become more addictive, we need to make far more effective use of the power of habits. Read my Virtual Coffee with Nir Eyal interview.

Note: A version of this article was posted elsewhere under the title Brand Building With The Power of Suggestion.