Using Sensory Cues to Overcome Risk Aversion and Encourage Brand Trial

by | Sep 22, 2014 | Uncategorized

What Do Buying a Jar of Peanut Butter and Bungee Jumping Have in Common?

They’re both risky propositions. It’s true, a jar of peanut butter is a risky proposition. When I was growing up, my parents’ philosophy was that generic was as good as branded food. “Why pay for advertising?” they would ask.

Sure, part of my aversion to generics has to do with the fact that all the cool kids had branded stuff. The truth of the matter is that some generic items are not of the same quality as their branded counterparts. Peanut butter can be one of those items. A jar lasts me several months and I don’t want to risk having to eat subpar peanut butter for that long. I’m also unwilling to throw away a jar if I don’t like it. In short, I am loyal to my brand of peanut butter because I’m risk averse—a common human trait.

Overcoming Risk Aversion

So what is a brand to do to get risk-averse humans to try it? Creating a quality product that meets the needs and desires of the target market is important, but it’s only part of the challenge. The other part of the challenge is to communicate with the target audience in a meaningful way. In simplest terms, a brand needs to:

  • Define its position relative to competing brands on attributes that are important to the target audience.
  • Determine the brand pillars—the desired brand perceptions.
  • Effectively communicate Steps 1 and 2 above.

For the purpose of this post, we’ll focus on Step 3 and how sensory perceptions influence decision-making. Communicating a brand’s position and pillars goes beyond choosing the right words. We have five senses and rely on sensory cues to help us decide how to react to things we encounter in our daily lives—from analyzing a situation for risk to buying peanut butter. And more than 80 percent of human communication is based on nonverbal information.

If a new brand can create the sensory cues that reassure the target market that the product will meet his or her needs and desires, the more likely that person will be to try the product because the risk if it being a disappointment has been reduced.

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What Are Sensory Cues?

sensorySensory cues can come in the form of color, font, shapes, imagery style, tone of voice, texture and myriad other variables. Those cues pervade all aspects of a marketing campaign, including logo design, advertisements, product packaging, etc. The sensory model shown here provides product designers, plus product and marketing professionals, a more accurate understanding of how their target audience perceives the brand. These insights are then used to guide design and communication to reinforce the desired brand character—without being prescriptive.

Let’s think about the in-store purchase decision. My preferred brand of peanut butter is Skippy. What might persuade me to switch brands? It would take more than a lower price. Assuming my first exposure to the new brand is in-store, there would have to be something about the jar of peanut butter to a) catch my attention and b) reassure me that it’s worth the risk to buy it.

Leveraging Sensory Cues

That sounds like a lot to ask of a simple jar of peanut butter. Although it’s just one aspect of a brand’s communications, product packaging can have a strong effect on potential buyers’ perceptions of the brand. Following are some strategies to help maximize the impact of a brand’s sensory cues.

Be Specific – Communicating attributes such as quality and value is not enough to differentiate a brand from the competition. It is necessary to define the brand’s position and pillars to a level of specificity that is meaningful to the target audience and differentiated from the competition.

Test the Theory – There will always be subjectivity and personal preference of stakeholders when dealing with aesthetics. The best way to determine if a brand communications piece is triggering the desired perceptions is to test with the target audience and adjust as needed.

Be Disciplined – Stay true to the outcome of the steps above and ensure all brand communications are reflective of those learnings. Human beings are risk averse. Inconsistency may cause a potential buyer to question whether the brand will meet expectations.

I have yet to encounter the über jar of peanut butter in the grocery store, so I’ll stick with Skippy for now. In the meantime, check out some innovative packaging designs from the links below. These are some examples that really communicate the brand essence effectively.

10 of the most innovative examples of packaging globally

Brilliant packaging designs that will blow your mind

Examples of cool innovative packaging

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Mercedes Cimino
Mercedes has more than 15 years of marketing experience – including strategy development, brand development, communication strategy planning, product development and account service. With a blend of agency and client-side experience, her background covers both B2B and B2C for industries including pharmaceutical, hospitality, luxury real estate, medical device and government. Mercedes holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an MBA with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Arizona.

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