Promotion or prevention: what makes your customers tick?

How much do you know about your customers? I don’t mean their address, phone number, age or gender, but rather what actually makes them tick, whether they are introvert or extrovert, glass half-full or glass-half empty types, timorous or devil-may-care.

Traditionally, marketers have recognised two mindsets: ‘prevention’, with a focus on risk avoidance; and ‘promotion’ motivated by pleasure-seeking. The challenge has always been to match your marketing message to the prevailing mindset, but what if you could tailor your messaging for individual consumers?k50aum5u9ueei1x7bycy

A new research paper1 co-written by Professor Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Professor in Consumer Marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford suggests that making small changes to messaging and communications so that there is a better ‘fit’ with an individual’s orientation can have a big impact on sales.

Professor Puccinelli explains: “Sometimes small inexpensive changes to campaigns, which take into account the importance of fit, can have very positive results. Some seasonal campaigns have almost instinctively understood this connection. So “Back to School” campaigns often have undertones of avoiding the risk of your children not being fully equipped for their school activities. As the new school year approaches, certain consumers – those with a ‘prevention’ orientation – are particularly susceptible to messaging highlighting negative consequences of not being fully prepared and will want the security of having bought everything necessary. For this group, messages focused on the utilitarian or functional attributes of a product will most resonate. At Christmas, when messages turn to indulgence, consumers with a ‘promotion’ mindset will want to maximise pleasure and will be open to switching to premium brands and to spending more to get the most out of their purchasing.”

Professor Puccinelli’s research shows that when a message is aligned with a consumer’s orientation, consumers are 186% more likely to buy the product. In other words, businesses can improve the effectiveness of their marketing by varying the tone of advertisements, promotions etc to suit different mindsets.

“For some consumers, sun cream is best promoted by messaging on avoiding the risk of sunburn,” explains Professor Puccinelli. “For others it is best promoted by focusing on the positives of the appearance of a suntan. Cosmetics could be promoted with an emphasis on anti-ageing for the ‘prevention’ consumers but with ‘look your best’ messages for the ‘promotion’ oriented consumers. The same product can be made to appeal to different consumers with each mindset by appropriate messaging.”