Guest Blogger

The luxury market has an abundance of products and services that can help us to meet several needs at once. And this is a good thing, right? But it does provide an unexpected problem for marketers. Whilst researching products that fulfil multiple purposes, I found that some consumers are put off by such offerings – especially, and surprisingly, if that consumer is in a good mood.

The mood of your customer when you first encounter them is, to an extent, out of your control, and that is a frustrating truth for any retailer. However, through providing clarity and giving customers a conceptually strong experience, they could soon change their tune, and consequently your ability to provide a premium customer experience will soar.

Retailers need to take a less rational approach to acknowledge that emotions affect a person’s thought process when they’re considering what to buy. My recently published research paper, ‘Two birds, one stone? Positive mood makes products seem less useful for multiple-goal pursuit’ shows how selling to a consumer who happens to be in a good mood can be more challenging than selling to someone who’s not so cheerful. Instead of being in awe of how a product could help the happy consumer to reach their goals simultaneously, they become more aware of the differences between what they’re trying to achieve, and may believe that the product cannot perform any of its functions well. Like a duck that can walk, swim, and fly, but isn’t outstanding in any of these activities. This can have a negative overall effect on the consumer’s opinion about the product.

A classic example of a ‘duck’ is the 1948 Preston Tucker car. The general perception of the vehicle was that it had too many additional features for practical use. Potential owners found it difficult to focus on how the car could meet their ultimate need of successfully driving a vehicle as well as other cars on the market. Negative media attention developed as a result which ultimately led to the Preston Tucker’s downfall.

For every purchase a customer makes there’s a negotiation process. There are goals they will try to accommodate and often have to compromise before making a final decision. If you decide you would like to buy a car, your goals may be to upgrade your car while staying within a certain budget. If you decide to buy an upgraded model that’s more expensive than you anticipated, you might feel a tinge of guilt for having spent so much money. Nevertheless, this would be a compromised goal for the car you are otherwise very happy to own.

Breaking down this process will give you a fighting chance to create a stronger connection with your customer and will help you to identify the goals consumers are hoping to achieve. You can then decide whether it would be best to communicate the product in a way that helps the consumer to implement one goal at a time, without portraying the multiple functions as a distraction. This will make people feel more confident about the product, even if they’re in a good mood.

In one of my studies, a group of people who shared the intention to be healthy and to perform well academically were interviewed. The interviewees were asked, “How useful do you think green tea would be in helping you to achieve both of your objectives at the same time?” Green tea was the product of choice because of its combined health and performance benefits, and interviewees agreed that green tea could help them to accomplish both of their goals. The benefits of the green tea were then communicated, as marketers would, but with an emphasis on the health benefits of the product. After drinking the green tea, the interviewees reviewed how effective the product was. Those who were in a good mood claimed the product helped them to implement their health goals (the benefit that was originally emphasised) but they also said it was less likely to help them improve their performance, or improve both performance and health at the same time. The interviewees who were in less positive moods, however, were more likely to accept the product as meeting their health needs, performance needs, and both simultaneously.

This is a tactic that crosses over into other industries, and in an area where providing a pleasurable experience for the consumer is critical, you may feel there’s a barrier to be faced for every happy customer you encounter. Luckily, this is not the case. Another study I conducted questions, ‘When do Consumers Indulge in Luxury?’ and has shown that someone feeling a long-term positive emotion associated with confidence is more likely to invest in luxury products. Think of two positive feelings, happiness, associated with confidence, and hope, associated with uncertainty. Someone feeling hopeful is more vulnerable to potential shortcomings of buying luxury products, but a happy and confident consumer is more resilient.

Knowing the influence of emotions in the luxury buying process gives an incentive for you to offer an engaging experience that will create a positive and strong emotional connection with the customer. This is a necessary process to increase the desirability of luxury brands. Goals to be expected of luxury consumers include self-expression and exclusivity. You can fulfil these needs by offering a product that fits with your customer’s values, and through clearly communicating the brand’s heritage or traditional values.

While encouraging your customer to develop a stronger emotional connection, be sure to advocate the brand’s beliefs. To reach sales volume, mass-market retailers have to attract people with wide ranging values, but luxury retailers have the advantage of selling to consumers who share the brand’s beliefs. The London-based department store, Selfridges, recently launched ‘The Body Studio’, which is now the largest department in the store. It offers clothing and accessories to satisfy women’s demand for more sophisticated and inclusive body-wear, which meets the specific demands of their luxury consumers as opposed to a mass market. While some women may not like Selfridges, those who identify with the brand’s beliefs are likely to connect with a product the brand is offering on a deeper level, and so have the emotional connection that luxury retail requires. In luxury, a niche strategy is better, focus on specific customers that share the brand’s beliefs and the result will be a superior customer experience.

There’s a simple way to counteract potentially missing a sale because of the cheerful mood of your consumer – offer them an engaging and conceptually strong experience that is definitive of luxury retail. Combine the experience with a clear message as to how the product or service can help customers to achieve their multiple goals, and you have a win-win approach. Incorporating these tactics will not only make you equipped to consider the emotions of your consumer, but allow you interact effectively regardless of their mood.

 Francine Petersen is Associate Professor of Marketing at ESMT, European School of Management and Technology.   This article is based on a research paper entitled, ‘Two birds, one stone? Positive mood makes products seem less useful for multiple-goal pursuit’

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