Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Buying Trumps the Drinking

There is something about the very name of the blog Neuromarketing that gets to you even before you have read the subtitle, "Where Brain Science and Marketing Meet." If you had any doubts that the primary objective of marketers is the direct manipulation of your brain regions (probably both emotive and cognitive), a blog like this is sure to dispel them. What I have yet to figure out is why The Huffington Post is tracking this blog. I am hoping that the reason is to provide the rest of us with an early-warning service.

As a case in point, consider the first paragraph of today's post by Roger Dooley:

One of the keys to the phenomenal success of Starbucks has been that its stores offer a consistent and appealing sensory experience. The music, colors, and lighting are all important, but clearly the wonderful coffee aroma is what dominates one’s senses on entering a Starbucks outlet. I enjoy brewing Starbucks coffee at home, too, but it never seems quite the same as when I consume it in the actual shop. It turns out that I’m not alone, and that my coffee maker isn’t the entire problem. Yes, coffee in the coffee shop DOES taste better, but not for the reasons you might expect. Research from another coffee maker, Nespresso, shows that 60% of sensory experience of drinking espresso comes from the retail environment!

In the following paragraph we learn that "another coffee maker" is not other than Nestle; so we seem to be dealing with a serious clash of the Titans here. Here is the background to their performing this particular research:

Nespresso, a subsidiary of food giant Nestle, was faced with a dilemma created by this sensory experience quirk. It had created a home espresso-making system that produced espresso that tasted just as good as what you could find in a coffee shop. Unfortunately, consumers didn’t recognize that.

How did Nespresso respond to the research results? The bottom line is that the took two key actions:

  1. "First, they launched upscale coffee shops in major cities for the primary purpose of creating the high-intensity sensory experience people expect, but also with the intention of showing customers they could get the same high-quality espresso at home."
  2. "The second thing they did was to modify the home espresso-making system to release more aroma."

In other words, even though they were aiming at a product for home use, they decided to escalate the competition of Starbucks' turf, because it was all about the experience provided by that turf, rather than anything involved with what you happened to be drinking.

This throws an interesting light on just how far we have progressed into our consumerism. Beyond the fact that we can now talk so casually about "shopping therapy," this is a case where the data seem to indicate that the experience of buying is more important than what is bought. In retrospect this should not be that all surprising, given how little utility value there is in so much (most?) of what we buy; but now we have the data to support the hypothesis that "what we buy" barely enters into the equations that determine our shopping behavior. This leads me to ask whether we may actually be dealing with yet another form of addiction with sociopathic consequences.

No comments: