The mind of the consumer and the power of contrast
The allure of insights to the marketing industry is that they are based on human ‘truths’ – people in the same situation will behave in the same way.
That does not mean we are all the same – a similar set of variables can have very different meanings for different people, resulting in vastly different motives. However, if we have segmented our market with sufficient homogeneity, insights become powerful weapons of influence with our consumers.
The interesting thing about insights is that they are a basic human truth, and can involve everything about us – from our physiology to our psyche. The contrast principle illustrates this well.
Our senses excel at comparisons, so perception (across all senses) tends to be relative (1).For example, when you say something is warm, what you mean is that it is warmer than your skin. You want proof? Place your left hand in a bucket of warm water, your right hand in cold. Then place both hands in a pale of water at body temperature. The water will be warm to your right and cold to your left. The contrast principle in action.
This principle plays a large part in our shopping behaviour. For instance, I would be reluctant to buy a shirt for R200 on a whim, but if I had just purchased a suit for R2 000, I would find it a lot easier to buy a shirt (and probably a tie too). The R200 just does not seem as much – in contrast. And that’s why a car dealer will wait until the price for a car has been negotiated until suggesting accessories. A few thousand rand for metallic paint just does not seem so much on a R250 000 deal.
However, the most stellar use of contrast comes from those in dire need, as this letter from a college student to her parents demonstrates:2
Dear Mom and Dad
Since I left for university I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down.
I have a skull fracture. I got it when I jumped out my dorm window to escape a fire. This happened two weeks ago, and I’m doing really well – my eyesight is back and the doctor says my hearing will return to normal. So, I’m OK.
However, I now need to tell you about George. He is a writer who works as the cleaner (supervisor really) of our dorm block. We became really close during my recovery, and things went a lot further and faster than I thought. We will be getting married. I’m not sure about the date, but it has to be soon – I don’t want to walk down the aisle with my pregnancy showing.
Now that I have brought you up to date, I need to tell you that there was no dorm fire, I do not have a skull fracture, and I am not engaged or pregnant. However I am getting a ‘D’ in History and an ‘F’ in chemistry and I want you to see those marks in their proper perspective.
Your loving daughter
About the author
Sid Peimer is the Executive Director of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry. His book ‘The Clear Win: Pitching for new business – the strategies that work; the myths that don’t’ can be found on Amazon here
1. Weiten W. Psychology, Themes and Variations. 2nd Ed. Brooks/Cole Publishing 1992.
2. This college letter is adapted from: Cialdini R B. Influence, the psychology of persuasion. Quill Publishing, 1992.