The Power of Suggestion

7 Jul 2017
Louis Corso

For years, advertisers have been using the power of suggestion on consumers.

They suggest how you can look better, feel better, and be better—if only you use, consume, or apply their product.

Good advertisers have hooked consumers into buying products with one suggestive image.

The scotch tumbler contains three perfectly formed ice cubes. Imagine the pour. It rolls the single malt Scotch along the sides of the cubes. The liquid cascades until it covers just enough of the ice to bring down the temperature to your taste. The image beckons you to prop up your feet, get contemplative, and enjoy life. It is a symbol of wealth and power, bringing to mind the confident person we each want to be—someone who has earned that glass after hours of dedicated effort. Good advertisers know how to suggest and sell with one photo or a few words.

But that is not the power of suggestion that I am thinking of

Nope. Today, the consumer has this power. Why? Because it is the consumer who is buying the product, and it is the business that needs to listen.

This is certainly not new. Manufacturers have been using focus groups and surveys for years to elicit feedback from customers. But focus groups can provide contrived, paid-for responses, and surveys often generate little interest (except among consumers who are dissatisfied).

How about getting input in real time, at the point of sale or use, when the consumer is most honest?

A brand today needs access at the right time to allow the consumer to communicate a need or an innovation—one that has been percolating for some time and now has risen to the top or, better yet, an impromptu response to an issue that has just presented itself for that customer. For example: “Hey, manufacturer of my fish oil supplements: I know that if you made this in a blue bottle that is only 7 ounces and made it out of glass, it would probably block out the light and heat better, reducing spoilage, and fit inside of my medicine cabinet.”

Consumers do this through social media already, but they are often not speaking directly to the brand. They speak to their social media circle, and the brand works hard to overhear what they’re saying. Those fragmented, overheard conversations can take a lot of legwork to piece together and analyze.

More importantly, the consumer usually doesn’t feel like he’s building a relationship with the brand

From the consumer’s perspective, his post or tweet has floated into the ether and bounced around his social circle. He has little expectation that his suggested innovation, upgrade, or fix will produce much more than a superficial response. The consumer cannot see the analytics—whether they show that he’s an outlier and no one else cares about his issue, or that his suggestion has consensus and will influence the brand’s next move.

In addition, a number of effective companies have developed review sites for e-commerce and dining experiences (Bazaarvoice, Yelp, etc.). These allow a consumer to chime in or check in: How did the product work? How many stars or thumbs-up, so that our readers can quickly pinpoint the product that makes the most sense to purchase? How was the meal or the service?

That approach can solve specific issues for certain companies: We’d better fix that handle or make this product heat faster. Or: People think our main courses are overpriced, so let’s focus on getting them in for appetizers and drinks. But what about consumer goods and services, like potato chips or video games or car rentals or vacation resorts or power tools? And what about the consumer’s awareness that many reviews are skewed by who is willing to write them for free—as well as how many people are paid to write them?

A few companies have done an amazing job building relationships with people

We typically think of a few newer brands that have done this, like Apple and its fans. Here’s one example of an “old” company that did it well: Frito-Lay developed and rolled out a campaign nationally to make a new potato chip flavor. This campaign spoke to consumers on a level they had not achieved before. 2017 is their fourth year building bonds with consumers in their “Do Us a Flavor” contest.

More companies will be asking consumers to join in on product development

It makes sense, right? Who is your greatest stakeholder, if not the person using your product or service—right at the moment of use and inspiration?

We have seen far too many interrupted on-page experiences and lots of useless surveys. Worldwide, only 10-45% of American Express’s survey respondents said they think companies ‘value their business and go the extra mile’ (with percentages varying by country and the U.S. coming in at 24%). A considerable majority of people in each country said companies ‘don’t seem to care,’ ‘take their business for granted,’ or ‘don’t do anything extra’ when asked about customer service.

If you want to be in that small group of brands that people feel a connection to, it’s time for the consumer to take suggestions straight to your business and develop a relationship with you.

Suggested Reading
American Express and Echo. 2011. “Global Customer Service Barometer.”

Frito-Lay. 2017, January 12. “Pitch Your Best Potato Chip Flavor Idea for Lay’s ‘Do Us A Flavor’ Contest.”

Louis Corso

 Author: Louis Corso

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