Placebo Science & Marketing: What’s Happening Behind the Scenes

Posted by Jennifer Edwards on July 16, 2014

We’ve witnessed the powerful effects placebos can have in the medical world, but what about marketing? Believe it or not, the placebo effect can be found in marketing situations and, unfortunately, we can’t control how it affects our customers.

But don’t lose hope! There are ways to work with the placebo effect when developing a marketing strategy to ensure you reach your target audience successfully.

How placebo science affects marketing

Consumers’ beliefs and expectations are shaped by experiences in their daily lives; the way they perceive a product is based on their already-formed expectations and beliefs about it.

This is where marketers can run into problems. In fact, a simple change in price gave some wine tasters an expensive illusion...

Care for some wine?

To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, I will tell you about a case study involving placebo science and wine (maybe you should pour a glass yourself to get into the spirit).

Wine was used in this experiment because it is an ideal product to illustrate how perception affects experience — it turns out how we enjoy wine is heavily influenced by what we think we know about it.

In one set of experiments individuals were given a taste of what they were told was a $5 wine and a $45 dollar wine. What the researchers didn’t tell their subjects was that there was actually only one wine.

Guess which wine people thought tasted better? Yep, the $45 one.

The wine people thought was more expensive even lit up the pleasure centers of their brains; not only did the tasters think the $45 wine was better, it actually tasted better to them, too.

Going too fast? Maybe you should take another sip before continuing.

So what can you do?

When variables like price, description, brand, etc. affect the expectation surrounding a product, the actual experience by the customer is also affected, leaving you the marketer at a disadvantage.

The key is to set high expectations for your product. This helps influence your consumers’ expectations along with what they already know, providing a better overall experience for them.

However, make sure the expectations you set don’t differ too greatly from what you can realistically provide. If you say you are the fastest painter in town, you need to be able to deliver service that is plausibly fast — only then can you gain customers’ trust.

Key takeaways

Believe it or not, every detail about your product can have an impact on a consumer’s decisions; your target audience is already forming judgments before even entering the store.

However, as a marketer, you are not at a complete disadvantage. By raising the expectations (within attainable goals) you will be able to positively influence your target audience’s expectations through your marketing strategy.

Need help attracting customers and turning them into leads? Let’s talk.

[Image credit: Tony Alter - license


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