Marketers: Don’t Be the “Nice Guy”

Posted on November 28, 2007
Filed Under Marketing 2.0 |

Consumers live in an age of unprecedented choice. As discussed in Barry Schwartz’s great book , the number of choices consumers have the opportunity to make on a daily basis is mind-boggling. We are told that most consumers desire the unfettered ability to choose and I believe that many, if not most marketers, are affected by the perception that this is true. After all, on the surface, it seems that the more options a consumer has, the more “freedom” he or she has. And freedom is good. If a marketer doesn’t understand this and doesn’t find a way to actually promote choice, he or she seems to be backwards. Or an evildoer.

In his book, however, Schwartz posits that having too many options is not a good thing for consumers. He lays out a logical argument that while choice is good, there is a limit and more is not necessarily better. Some scientific studies seem to validate Schwartz’s argument, as does the fact that despite a world filled with choice, the average person today is reportedly less happy than the average person 30 years ago.

Although I agreed with many of the points that Schwartz makes in his book when I read it, it took a lunch meeting with a business associate last week to not only fully cement my belief that the paradox of choice is real, but to force my realization that marketers are potentially negatively impacted by their belief that offering consumers more choice is necessary and desirable.

Although I’m not at liberty to reveal the specifics of the conversation that sparked my mini-epiphany, in short, I concluded that in a world where it’s easy for consumers to find themselves stricken by such afflictions as paralysis by analysis, marketers in many markets might find that it’s better to take a different approach: treat your customers like sheep who are not only waiting to be herded, but want to be herded. They are lost on the plains and waiting for Lassie to direct them to safety.

It sounds extreme, and admittedly it is probably a bit oversimplified, but I believe that for some marketers, this general approach can be quite effective. History is nothing short of a case study demonstrating that the masses have a desire to be led, and while this is typically always looked at in the context of politics, is it not entirely unreasonable for marketers to consider that in this age of unprecedented choice, consumers are unconsciously begging for leaders to tell them what they need to purchase.

How this type of marketing approach is implemented in the real world will almost certainly vary depending on the product being sold. In the case of commoditized products, for example, an effective approach seems to be selling a dream or a lifestyle instead of a product itself. Consumers are not buying $300 pairs of jeans because they have an aversion to holding on to their money - they’re buying these jeans because they’ve been told that a brand of jeans is a representation of who they are. I’ve touched on the power of turning products into platforms of self-expression before and this is something that I’m currently not only fascinated with, but working to apply to some of my own business ventures. But it is increasingly clear to me that this is only one of many ways that consumers can essentially be herded into a belief system that enforces and promotes a choice when a choice might otherwise be difficult.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic in the future but perhaps the best analogy for the approach that I’m suggesting may be quite effective for a considerable number of marketers is that of the “nice guy.” The average woman doesn’t want to meet an arrogant jerk, but is attracted to an assertive man who knows what he wants and is capable of taking the lead. Although it’s important to respect her wishes and to cater to her needs, she is turned off by the average “nice guy” who always asks “What do you want honey?” or “Where do you want to go?” and can’t take charge. She doesn’t want you throwing yourself on her on the first date but doesn’t want you asking if it’s okay to give her a first kiss either.

Marketers should apply the “nice guy” analogy to their marketing philosophy: don’t treat your customers like dirt, but don’t be afraid to tell them what they need to buy either. I suspect that marketers following this advice will not only get more first dates with consumers, but will get second and third dates. And once that happens, well, you’re, as they say, “in like Flynn.”

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One Response to “Marketers: Don’t Be the “Nice Guy””

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