One of the things we are taught in marketing class, is that everybody is a target. There is a product for every consumer. In other words, you and me are marketing targets, susceptible to certain products or messages in particular. Why is it important for us as consumer to realize, how does it help us make informed choices?
This reflection started during a conversation with a running partner of mine. He said he knew someone who "isn't a consumer". As a marketer, my instinctive answer was: everybody is a consumer. He explained himself by saying his friend was insensible to popular brands and hypes, and always bought the cheapest products. He may not be targeted by famous brands, but, by looking for the best bargain, he is a target: the "best deal consumer".
Being taught by my parents to shop smart and think before a purchase, I also made the mistake to think I was "immune to marketing" for some time. But people who think themselves as "smart shoppers" are a target, since some brands position their products as smart choices. Once I understood that, I asked myself: am I choosing this brand because it is *actually* a smart purchase, or because the company's marketing is telling me so?
The Nespresso Example
But does an actual coffee connoisseur drink Nespresso? No. He buys coffee beans, grinds them right before brewing, and uses simple tools like a French Press or an Italian Moka Pot espresso maker. I am not a coffee expert, but I remember the best coffee I tasted in Italy, and it was not a Nespresso capsule.
I remember being tempted to buy a Nespresso machine some years back. But we studied the brand's case at school, and it made me realize I am their target, they made me want a Nespresso machine even though this wasn't actually the best product for my needs and taste. After realizing what image, messages and brand universe I am weak to as a consumer, it helped me discern marketing promises from my own actual criteria, and I didn't buy the Nespresso machine. Clooney is welcome to have a cup of coffee in my Parisian mini-palace anytime though.
What's Your Consumer Profile?
The first step, as a consumer, is to understand what you are a target for. That way, you can find out what criteria, messages and universe you respond the most to, and why you are drawn to certain brands. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't buy from these brands, it just means you can keep that weakness in mind when pondering a purchase, and remind yourself to apply more concrete and objective criteria for purchase (may it be your budget, the object's quality, your values, ethical considerations...)
For example, I know I'm a typical "young city upper class white collar" target, but in the "alternative, green, organic, authentic and conscious" branch. I am weak to natural-looking products, authentic-designed packagings, messages around ethics and fair trade, local products, transparency. As a "minimalist", I am naturally drawn to brands that position themselves as simple, whether it is in terms of design/aesthetics or in terms of brand values.
How To Use this in Your Purchase Habits
In other words, even if you manage to understand what you are drawn to and why, you will still be drawn to it. Then, what's the point? The point is, it still can make you think twice before purchasing something. Like me and the Nespresso machine.
And sometimes, you will choose to buy the item anyway. But in that case, the purchase will be deliberate - you will make this decision while being aware of the biases you may have. For example, I am a sucker for Moleskine notebooks. Moleskine is another textbook example of good marketing. Despite the fact that the brand was created in 1997, their clever messaging managed to make us think it is the heir of the classic moleskine-covered notebooks that famous writers like Ernest Hemingway used, even though they have nothing to do with these notebooks whatsoever. The target is clear: upper class cultural elite. Their notebooks are darn expensive, by the way.
Despite the fact that their positioning is basically a communication screen of smoke, I have deliberately and knowingly decided to purchase Moleskine notebooks and planners anyway. I can afford it, and, to my experience, they still are the most practical and sturdy notebooks I have found so far. (I have a le Petit Prince notebook in my bag which I have been carrying around since summer 2012 and it is holding up like the first day of purchase, barring a couple of scratches).
In other words, knowing about how marketing works and your consumer profile helps you make more informed purchase decisions. Given the flood of choices we have in today's society, having a couple of extra tools to guide our decisions is more than welcome, don't you think? What about you, what field do you tend to spend more money on? What is your consumer profile?