22 January 2014

Marketing Targets

Personal photo

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

Let's take the example of Nespresso. I love this case because their marketing positioning is very clear: it is fine espresso coffee for city upper class connoisseurs who select quality products and enjoy a refined beverage with class. Their ambassador is George Clooney, classy as frack in a tailored suit, asking you "what else?" with his dark eyes and cute smile. Incidentally, Nestlé managed to multiply the price of coffee by 10 with their little capsule merdouilles.

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?

There is a marketing universe for any field today. Back to my running partner (running makes me think, it seems), we were talking about running gear, and he came up with all sorts of brands, fabrics and "expert" material. I realized he was spending quite some money on running gear. He is a target for all the high performance sports brands. No matter what our values, hobbies or preferences are, there is a marketing universe ready to answer all our "needs".

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

Unfortunately, knowing what you are a target of doesn't make you immune to marketing. Just like being aware of a brain bias doesn't remove it. You can be told about an optical illusion, your brain will still see it. It is the same for marketing strategies. They are very subtle and advanced today - through packagings, brand messaging, advertising, colour codes, ambassadors...

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?


  1. I have to think about my consumer profile first, but I guess, it's quite similar to yours. I hope that my academical education in social and sustainability sciences makes me a very conscious consumer, but I guess that I'm still quite a target for marketing... Like you said: organic, simple chic, fair trade etc.
    But then, I'm getting really fed up with the standard things. For already six years I'm not buying fruit and veggies at the supermarket, but via a vegetable box scheme from a cooperation of a few small organic farms around my home town. It's gone so far that I can't stand supermarket fruit any more, even if they're organic (they taste like sweet cardboard). It even feels odd, buying an apple at a supermarket when there's no other alternative. This is something I hope will eventually develop for clothes, too. But does this make me less a target for marketing?

    Something else I observed about the Nespresso example you gave, is that many people think, they can buy expertise with money. Professional cameras, fancy kitchen gadgets and expensive sports gear are often (unconcious) bought to compensate average skills (or none). But a skilled cook can do great things with just one ordinary knife and someone who has no eye for photography will produce crappy pictures no matter how much the camera was.

    1. The vegetable boxes are a perfect example of products that reach our consumer profile, actually! Like you, I try to consume as little as possible in supermarkets, and, back in Lyon, a young graduate from a busines school created a flourishing company on this principle.

      It was like the vegetable boxes (we call them AMAP in France), but delivered directly to any company's office at a fixed date of the week. The company HR representatives just had to register for free with the company, then colleagues would go on their website every week to order their basket of fruit, veggies or special seasonal things like artisanal apple juice or walnuts from Grenoble. All of which either local, or fair trade (like bananas and avocados which came from French overseas departments like Martinique or Guyane). Their colour codes was "recycled" beige and "organic" green, and their positioning was clearly ecological/ethical/fair trade quality products directly from the farm. It was very expensive though, about 16€ for 5kg of veggies that included 1kg of potatoes... And the 30 year old guy made a fortune with this concept! I'm not saying it's a bad thing. On the contrary, I kind of miss this concept in Paris, and go to the local market instead for my fruit and veggies. But it's a proof of how we are targeted as a consumer group.

      I agree with your "buying expertise" analysis as well. This kind of brand is basing their messaging around "buy my product and you will become an expert". Taking the example of sports, their ambassadors usually are professional athletes (or chefs for cooking products), and the brand's communication is around bringing professional expertise to the people, if you want to be an expert you should buy this etc. And it is true that the consumer base for these brand usually are not experts, but aspire to be and hope to "buy" this expertise. I have noticed that with music brands too, when I started playing the violin again.

  2. This was one of the most thought-provoking blog posts I've read in months. I wish I could write a long and well-thought-out comment, but I think I'll need a few days to simply think about it all. Thank you, Kali!

    1. I'm glad to hear that, as i'm intending to provoke thoughts here ;) I'd be happy to hear about your reflections on the topic once you've thought it over :)

  3. I think I might be all over the place in terms of my consumer profile, but maybe that's common for most individuals.. to have an inherent flexibility in our consumption patterns based on our immediate need of the item, purchasing environment, etc. When I have something on my mind that I would like to purchase, or something that I know I'll need in advance (i.e. I'm getting low on my current shampoo) I tend to spend quite a bit of time researching the company, its' products and reading internet reviews. I have been doing this for the past few winters when buying my outdoor winter gear (coat, mitts, boots, etc) as I live in prairie Canada and it often dips to -40C and I needed good stuff. I probably bought more high-end "performance"-type gear compared to the average citizen of my city, but I also don't own a car and would spend upwards of 40mins-1hour outside in that kind of weather. My stuff is high-quality, and while it veered into the realm of fairly expensive.. I was also able to buy from "ethical" companies with good working conditions in their factories and who use environmentally materials and processes in production. This is how I prefer to shop - every time I see or use these items I let out an internal "yay" because they fit my ideals as well as my needs.

    However, if I am in need of an item more quickly and I don't have the ability to research thoroughly, I feel as though I often go for the bargain deal. I'm a sucker at the supermarket for buying 2 or 3 of the same item if there was a buy-2-get-50%-off deal on something on my list, and often times I will even pick up items outside of my list if they're on sale. I think falling for these "deals" is how I go over my food budget. My boyfriend keeps reiterating that the concept that "it's not a deal unless you were going to buy that item already" - which I fully agree with. Unfortunately, I still find it hard to pass up those "savings".. although again, they're technically not savings then, are they? :P

    So, I suppose in my head I believe I am a minimalist and ethical shopper.. but when push comes to shove and in opportune situations I find it hard to break out of my student-budget mindset. Here, I'll tend to go for the cheapest or best "deal" despite the possible lack-of-ethics (as per my ideals) with the product. I have found what works best for me in terms of sticking to buying quality items that meet my needs and ideals is to remove shopping as a form of entertainment or a hobby. I really only go out to buy things (clothes, makeup, etc) when I know exactly what I am looking for.. and even then I tend to limit myself to specific stores that carry the brands I tend to purchase from. I am trying to use this same mindset when I go to the supermarket as well.. I have started to look at grocery store fliers prior to entering the store so that I know what kinds of deals to expect. I have also begun to take meal planning more seriously while trying to force myself to stick to my list (and rewarding myself with a dark chocolate bar if I'm able to!)

    1. Yes, every individual has many consumer profiles at once, depending on the type of item they are purchasing and the conditions of the purchase. Fortunately, human motivations and choices are more complicated than a marketing chart. However, a product also usually has several targets at once. Also, the easiest segmentation of the market is to go with age and socio-cultural environment (income etc.), but today, brand targeting is much more detailed and subtle than that.

      I guess what I tried to explain in this post is that, whatever your motivations for purchases are, there is at least one brand, or one market with several brands, who have thought of you. I can totally imagine what kind of target you are - we seem to be quite similar consumers. I can imagine you liking brands like Patagonia, am I wrong? I never bought from them but they released an ad-documentary some time ago featuring consumers who bought their products and kept them for years and years and gave them to their children etc. They were positioning themselves as producing U.S manufactured quality goods with old an reliable expertise, for people looking for sturdy, long-lasting products. If I was in the need of trekking or cold weather items, I'd probably consider that brand, because their positioning is spot on with my values.

      You seem to be quite a thoughtful consumer too, thinking before purchasing, comparing alternatives etc. I agree that kind of consumers are harder to "fool" because we tend to think, compare and base ourselves on many criteria before settling for a purchase. But, there are brands out there who position themselves as "smart choices", you know, a great price/quality ratio, high quality for an affordable price etc.

  4. This is an excellent post, Kali!

    I also laugh (internally!) when people tell me they are immune to marketing....no, you're not!

    I have to think about my profile. I am aware of when I get swayed, but perhaps not aware enough.

    I was thinking about this too because I make a point of buying products made by companies that belong to 1% for the planet. That isn't just marketing, though, they actually do donate 1% of all sales (not profits!) to environmental organizations. But, perhaps I'm sometimes justifying buying something I don't need because it has that 1%. And on a related topic, I've noticed other companies doing branding that recalls the 1% logo, but they aren't actually participating in that program. I find that very deceitful and make a point not to buy those items, but I'm sure they are tricking a lot of people with that.

    Hope you are well and that your winter is a little less grey than it is here in Switzerland!

    1. I see what you mean - I also tend to see my own weaknesses better when I get over-excited about a product and then force myself to cool down and think during a mandatory "thinking things over" period before purchase.

      I didn't know this 1% for the planet thing, I'll need to look into it as it sounds like the kind of initiative I'd like to support as a consumer. I agree with you on the mis-use of that type of messaging by some brands. We learned about a phenomenon called "greenwashing" in class. Basically, a lot of brands started positioning themselves as environmental friendly as they knew it sells to more and more environment conscious consumers. But, many of them don't actually make any effort, it's just a communication screen of smoke - using colour codes like green and kraft beige, creating bogus "green" labels that really don't mean anything, promising they "try to" or "aim to" do this and that, which basically means nothing in terms of concrete actions. I guess being aware of our consumer weaknesses, and of marketing tricks, also helps discerning the actual actions versus the marketing talk.

    2. You mentioned above that you are interested in the company Patagonia. They are who started the 1% for the planet initiative. They are the real deal in terms of trying to be a responsible company. If you're interested in them, I recommend you read any of the two books written by the founder, Yvon Chouinard (Let my people go surfing, and the responsible company). He also did an interesting talk at google that you should be able to find online. There is also a great movie that he is in - it's a combination of road trip movie, climbing movie, and environmental documentary - it's called 180 Degrees South.

      I could go on about Patagonia for a while, they are very interesting! The started an ebay site specifically for people to re-sell old Patagonia clothing. They also do clothing recycling through their Common Threads program. And, they've opened up second hand sections in a few of their stores so that you can buy second hand or bring in and sell back your used Patagonia clothing.

    3. I am interested in consumer behavior, in part because my father worked in market research. I like to think I am savvy about marketing, but, as you note, I am a target also! Patagonia is very interesting. I think they run a "Don't Buy Anything" campaign on "Black Friday." I think I also read that their sales (of new stuff) nonetheless went up.

    4. The Patagonia case seems to be very interesting indeed! I think the video I discovered them through is the Black Friday "Don't Buy anything" clip. It was testimonies of various Patagonia clothing owners who kept them for years, passed them on to their families etc. no? I really loved that video, and the message behind it.

    5. Yes, that was from Patagonia. If you're interested in them, I highly recommend reading more because they are an extremely interesting company!

  5. I agree that consumer profiling is a real thing, but I think most people have multiple profiles. When layered on top of one another, I think they’re an excellent way to make more informed choices. I think it gives you multiple filters for evaluating consumption choices, and that offers some extra protection from sneaky, subconscious or deceitful marketing.

    For example, I finally finished graduate school last year in the Midwest (U.S.) and am (oh, so thankfully) back in a major east coast city. I knew the transition was coming, and spent a good chunk of my free time making a plan of attack for developing a wardrobe that project the image I wanted to convey. After four years of looking and playing the part of a poor graduate student, I knew that I wanted my life to look like that of a well-to-do urban professional in her late 20s. So that is one consumer profile I was actively trying to fit into. Having that profile in mind weeded out a lot of stores that simply did not fit.

    Of course, there are a lot of brands marketing to that demographic, so it was only a base layer of consumer profiles. I also would count myself as a minimalist in that I don’t want to own anything more than what I need and actually use. This may be one of the more challenging consumer profiles, as it can be anti-consumption, but I think it is a consumption profile nonetheless. If you tell me an item is designed in such a way that it addresses a real need that I have, or that it will allow me to consume less, I’ll always consider it. Take, for example, a black merino wool dress I bought from Icebreaker last year. They market to the high-tech outdoors-gear geek in the features they highlight, but those same features were appealing to my minimalist consumer profile. It’s soft and comfortable. It can be layered for warmth in winter, and it breathes to keep you cool during the summer. It doesn’t hold on to smells and can be worn multiple times between washings. It travels very well as it is lightweight, and it dries very quickly after being washed. Although it was pricey when I bought it during my last semester of graduate school, I was won over by its minimalist potential and I bought it.

    But I bought it knowing that my consumption choices should also reflect my well-to-do urban professional aspirations/soon-to-be lifestyle. So I only considered the dress in basic black, knowing that it could be dressed up for work or worn casually with the appropriate accessories. It is, hands down, the single most versatile item in my wardrobe. I wear it once, sometimes twice a week, every week, and after a year of heavy wear, it still looks new. I Iove it, both as a minimalist and a yuppie. I didn’t consider other colors because I knew that other colors didn’t fit my conceptions of both of them.

    And although I especially love Icebreaker, and am very susceptible to the features of merino wool, I own very little of it because I perceive most of it to be outdoor hippie for me. (For example, a lot of their basic items like long-sleeve shirts, which I would gladly pay an arm and a leg for, have flower patterns or bold colorful patterns on them that I can’t stand.)

    This is just one example of multiple profiles when it comes to clothing, but I think it illustrates that there are multiple consumer profiles, and different ones come into play depending on the type of purchase. I’m not as concerned about being a well-to-do urban professional or minimalism when I go to the grocery store, or buy beauty products.

    1. Off topic, but, you're happy with how your dress has held up? I bought some Icebreaker items with the same ideas in mind - functional, can use in a variety of contexts. They have not lasted at all. Pilling, split zippers, holes, the works. I was disappointed. I did wear mine to do outdoors stuff as well, but they're supposed to be good for that. I find smartwool holds up way better but their clothes tend to look quite sporty.

    2. I'm very pleased with the quality of my dress - no holes or pilling anywhere. Like I said, I've worn the dress 1-2 times a week for a year now (including for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and biking), and probably wash it an average of every 2-3 weeks. I follow the washing instructions (delicate cycle, hang to dry), but I don't baby it in any way. It is also the only Icebreaker item I own, and I only own socks from Smartwool, so I can't fairly compare the brands.

      But I think that you have to take raves (and rants) about quality with a grain of salt. In my experience of buying the same basics in bulk from the same companies over the past 5-10 years, I find very few brands to be consistent, especially over time. Most brands can legitimately produce both rants and raves.

      I also think opinions must also be considered in the appropriate context. I rave about Icebreaker to everyone even though I've only owned one item from them. Should anyone really consider my opinion given my limited experience? Probably not. I'll likely continue to rave about them, even if my next item doesn't wear as well. It would probably take a few very poor quality items before I reassess my opinion of the brand. Conversely, I imagine that you'll probably always be a bit skeptical of Icebreaker quality given your disappointment with a number of items. So, both of our opinions are probably skewed, but for someone seeking opinions, you're probably the better source since you've tried multiple items. But you don't always get this contextual information.

    3. We do indeed have several profiles layering on top of one another, depending on personal experience, culture, past experiences with products, the people we hang out with... That being said, it can be a strength to make more informed choices, or it can be a weakness as it makes you susceptible to a various range of products.

      Like I tried to expalin in this post, I believe it to be very helpful to be aware of these various consumer profiles, and how they can help you but also what they make you vulnerable to. You seem to be quite clear on your needs and tendencies as a consumer, it probably helps a lot already.

      On the "minimalist" profile note - meaning, the consumer who tries to get a better price/quality ratio, to consume less and based on needs etc. I agree that it is a more difficult profile in terms of general, consumerist behaviour based marketing. However, this tendency is spreading a lot among upper-middle class people who consider themselves smart shoppers and make a point to be seen as such. There is a whole market of products and brand catering for these very people. If you take a look at the website Life Edited for example, they promote a lot of products that are multi-functional, high quality, that take minimal space, that are practical and convenient... All these products are clearly designed for this target of consumers. I'd know, I'm probably within this profile too.

      Finally, I totally agree with your last comment on consumer opinion being biased by personal experience. When our first experience with a brand is positive, we tend to have a positive image of the brand and it takes many negative experiences to change that. Same for the other way around. I guess the best way to get an opinion as objective as possible, especially when we are not aware of contextual information, is to multiply the sources...

  6. Very interesting post!

    I didn't know that about Moleskine. Their website says: "The Moleskine notebook is, in fact, the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin." That definitely made me think that those people used an older version of Moleskine and the ones sold now are simply the modern version. I bought their daily planner last year because of how often the brand show up on blogs with a minimalist aesthetic, but this year I got a nearly identical but much cheaper. It's in my own language, too. Take that, Moleskine ;)

    1. I thought the same of Moleskine too, which shows how clever their messaging is! Actually, I read an article about the success story of this company which explained how they did that, otherwise I'd probably be fooled still.

      Basically, they digged some old writings from famous writers and discovered through descriptions and drawings that many were using these moleskine covered notebooks, with round corners and a strap to close them. They recreated the same design and, as the old company didn't exist anymore and didn't deposit any sort of patent or registered any trademark, they were legally authorized to randomly claim being the heir of these notebooks.

      It is incredibly clever, and, as a marketer, I'm impressed. Fortunately, there are more and more alternative to Moleskine today, so I can imagine you have found a perfectly adapted notebook from a cheaper brand.

  7. Ugh, Nespresso. I think I was quite oblivious to how they had managed to position themselves as essentially a luxury brand, until I was walking along Avenue Victor Hugo a few years back and saw the Nespresso store there and was like "But why?" - then of course I started to notice the Nespresso stores popping up in all the up-market shopping districts and as concessions in high-end department stores. In my hometown, the Nespresso store in the prime shopping precinct has a "members' lounge" upstairs, where members (no idea how they get membership) can do coffee tastings (again - why? All Nespresso pods create coffee that tastes like ash to me). It's such an elaborate fabrication of a brand image but it's so successful - seriously, this is a lifestyle brand that has managed to position itself as if it's a luxury brand, despite the fact that it sells months-old coffee concentrate in little plastic pots and some overly fancy machinery to puncture the top of the pot and add the contents to some water and/or milk. AMAZING. It's catering to the apparently huge market of people who like coffee (and perhaps like the cultural connotations of being a coffee aficionado) but who lack either the time or motivation to actually learn about coffee and the art of making a good one. I guess it's the same as with clothes - if people educated themselves more about what makes a good garment (how and where it was produced, what the signs of quality construction are, what good fabrics feel like, etc.) then they would become more discerning and would shun cheap crap. But until they do that, the convenience of cheap crap (clothing-wise or coffee-wise) is just too seductive.

    1. "has managed to position itself as if it's a luxury brand, despite the fact that it sells months-old coffee concentrate in little plastic pots and some overly fancy machinery to puncture the top of the pot and add the contents to some water and/or milk. "
      I'm thinking just the same about Nespresso machines! I can't figure out why would anyone want to spend a lot of money for that sort of gimmick, which takes up a lot of space and generates a lot of waste from the capsules, and most annoyingly you are stuck forever with whatever coffee happens to be produced for that exact machine so it robs you of the freedom to choose your own coffee. And what if they stop making those capsules in a few years time? then the machine is completely useless. Their marketing must be genius to fool even smart people like the writer of this blog :)
      ... cheap crap at least makes some sense by being cheap, but expensive crap is totally senseless.

      I'm trying to figure out what's my profile. Right now I feel it's "annoyed and grumpy" since I'm in my opinion willing to pay as much money as needed to acquire items that are made well and long lasting and will pay extra if it can be proven that the manufacturing is ecological and ethical. But it feels like most companies are either making things for completely another consumer group ("want cheap cute things don't mind anything else") or they are out to cheat me into buying things that are not so well made as could be but still cost a lot. Clotheswise I've been most satisfied with getting things custom-made. It costs a lot but then I get what I want and the tailor I frequent even will do little fitting things for free (for example if I lose or gain a few kilograms).

    2. Nespresso is a fascinating case indeed. They first targeted a certain audience and wondered how they could create needs especially for them. As you say, people who are not necessarily coffee lovers but who like the cultural connotation of being a coffee afficionado. Also, people who usually live alone or in couple, which doesn't justify brewing a whole family-sized coffee pot. And finally, people who don't have much time in the morning and are attracted to the convenience of grabbing a capsule and pressing a button to have a "quality espresso coffee" in less than 30 seconds.

      Then, their strategy to position themselves as a luxury brand is incredibly clever as well. It all started with the membership system actually. At the beginning, they were only selling online (a great way to own distribution channels and avoid retailer margins by the way), and you had to apply to membership to order on their site. I don't know if there were barriers to entry initially (as in, invitation only or something), but I know they had prestigious members, like Clooney and other celebrities. That's how they became popular as a luxury brand for upper class city people. Then, they created their own retail stores within the codes of luxury brands (think Apple stores, it's the same strategy).

      That being said, although I'm amazed at how they mastered their positioning, I'm not particularly surprised that it works. The audience they cater to, although smart, is also very sensitive to social status symbols and external image. It's the same people who buy Apple products, and luxury clothing brands only for their price tag despite the low quality of the products. I'm not suprised they pay so much for bad coffee. Well, I was surprised at first, but after living in Paris and working in an open space full of people from this consumer target, I find it most logical that it works. I'm still surprised though, as you mention Rinna, that these people, although quite educated, still fall for these tricks.

      As for the "conscious shopper looking for quality products and ready to pay the price for it", yes, it is tricky as a lot of companies are trying to trick us into believing they are selling quality by raising the price of their product. There is a whole concept called "psychological price" which helps defining the proper price for an item to give an unconscious impression of high quality, even though the actual quality isn't that high. I think I'll write a post on this concept one of these days, it's fascinating.

    3. "As for the "conscious shopper looking for quality products and ready to pay the price for it", yes, it is tricky as a lot of companies are trying to trick us into believing they are selling quality by raising the price of their product. " Aaaargh I'm so irked about this. When I see some piece of clothing I'd like to buy and discover on closer inspection that they've cut corners and used less-quality materials than the price suggests, I feel so annoyed that I'd like to throw things out of windows and yell. Basically they are lying to me, which I really don't like. When some BargainBasement advertises clothes solely on the low price and then those clothes are low quality, it's fair and honest. But to give the impression of high quality and not follow it through is dishonest. I know it's not to insult me personally that companies do this, but I anyway I feel like I've been slapped on the face with a wet sock when it happens :D

  8. Nespresso! I'm not a coffee drinker, but married to one, so I know that a pound of coffee beans costs about
    $5-7 dollars, and lasts about 7-9 days in our household, using a Chemex drip coffee maker. At work, they charge us $1.50 per Nespresso capsule, which is about the cost of making an entire pot of drip coffee with beans. What a racket. I can't imagine that the taste of Nespresso is superior, just given how packaged/processed it is.

    1. It's crazy isn't it, how the capsule machine concept has risen the price of coffee without anyone really realizing it. I use a French press and buy ground coffee (I'm planning to purchase a coffee grinder soon so I can finally grind my coffee the morning of), as you say, one packet is about 3 to 4 euros and lasts me about two to three weeks. Buying Nespresso capsules for home is about 40 cents a capsule. 40 cents for one coffee. Crazy indeed...

  9. What a great design, I also really appreciate that you decided to do it your way.

    kitchenware & fruit bowl

  10. This is a brilliant post Kali, really. I love it. I just got home from a trip so you'll have to excuse my lousy excuse for a comment, but darn it, I had to leave some kind of sign of my appreciation. We have a giant red Nespresso machine in our kitchen and I love it - it looks sexy and I don't have to leave the house to get a latte. The boyfriend bought it as a Christmas present for himself though, I'd never in a million years get one for myself. I'm the lazy coffee consumer, where my coffee choices are "capsule" or "paying a barista to make me one", and most of the time I would rather just make a cup of tea than visit the café that is literally 10 meters from my front door. What can I say, I like coffee but I'm not passionate about it. I know, I'm a disgrace. I hate Nespresso's "flagship" stores, though. Their machines are double the price there compared to what they cost in other electronics stores, and the employees tend to be snooty. I mean, you're selling coffee, give me a break. Not even the luxury clothing store next door to them is on that level of snooty.

    I like to think I know what my weaknesses are most of the time - in-the-know hipster makeup brands (this eyeshadow? Yeah, you've probably never heard of it), high-end phones, quality bags (whether I need them or not), Apple products, pretty notebooks, and whatever my favorite bloggers claim to be the holy grail item of the week. I'm right in the luxury bag, Moleskine, heritage-product category. I will be the one happily proclaiming "but I can pass it down to my daughter one day and it will still look like new" the day I hand over a whole month's salary for a bag or a watch or a piece of jewelry. Also, I'm a young woman in a field dominated by men who are older than me, so I know I shop for things that tell that world to take me seriously. Mulberry, not Guess. Black blazer, hold the glitter. Espresso Martinis, not strawberry daiquiris, and I wouldn't be caught dead with a pink phone. I know perfectly well that a Moleskine is just a notebook and that a Bayswater is just a handbag, but the easily targeted heart wants what the easily targeted hearts wants ;)

    1. Haha I hope you do enjoy your occasional Nespresso coffee, despite all the naughty things I've written about them. To be honest, I decided against Nespresso because, as I wrote, it didn't really suit my needs (I like good coffee, and I don't mind spending a bit more time brewing it in the morning).

      Capsule machines in general are a great product for people who like the moment of drinking coffee but are not too picky on coffee quality, and who want to push a button and have it ready within the next 20 seconds. Although, I admit that even if I was in the market for a capsule machine, I probably wouldn't go for Nespresso, too expensive for the quality. As you mention, I find the brand in general to be a bit "snooty" indeed.

      It's interesting what you say about wanting to appear grown-up in your work environment and be a target for certain products in consequence. As marketing is dealing with masses, and not individuals, the market segmentation and analysis tends to be very matter-of-fact (income, age, type of job, place of residence...), and it works on a large scale, like statistics. But when evaluating our own profile as single individuals, the reasons for being drawn to a type of object are much more complicated than how much you earn and where you live. I think the link between the image objects project and the image you want to project as an individual are a big reason for purchase. In my own experience, I noticed that thinking about my consumer profile actually helped me unearth some unconscious tendencies to want to send out a certain image, or identity questionings, if you see what I mean.

  11. (I followed the coletterie link over. Hello! Nice to meet you.)

    I agree--we are all park of marketing demographics and more susceptible to them than we realize, or advertisers wouldn't make as much money as they do. I don't even want to think about all of the categories I fall into--time-crunched single mom, eco-activist, upwardly mobile professional, crafty sort who prefers to make high-quality items that last--and I have found, hands-down, the best way for me to avoid getting sucked into it is to opt out of the advertising.

    No women's magazines, no cable TV, no radio. I know I'm still surrounded by marketing messages simply through brand packages when I do go shopping, so I avoid the mall as much as humanly possible. This leaves the grocery store, the book store, and the fabric store, which is where I spend 95% of my disposable income, and probably exposed to almost all of my marketing messages.

    I don't kid myself into thinking that those marketing messages don't work, but I do hope that by limiting my exposure, I at least present more of a challenge. :)

    1. You are 100% spot on about avoiding marketing messages, and the role that can play in minimizing the role that your consumer profile has in influencing consumption patterns. I grew up without the influence of tv, radio, malls, magazines, etc, and while they still matter, I think they matter less today than the internet. Not only is it everywhere (homes, phones, public spaces), it's useful and sometimes necessary in a way that tv, radio, malls and magazines are not.

      On top of that, internet marketing is far more insidious because it doesn't always come directly from the company selling it (e.g. blogs), so it's a lot easier to not realize it's happening and influencing you. But, perhaps the sense that internet marketing is winning over the consumer is minimizing as people adapt to the advertising techniques being used in this still relatively new medium . Kinda like changes in the advertising industry with the advent of TV, with things like product placement. When folks start to learn that more about how advertising companies operate online, it makes it easier to consciously choose to reject that advertising, if that's what you want to do. I know that unsubscribing from stores mailing lists and not following blogs that just consumption driven fluff has helped me tremendously. It's not as great as the three years I went without internet at home (unfortunately I now have a fiancee who assures me he will never go without internet), but it's better than nothing.

    2. Very interesting points here! I totally agree on the fact that there wouldn't be as much advertising if it didn't work, especially considering how much it costs. This alone is a reminder that we are all susceptible to marketing messages in one way or another.

      I also agree that the best way to limit ad's influence is to limit exposure in the first place - avoiding TV and some magazines which have more ads than actual articles, not going to brand's e-stores or blogs, unsubscribe to their newsletter etc. I doesn't make us immune as, unfortunately, our environment is bathed in more or less obvious marketing message (may it only be friends wearing/using products on which you can clearly see the brand name), but limiting exposure does limit impact indeed.

      On internet marketing, there is so much I could say! Internet is, compared to other media, relatively new. So, it is not as saturated as TV or magazines (although it is becoming saturated lately), and marketers can be creative with viral campaigns, social media and community actions. Plus, it is usually cheaper than buying traditional media space. And, indeed, as it is newer, consumers tend to be less aware, so more susceptible to the actions. One of the solutions is to get informed on how internet marketing works (like blogger freebies for example), and the other is to limit exposure, again (unsubscribing to some sites, using ad-block...).

    3. I can't believe I forgot the internet ... though that does help demonstrate your points!

      Yes, you're both right. Avoiding the internet and all of its marketing messages is very tricky. I've stopped reading blogs written by friends of mine because they became about selling things, and in just the ways you describe--freebies by brands who wanted access to their readerships. Frustrating. And then ads on blogs that I like--plus newspaper sites, facebook, google, not to mention the sites I buy things at--it is pretty well impossible to avoid.

      I am a huge sucker for amazon recommends. I know it's an ad, intellectually, but in practice I find their book recommendations have been solid often enough that I check them out all the time--and then I don't buy them from amazon, but more often than not I do buy them. So there you go--I told them who I am through my previous book purchases, and then they told me what someone like me would enjoy reading, and I pretty well take their word for it. That kind of targeting is really only possible online.

  12. This really does make you think twice about your purchasing practices, and like you said its not that we're going to stop being part of a target-market, its that we can be more aware of the manipulation aspect.
    I do wonder, though, what target-market would apply to people who are part of the "Freegan" or "The Compact" movements, because not purchasing is at the center of these philosophies. Or people who attempt to buy or trade the majority of their goods second-hand/ pre-owned... In the latter I know that the original market value will still impact purchasing decisions. For example I will consider $7 for a secondhand J. Crew scarf to be more of a bargain than the same price for a low-profile brand, but am I still part of the original "target market" of that product?
    Or this example, which delights me to no end, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O95DBxnXiSo , a gentleman so incensed by the comments of Abercrombie and Fitch CEO that he has determined to used purchasing practices to re-brand the clothing. Would he be part of a target market in that specific scenario?

    1. I don't know the specifics of the philosophy of "Freegan" or "The Compact" movements, but it sounds like their are very mindful about their shopping habits, a bit like people who prefer pre-owned items, or repairing as much as they can etc. It is true that, due to the very fact that they are mindful of their habits, they are more difficult to target than other types of population.

      To answer your question or what target-market they would apply to that kind of people, there are probably much less products that are specifically aimed to them than other consumer profiles. It isn't easy indeed to sell something to people who do their best not to buy anything.

      However, if there are few products which may aim them as a group, I'm sure there are tons of products which aim them as individuals. Being part of a group like that does influence your purchase habits, but, on an individual scale, there are many more factors that makes one purchase something. Social environment for example - we tend to be attracted to the same brands as people we spend most time with. There also are a lot of unconscious phenomena, that may escape the vigilant eye of the mindful consumers.

      For example, it has been proven that the longest you use a product, the more faithful you are to it. Which makes us very susceptible to brands our parents used to buy when we were kids. The best example is food brands. Unconsciously, we tend to buy the same food brands than our parents made us eat when we were children. How many students buy certain brands of soda, cereals or yoghurt despite their high price and their difficult financial situation?

      Bottom line is - I don't know if there is much of a market solely aiming to "Freegan" people (although there must be some products targeting smart shoppers, people who want to repair etc.), but if you take each "Freegan" or "The Compact" movements members individually, chances are there are many products they will be weak to, due to their personal history, environment, experiences etc.

      Lastly, on the A&F homeless action. I loved it by the way. I think this specific scenario is more of an activist action to make people aware of A&F's ethically questionable marketing strategy. Yes, in this specific context, he bought A&F clothes - but he recommends people to donate used A&F clothes from their closets or their friends.

      It is hardly a viable target for the brand - I would even call it a communication crisis (to which A&F has answered by completely and subversively admitting their position as the "brand for cool kids"). Then again, when brands segment the market and select their targets, it works like statistics, on a large scale. They can't possibly predict every single consumer's reasons for purchasing their product (although market studies aim to understand most reasons to sell to more people). However, ourselves as consumers can try to understand our indivicual reasons for purchasing a brand.

  13. I don't have much to add that is new--just my own observations from thinking about my own past purchases: for the most part I would buy a certain brand or product because a family member had vouched for it (Japanese cars; Apple products.) Hearing about the performance of an item first-hand from someone I trusted, and being able to touch it and play with it influenced a lot of my first purchases as an adult.

    I still take reviews and experience into account when considering a new brand. It's so much easier now because we have a wealth of information online, not to mention some pretty forgiving return policies (at least in the US, you can practically return anything anytime--and sometimes people don't even have a receipt!) But now when I buy something, I'll read up on it first, ask friends who might have experience in the field (outdoorsmen, IT people, etc.) and THEN make my decisions.

    I still have some "blind" brand partiality: at the moment it's with Uniqlo and Muji; I used to like JCrew and the Gap a lot but their style has suffered severely in the last 5 years. I'll keep an eye on certain brands but I won't necessarily buy anything that season if nothing really strikes my fancy.

    I really appreciate posts like this because it gets really easy to live in the haze of buzzwords and flashy marketing. It's nice to shake off that stupor and be reminded to think! :)

    1. It is true that recommendations from close ones are extremely powerful in converting new consumers. You naturally tend to trust your friends' recommendations because they know you (so they supposedly know your tastes) and they have your best interests at heart, which is not necessarily the case of companies.

      However, modern marketing techniques are trying to make use of it. Bloggers are a good example of that, although it's so widespread now that blog readers aren't quite fooled anymore, but at the start, the bloggers you follow were more "human" than other channels, therefore readers tended to trust their opinion more.

      Brands are working to get a lot of endorsers like that - celebrities, youtubers, but also well-known community members, people who have a certain authority and which recommendations are valued. Also, there are all the affiliation programmes that incite consumers to individually "recommend the brand to their close ones and both get a bonus" type of action.

      That being said, I like listening to "real human" recommendations a lot, especially friends and family, as I discovered a lot of great things thanks to them - books, theater plays...

    2. Right, and it's kind of funny watching the blogger-business brouhaha online. There's nothing wrong with a well-thought out partnership in which the blogger introduces or endorses brands they actually believe in or if it aligns well with the theme and purpose of their blog. It's when you start shilling tampons on your fashion blog (which I'm sure some people have their preferred brands! and I don't remember where I read or saw this example) or when you have some incongruous partnerships that I stop reading and dismiss the blog or brand.

      I think that the blog+brand collaborations are still relatively new, so there will be missteps such as the one above.

  14. I wish I had taken marketing, this all sounds fascinating and it would be nice to know how the machine works (as it were). I'm definitely not naive enough to believe that I'm not affected by marketing, and I already know that I'm a sucker for pretty or well-designed packaging.
    And I agree, it's all about being aware of how we're being influenced, and at least attempting to make an informed decision. Sometimes, I just want the prettier item with some superfluous extra, even if there's a more bare-bones, perfectly functional item for less. But at least I try to make a conscious decision about it and realize that I'm paying for a "nice to have" instead of a "need".
    Also, who on earth would say no to George Clooney dropping by for coffee? ;)

    1. I found some of the marketing classes fascinating indeed, all those pertaining to consumer behaviour, brain patterns and unconscious tendencies, even if, as a consumer, it baffles me that companies are even allowed to use the human brain weaknesses like this to influence buyers.

      I think being aware of these tendencies are a first step to make more conscious choices. As you say, you can still decide to go for your preferred choice, but at least you are aware of the decision you make and can adjust budget etc. accordingly.

      I tend to be like you, I'm quite weak to clean, well-designed pacakging that appeal to my sense of aesthetics (like many people, actually, it's incredible how influent the packaging is on a product's perception and sales). Knowing that, it can help me putting it back on the shelf if it isn't worth it in terms of content (often the case for food), or consciously admit it and treat it like a special self indulgence.

  15. pfiouuu c'est qu'il y en a des choses à lire ici, entre article et commentaires instructifs !

    "little capsule merdouilles" shah, j'ai bien ri en lisant ça, c'est totalement vrai ! Un collègue a récemment acheté des capsules vides, pour pouvoir y mettre son propre café. Je ne pense pas qu'il soit un aficionado de caféine, mais juste conscient de toutes les saloperies qu'il peut y avoir dans les originales. Un test qu'il faudra que je fasse : ouvrir une capsule plusieurs semaines après son utilisation, il parait que le contenu devient d'une couleur un peu étrange... ^^ Bref, je ne bois que très peu de café (au boulot, avec la Nespresso justement qui est pour moi "la machine officielle des open spaces", et qui remplit bien son rôle pour ce genre d'utilisation).

    Je suis très curieuse de ta façon de voir le café, tu comptes faire un article sur tes recherches/découvertes? Comme je le disais, je ne bois pas trop de café, mais j'aime les choses simples et bien faites. Un café de bonne qualité et bien préparé, c'est un peu comme un bon alcool fort : rien à voir avec les trucs qu'on trouve dans les supermarché, et ça fait toute la différence !

    Pour en revenir au coeur de l'article, j'ai beaucoup aimé cette petite piqure de rappel sur les enjeux du marketing. J'ai pu avoir quelques cours en master, que j'aimais beaucoup puisqu'on peut très facilement faire le parallèle avec sa propre vie et ses propres exemples. Il est vrai qu'à partir du moment où l'on est un minimum conscient de certains mécanismes on peut très vite se dire qu'on en est imperméabilisé, mais on reste tous consommateurs à notre propre niveau donc on sera toujours une cible. Je me retrouve d'ailleurs dans les deux types de profils que tu présentes. Le tout étant à mes yeux de faire fonctionner un minimum son cerveau dès qu'on est en présence d'une campagne pub qui nous interpelle : qu'est-ce qui nous attire, est-ce que cela correspond bien à mes valeurs, à ce que je suis et ce que je souhaite ? Avec un minimum de questions, on peut facilement déjouer quelques "pièges" et se tourner vers des marques qui en valent vraiment la peine... Les pubs "grand public" autour des journaux télévisés (exemple générique) me désolent de stupidité, c'est vraiment prendre les gens pour des abrutis et pourtant ça fonctionne sur la plupart de la population... L'éducation ne fait certes pas tout (l'exemple flagrant de Nespresso le montre bien) mais peut grandement aider pour la plupart de nos consommations quotidiennes. D'autant qu'on pourra difficilement s'arrêter de consommer dans notre monde actuel, alors autant le faire de la façon la plus adéquate.

    Le chemin est long, mais de voir l'émergence des blogs dit minimaliste, qui remettent en cause un mode de vie qui n'est pas adapté à l'échelle mondiale, je me dis que les choses changent progressivement. Qu'un nouveau public se créé, que des marques puissent en profiter et proposer une alternative viable.

    1. Haha je ne suis pas une experte en café, mais c'est vrai que j'aime beaucoup mon petit moment café du matin, et j'ai exploré plusieurs options avant de trouver un café de qualité satisfaisante. Je suis tout à fait d'accord avec ton analyse - que les aliments simples et de qualité sont souvent bien meilleurs que les alternatives de supermarché. Ca marche pour les alcools, le café, le thé, les fruits et légumes...

      J'ai l'impression qu'on a été de plus en plus habitués à des produits transformés et qu'on oublie le "vrai" goût des choses. Un ancien collègue m'a raconté que quand il bossait chez Danone (ou Nestlé?), il a fait une étude de marché sur les pots de yaourts à la vanille La Laitière, et ils ont trouvé deux choses absolument édifiantes: 1. ils ont essayé de mettre de la vraie vanille à la place de la vanille chimique et les groupes test ont détesté les yaourts, disant que ça n'avait "pas le goût de vanille". Trop habitués à la vanille chimique. 2. Plus de 50% des gens interrogés pensent que c'est effectivement une laitière qui fait les yaourts, comme dans la pub. CINQUANTE. POUR. CENT. "Vaste Programme" comme dirait De Gaulle.

      C'est vrai qu'un peu d'éducation sur comment les choses se passent en coulisses changeraient pas mal de choses je pense. Même si je doute que ça suffise, après tout, ces marketeux Parisiens sont bien les premiers à acheter des capsules Nespresso, des vêtements Maje ou Sandro et des tenues de ski "the north face". Donc bon, connaître le marketing ne semble pas suffire.

      Je suis d'accord que les pubs "grand public" sont assez affligeantes, même si je n'en ai pas vu à la TV depuis longtemps. Surtout celle de la grande distribution/produits de grande consommation. Je me souviens d'une campagne d'affichage il y a quelques mois pour une marque de café, avec la boîte du café en photo et un slogan qui disait un truc du genre "Nouveau design, nouveau café". Ils n'ont même pas pris la peine d'essayer de cacher le message qu'en changeant le packaging ils faisaient croire que le café était meilleur. C'est comme coca et "ouvre du bonheur". Normalement ces messages sont censés être implicites, mais il semble que même l'explicite, ça marche avec le grand public.

      Mais j'espère, comme toi, que les choses vont évoluer petit à petit. L'émergence de mouvements alternatifs montrent que les jeunes générations commencent à se poser des questions - que ce soient les blogs minimalistes, les mouvements alter-mondialistes etc. J'espère que ce souffle de changement prendra suffisamment d'ampleur pour avoir un effet sur la société à long terme. En attendant, on peut toujours s'informer et prendre certaines décision en tant que consommateurs à notre échelle.

  16. Such an amazing article! I now exactly a friend to forward it to :)

    1. That's nice to hear, thanks! I hope your friend will enjoy the read :)