The Priming Effect in Luxury Sales
Hello, today we are going to take a look at the effect of a rather fascinating subconscious process known as Priming and its effect on the sales process — especially in the luxury industry. We will be looking at the psychological impact of this phenomenon upon buyers and how you can use this as a tool in your luxury sales arsenal.
Priming, or “the priming effect” as it is often called in psychology is the unconscious process whereby the brain links or categorizes things. Psychologists have found that units of information are filed together in our long-term memory. When these units are activated, all the information it contains become easier to access. This happens by means of associations made in our subconscious. For example, when we hear the word “nurse,” the word “doctor” is thereafter more easily recognized than the word “tree.” The priming effect means that our brain constructs certain semantic or conceptual relationships which leads to words-in-relationship being grouped or filed together. This is because unconscious cues are processed in different regions of the brain which link corresponding concepts.
Priming, in itself a natural process of the brain, can greatly impact our emotions and behaviour. Studies have shown that what we watch, read or hear can prime us to think and act in certain ways. The social psychologist John Bargh, for example, famously demonstrated the effects of priming by having different students unscramble sentences that reflected either aggression or patience and positivity. After they had finished, Bargh made them wait as he checked their answers. He found that those students who had been given sentences which reflected aggression were far more frustrated and impatient during the waiting process.
Priming triggers associations and effectuates certain responses. For example, when somebody has recently been exposed to the word “yellow,” they would be quicker to identify the word “banana” in a new context. This is because the words “yellow” and “banana” are closely associated in memory. That is to say, they are filed together. In another fascinating experiment one winery found that at times when they played French background music, French wines outsold German wines 2–1, while during times when they played German music in the background, the opposite occurred. This is because, through the power of background music, customers were subconsciously primed towards making certain choices.
Many marketers have, some time now, consciously employed priming strategies to great effect. By simply watching an ad, different mental pathways are activated, which then link to positive memories. Priming allows your prospect’s mind to be more willing to accept a certain message. By extending your sales runway with advance priming messages, you dramatically increase the chances of your prospect willingly saying “yes.” When a prospect notices the advertised product in the supermarket, for example, those positive memories are triggered. Ideally, you want to prime your potential customers just right shortly before they go on a shopping trip or do shopping online.
It can be very bewildering for some–especially those of us who like to pride ourselves in being independent thinkers who don’t follow the herd — to discover that we are not as free-willed as we may have thought and are most probably just as susceptible to priming at a subconscious level as the next person. This is not to say that priming is itself immoral or manipulative. To the contrary, the process of priming simply works in harmony with the most natural functions of the human brain. It is radically different from manipulation and there is absolutely no deception or force involved in the process whatsoever.
Generating the desired priming effect in luxury is all about creating the right associations and activating the right files in advance. You want people to be already experiencing a feeling of distinction, prestige and exclusivity whenever they hear your brand’s name or see your logo. In this regard the location of your shop, the design of your website and the timing of when to run that ad has to be absolutely perfect. The very experience of deciding to purchase your product or service should already convey that exclusive feeling of luxury to your clients.
Brands are a collection not only of tangible physical assets but also intangible emotional ones. In luxury sales it is absolutely vital that you understand what these conscious and subconscious brand associations are — in other words, what primes people to connect to your brand more easily. By activating or bringing certain associations to the fore through priming, a luxury brand can actually not only leverage, but multiply its mental associations. The right brand primes — whether that be words, physical behaviour, sights or even smells, need to be cultivated and protected just as much as your brand identity itself.
In order for priming to be effective, primes need to be directed to the right audience at the right time and in the right context. Primes can be seen as shortcuts or energy lines to activating both a brand’s physical recognition and mental associations. Priming entails exposing people to that which can trigger an association with your product or service. For example, if you are in the business of luxury watches, finding a way to expose your prospects to words like “time,” “timeless” or even the sound of a clock ticking at exactly the right time and place can serve your brand immensely. You will be guaranteed a lot of success if you can manage to generate the perfect mental associations between your brand, products or services and concepts such as “exclusive” or “once in a lifetime.” In luxury, there is tremendous power in using the right words.
Utilizing the priming effect to your advantage is absolutely key to achieving success in luxury sales. At the end of the day, luxury is about exclusivity and prestige, and your job is to create an atmosphere in which clients experience this even prior to actually buying your products or services. If you can master this art, you’ll be a truly worthy luxury salesperson.