A frequent topic here has been research showing that buying things, particularly items seen as being overpriced, activates the pain centers of the brain (see The Pain of Buying, Painful Sushi and Other Pricing Blunders, and Brain Scans Predict Buying Behavior). An interesting post by marketing guru Seth Godin looks at buying pain from a totally different angle – no neuromarketing, just his take that high value purchases often involve very little pleasure during the buying process. In The Joy/Cash Curve, Godin suggests that there’s a sweet spot in the middle price range. While paying a toll or buying a cup of coffee don’t involve much joy, moving up the price scale to a fancy restaurant dinner or buying expensive champagne in Las Vegas are more pleasurable experiences. Moving past the peak, buying jewelry can still be fun, but, at the high end of the spectrum, buying a car or house can be quite painful. Godin points out that car dealers often turn the closing process into a high-stress, high-pressure time as they try to leverage the customer into buying additional products or services. Closing on a house purchase, of course, often involves signing many cryptic documents of uncertain purpose but any one of which could have significant financial implications later.
Godin’s suggestion is simple – why not ADD some joy to the process where it’s lacking. For example, at a home closing, he suggests having an inexpensive but extremely pleasant person (like an ex-cheerleader) handle the paperwork details, cater to the buyer’s needs (including getting donuts), and in general be continuously charming.
Although Godin’s chart may seem a bit contrived – I’m sure one can find counter-examples at various price levels – he may have zeroed in a point that ties in with the neuroscience of buying. It’s not the absolute price level that causes the “pain”, it’s the perception that the price is too high. Paying five dollars for a beer in a hotel bar may cause the brain’s pain center to light up if your first thought is, “I could buy a six-pack at the store for that much!” Conversely, if you just came from a bar where you paid $10 for the same beer, you might find paying $5 to be entirely pain-free. Making the purchasing process more pleasurable doesn’t reduce the price – in some cases, it might even increase the price. But doing it right may affect the value side of the equation. Here’s what I like about Godin’s idea: by making the purchasing process pleasurable, you may actually reset the buyer’s “value meter.” A higher perceived value will reduce the pain for a given price.
In short, Godin’s insight could be helpful to marketers and be consistent with the neuroscience of the buying process if you assume that a more pleasurable purchasing process adds to the overall perceived value of the product or service.