For decades, if not centuries, product sellers have understood the importance of creating the right expectation in the customer’s mind if one hopes to have the product accepted and liked. Long before neuromarketing was in our vocabulary, ad execs were selling the “sizzle” instead of the steak. That’s not to say that product characteristics and quality are irrelevant – a tough steak is still a tough steak – but that, within some range of performance, taste, or other quality measure, a customer’s perception of the product will be influenced by what he or she knows or has heard about the product. Now, neuroscientists are providing proof of this doctrine with brain scan data.
The Business of Emotions blog highlighted some recent research which showed that what people experience as taste is influenced by their expectations. This may not be startling news to food and beverage marketers, who have long tried to influence expectations by their packaging and presentation. Nevertheless, the work was interesting because it showed that the difference in taste sensation occurred at the physiological level. FMRI brain scans showed that when subjects expected something to taste less bitter, their brain actually processed it that way.
Don Norman’s Emotional Design book, which we mentioned a few weeks ago, made the same point in a different way – wine tastes better when served in a proper goblet.
The ThinkBlog commented on the research and the power of expectations on perception by noting, “… see also your four-year-old before a plate of vegetables, your girlfriend in front of a plate of sushi, and a child getting a shot at a doctor’s office.”
Even if the finding seems a bit anticlimactic, though, the neuroscience-induced credibility may help some marketers convince management that there’s more to their product than just, well, the product. For the product to be perceived as its developers intend, one has to create the appropriate expectation in the consumer’s mind. If, for example, you are introducing an ultra-high-end chocolate bar, it may well be worth the extra cost to use the gold foil wrapper, the embossed five-color sleeve, etc. It may also be important to use advertising and other marketing techniques to create an image of excellent quality for the product. Ultimately, if the consumer is expecting a superb chocolate experience before he takes the first bite, he’s more likely to get it.