With all of the sites and tools available to us via the web, why don’t we all simply find the lowest price on every product? There are many consumers or businesses that do just that, but the majority of people don’t. I’ve shared online that a few years ago that I changed from driving Fords to a Cadillac. A Ford dealership annoyed me when they charged me a tiny fee to fix a recall issue.
I paid the fee, then I drove to the Cadillac lot a few weeks later. I wound up leaving in a new SRX that night. The sales person jumped through hoops to get me the vehicle I wanted at a price that I could afford. When I came back in to add mud flaps and a bike rack, they installed them at no charge. When it’s my birthday, they call and wish me Happy Birthday. When I come in for an oil change, they provide me an office with Wi-fi, or a top of the line loaner vehicle at no cost. (Yes, I know they want me to buy it).
Truth is, I like the SRX… but I love the brand. The experience that my sales representative provides, the dealership provides, and the brand provides, creates an experience beyond the 4 doors of the vehicle. I feel special… and I’m willing to pay extra for that.
In the world of architecture, they call the experience of the space around you Atmospherics, written with a focus on architects and the retail experiences they were designing.
Definition of Atmospherics
In 1973, Philip Kotler wrote an article in the Journal of Retailing where he described the impact of the retail space on the purchase behavior. He provided the following definition:
The effort to design buying environments to produce specific emotional effects in the buyer that enhance purchase probability. Influencing the probability is the sensory quality of the space surrounding the purchase object, the buyer’s perception of those sensory qualities, the effect of the perceived sensory qualities and the impact of the buyer’s affective state.
After 20 years of working on PCs, the company I worked for purchased a MacBook Pro for me. The box was beautiful. It had a handle, was designed on par with their advertising, and when you opened it, the laptop was cradled in a soft black foam. It was an experience pulling it from the box and putting it on the desk. It wasn’t the typical styrofoam mess with plastic bags that were impossible to open.
What Apple is doing is designing and executing a unique, consistent experience for its prospects and customers. From the store, to the product packaging, to the product, to the operating system, through to the software. There’s an atmosphere around Apple that makes it unique. And not surprising, the experience is also highly profitable.
Atmospheric marketing involves the display of the product, the colors, the smell, the sounds, the audience, the promotions, and the buying experience. As Mr. Kotler writes:
One of the most important recent advances in business thinking is the recognition that people, in their purchase decision-making, respond to more than simply the tangible product or service being offered. The tangible product – a pair of shoes, a refrigerator, a haircut, or a meal – is only a small part of the total consumption package. Buyers respond to the total product. It includes the services, warranties, packaging, advertising, financing, pleasantries, images, and other features that accompany the product.
Fifty years ago and the quote still stands. In my first example, the buying experience was damaged by the dealer – the atmosphere polluted. In the Apple example, it’s consistently high. Even if you purchase an iPad at Best Buy, it’s carefully designed to differentiate itself from competitors.
Your online brand, sales experience, onboarding, platform, account management and billing are all part of the atmosphere impacting your company’s ability to acquire, retain and create more valuable relationships with your prospects and customers. In fact, over time I believe they have the largest long-term impact on your ability to compete. As companies move online, it’s becoming imperative that the experience and consistency online support the purchase decision.
I’m a fairly practical person when it comes to the tools, products and services that we do business with. I’ll be honest, though, that I do find myself gravitating faster to a purchase decision when I’m attracted to brand. Sometimes it’s the videos they post, sometimes the writing, sometimes the site experience, and sometimes the branding. If it’s all consistent – site, social, email, videos, etc. – you might even find me entering my credit card data for an online purchase right then and there. Even if it costs more money.
The fact is, anyone can compete for cheap. But when you’re trying to increase profits and accelerate your sales cycle, it’s dependent upon the effectiveness of your atmospheric marketing.