By Sarah Fischbach
Consumerism gets a bad rap, particularly during the holiday shopping season, which has just drawn to a close. It is often defined as frivolous buying of products just for the purpose of buying. But consumerism does not have to be negative; it can be defined as an informed decision-making process in the marketplace.
Consumers have access to so much information that they can make an informed decision. Some of the sources available include customer product reviews, customer comments, company feedback, product videos and even competitors’ product comparison sites.
In the business community, we bear the burden of negative views toward consumer spending. How do we make sure we are promoting consumerism in a positive, more ethical way? We can focus on the important role we play in disseminating important information to our potential and existing consumers.
The central tool may be connecting with the target market. In marketing, we define the target market or “persona” as a narrowly defined group of customers with specific needs to warrant marketing efforts toward their unique personality. Many organizations have several different groups of target markets or personas that they focus on for their marketing campaigns. Connecting with a persona that is right for your company helps build a relationship based on the informed decision-making process.
In the field of marketing, many researchers focus their studies on developing a brand personality. If customers feel like their personality matches that of the company, they are more likely to build a lasting relationship with the business. A process called narrative transportation helps customers feel like they are in the shoes of the characters in an advertisement and that the product is relating specifically to them. Narrative transportation occurs when the receiver empathizes with the story characters and the story plot activates the receivers’ imagination, resulting in a loss of reality. Consumers who empathize with the story characters are more likely to build strong relationships with the business, brand or product.
So how do we build this level of narrative transportation for our products, brands and products? One way is to narrowly target these personas. For example, do you like the “suggested” products or “featured” recommendations provided by the business when you are shopping online? You would if you were the target market. In a recent study I conducted with Jennifer Zarzosa of Henderson State University, we found that the narrower you define your consumers, the better they are at listening to your campaign. In our study, we looked at a narrowly defined group of fashion-conscious female consumers and gave them a few advertisements to review. The consumers experienced brand transportation toward all the ads, even the banner ads. It may be because they had transported themselves into the narrative and were really enjoying the product promotions.
To get customers to come back after the holidays, it is very important to understand your company brand personality and define your persona. Narrow your target market to the consumer who is most likely to fit this target market persona and give them suggestions on what to buy. They will appreciate it and that is the stepping stone to building a lasting relationship with your customer.
• Sarah Fischbach has a doctorate in marketing and is an assistant professor in the School of Management at California Lutheran University.