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Product categories can be categorized as Id-, Ego- and/or Superego-satisfiers. Within categories, it is natural that the same categorization differentiates one product from another. The same logic of the 3 ego-states comes into play when choosing between any short-listed set of products.

Consider having to choose between 3 high-performance sports cars. While the Ferrari and the Lamborghini and the Lotus would make up one set, offerings from the Porsche, the Audi and the BMW could make up another. While both sets are Id-satisfiers vis-à-vis most other cars, even these two sets would be differentiated on the basis of their rational factors (e.g. state of roads where used, or Ego-satisfaction) and their economic criteria (e.g. cost, ease of maintenance, fuel consumption, or Superego-satisfaction).

Again, within a Ferrari, Lamborghini and a Lotus, you might have different reasons to want one over the other – product heritage, or brand associations would be the Id-satisfiers at play, while other, more rational factors would bring in the Superego in the process of decision making.

And should you have made your choice, how are you going to choose which Ferrari it will be? While you might want to focus on the particular engine and its performance parameters, you might want to leave the lesser choices, like the colour and the finish of the interiors to your wife or girl-friend. Again, you’d be making the Superego decisions, while she would choose the Id-satisfiers!

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Consider this: Why is hotel linen always white (or thereabouts)? What is the one feature that both the PC and the Mac borrowed from elsewhere, and will stay with both forever? In cars, what is the colour for indicators and what is it for brake lights?

In making many purchase decisions, we are forced by the constraints of external circumstances. These external forces can be either or both, societal or economic. Planning a product that defies this is the surest recipe for disaster as a marketer or product designer. These external forces define “Superego-satisfiers”.

So, the PC and the Mac had to borrow from the typewriter keyboard – it would be unthinkable to try to reinvent it! Ditto for car indicators and brake lamps. Hotel linen has to be white (and even these whites are separated in the laundry, depending on the nuances) – it tells customers, at a glance, that the sheets are clean, and also because white is the only colour that fades into itself.

We tend to refer to the former as institutional purchases, but in fact these are decisions that have to be made keeping in mind other people – hence, the Superego. Here the mindset shifts from the Id’s “I, me, myself” to issues related to others, and the role the product has to play for another, bigger function (often economic needs).

This mindset is also seen when a parent is buying shoes for a child. Here the parent is driven less by the child’s fancies, but more by the practical aspects of the purchase: What kind of use will they be subject to? How long will they last? How soon before they are outgrown? How easy are they to put on, by the child himself? Hence, the Superego can be found even if it be a case of gifting. We saw that chocolates are impulse purchases, but what happens when you need to carry a box of these on your first visit to your potential in-laws?

This is classic Superego thinking, and in referring to such purchases as “Superego-satisfiers” we are able to capture more accurately the mindset of the buyer at the time of purchase, and even design products accordingly.

In sum: Think rules of the road and maritime conventions, long-term financial investments, weights and measures (US or Imperial gallons; or the mks system?). Think education, reverse engineered vehicles (tractors without shock-absorbers or differentials, trucks with steering wheels that force the driver to be attentive), aircraft cock-pits (all manufacturers retain similarities between one model and the next, to make it easier for pilots to upgrade – within the brand, of course!) and more.

And ask yourself, what changes could you make to your product so it meets the needs of the Superego, assuming, of course, that it is not an Id satisfier? But then again, could your Id-satisfier also have Superego applications?

 

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If the Id, Ego and Superego influence all human volition (including the will to purchase), then they should be reflected in marketing terms as well. As we see, they do, to confirm the first part of our hypothesis: All products (categories) are necessarily Id-, Ego- and/or Superego satisfiers.

Given that the 3 ego-states are closer to human behavior, they should also offer better definitions – be less ambiguous, encompass products and behaviors that otherwise cannot be described, and more – when defining products.

 Impulse purchases

The Id is about impulsive, self-satisfying behavior. It is not rational or deliberate behavior – it is about doing what pleases the individual the most. It flies in the face of logic, and by definition, is contrary to social norms.

Much as we might grow into rational adults, we cannot ignore the fact that we often make purchases that might be absolutely irrational in nature. The Id (or the Child in us) represents our impulses towards self gratification, and “impulse purchases” are nothing more than the Id manifesting itself in the purchase process.

But while the term “impulse purchase” lends itself to certain products (and often those that are of low value), there are many more purchases that are marked by all the characteristics of the Id – the need for self gratification, with lack of reason – and few of these have any real classification in present-day advertising.

Purchases like cigarettes, alcohol, perfumes, cosmetics, fashion, cinema, restaurants, and other such product categories, cannot be “rationalized” as necessary purchases, and enough argument can also be provided in favor of cheaper or more generic alternatives.

(Some practitioners call them “emotional purchases”, and this is also true – the Id is about emotion, after all! But defining these as Id-satisfiers provides us a link with both – the nature of the consumer and the product as well. It is no longer a yuppie nail polish bought by a working-class woman; it is now an Id-satisfier that is satisfying the buyers Id, no matter who the buyer is. This, we shall see, is important in the process of planning and positioning products.

(If one were to rationalize, and say that within one’s social circle, it is impossible to be seen with less than a particular brand of whiskey, or a particular brand of jeans, then we can also say that Id purchases are also a function of peer pressure – an irrational pressure again!)

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If the Id, Ego and Superego come into play in every aspect of our lives, there is every reason to believe that they should influence our behavior as consumers as well!

Conventional psychoanalysis states that we suppress the impulses of the Id to conform to the demands of the society (the Superego). Our behavior as consumers follows more or less the same pattern.

We might want to sing out loud in the street (satisfy the Id), but convention (the Superego) dictates that we behave correctly. Speeding down the road (Id satisfaction) but having to respect speed limits (the control of the societal Superego) is more or less the same.

We might want to live off a diet of chocolate, but we also have doctor’s orders. Chocolates are not likely to take precedence on our shopping list, and supermarkets will not place them, either, so that they take precedence over our staples.

Society wants us to dress according to occasion and convention; we buy our clothes depending on whether they are for work or leisure.

The list of controls (Superego) and the list of desires (the demands of the Id) can be built endlessly, but what we will always find is that as consumers our choices are limited by our willingness to conform or not – ergo, the Id and the Superego determine to what extent we will make our choices, with the rational Ego being the faculty that helps us make a decision towards one extreme or another.

But what products are more likely to belong to which category? This, we shall see, is not difficult to define!

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(The reconciliation of the impulses of the Id with the demands of the Superego (the two extremes of desire, and often in conflict with each other), is the basis of all individual behaviour. There is no reason to believe that this should not also hold true for all “purchase behaviour”.)

Imagine a baby, the mother and their pet dog in a room. The child is tempted to play with the animal the way a baby would – tugging at its ears, tail, or fur. While the animal may be a part of the family, and even pacific by nature, the mother may intervene and prevent the child from being too harsh with the pet, for fear of the animal reacting.

            Here, the child represents the Id in its purest form. All humans are born as bundles of Id, unconcerned with anything except personal gratification. This bundle of Id doesn’t know, even, the difference of good and bad – it will revel in its own excreta – there is absolute absence of any form of reason.

            This individuality of the baby (Id) is sharply contrasted by the demands of the mother, the control imposed on the self-gratifying child. She represents the Superego, or the norms of society, created by experience collected over time.

            Let us assume that the child eventually does get bitten by the dog. Now even the baby knows, vis-à-vis the dog, what his actions can lead to. In the future, it will approach the dog with more than caution. The baby has learnt to reason, and this reasoning, between the two extremes of the self-seeking id and the imposed superego, is the ego, the rational aspect of the reasoning mind. It represents the individual’s logical functions, which allow for independence from the demands of both the id and the superego.

            These three aspects of the human psyche exist in each individual for all time to come, albeit with variations which can be linked to the nature of the society, culture, family and personal experiences and/or preferences. And these three aspects are the ones that influence all our decisions, including those linked to purchase of products or services.

            Once again, we can reiterate our hypothesis if human behavioris subject to the pressures of the Id, Ego and Super Ego, then these three ego states should influence our purchase behavior as well. Let us now see how these three aspects can be related to the process of marketing and advertising.

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Ever since advertising and marketing became “scientific”, consumer profiling has been done in many forms, with the eventual purpose of understanding the buyer’s motivations.

But while most methodologies for consumer analysis are based on sociological studies, with an aim to predict consumer behavior, we might be better off if consumer analysis be done on the basis of those tenets by which all human motivation is studied, given that these tenets should hold true even for the “motivation to purchase”.

Let us, then, see what might emerge if marketing terminologies were taken from the field of psychology, and if there emerges a different way to connect with the consumer.

Hypothesis

For empirical reasons, let us choose only the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego, as defined by Sigmund Freud, as the basis of this new method of consumer analysis.

If three ego states are at the base of all human motivation (there being no fourth), then we can state that:

  1. All products and services are essentially Id-, Ego- and/or Super Ego Satisfiers, and
  2. Within any product category, there can be only three kinds of products, viz., Id-, Ego- and/or Super Ego Satisfiers.

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Even answering the most basic question in marketing – defining our product and its benefits – involves a certain definition of the user: “Who am I talking to?”

Ever since advertising became more “scientific”, marketing men have used demographic or psychographic profiles to understand consumer behaviour.

While the former differentiates consumers on the basis of their purchasing power, the latter helps, presumably, create products and advertising that the so-called clearly defined segments (yuppies/dinks/baby-boomers/etc.) would buy into.

This was all very well so long as we were living in homogenous societies, with limited media, few product choices, and the recession was something that happened in the US in the 1920s.

Yet this methodology always had its problems.

Demographic profiling, as we have seen, does not guarantee any correlation with purchase intention – the rich are not always the biggest spenders.

Psychographic profiles change with time, and cease to exist once we cross geographic boundaries. Yuppies might become dinks or baby-boomers faster than you can design products for them, or an economic trend could finish their creed overnight. Their ilk is not likely to be found in other parts of the world – well-off young Indians have very different consumption habits compared to their European counterparts, and both are very different from their US equivalents.

In all, there exist fundamental issues: There is no way to quantify any of the numbers – not the spenders in any given profile of consumers; nor the relationship between them and the quantities sold; nor the value ascribed to products by the users themselves with regard to products targeted to them or to the other options available.

And all of this means that the MNC brand manager has to re-start the learning process every time s/he takes on an overseas assignment – the best s/he brings to the table might simply just be the “best practices” from the parent country.

(Such is the lack of dissociation between products and buyers that even members on the same side of the table may often speak a different language – product designers may speak of 2- or 3-box cars, or roadsters or sedans, while their marketing colleagues may speak of “a car for a yuppie or a dink”.)

What we need therefore are not new definitions of market segments, or consumer profiles, but some way in which we can link products to consumers, and vice versa. Ideally, because we want to create a system that can be used across cultures in today’s globalised economies, these definitions should be universal in application, able to accommodate market changes without changing themselves, and, most importantly, measurable.

What we are looking for, briefly, are common denominators to all mankind, which do not change across cultures.

 

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