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Fall 2005 Are You Selling Necessity or Luxury?

Products are a mixed bag. Some are downright necessities, like soap or diapers or bread or light bulbs. Same for services: If a pipe explodes, you need a plumber. If your computer crashes, you need an IT whiz.

Nearly everything else is a luxury. But “luxury” in this sense isn’t limited to pricey goods like diamond jewelry and $500 designer shoes. Luxury as a concept simply means people don’t really need the product—but they want it. And their reasons for wanting it may be as individual as they are: it’s handy or clever… or it makes them look/feel younger, hipper, richer, thinner… or it makes them laugh… or Dad will love it… and so on. Could the buyer live without it? Sure. But it still solves a problem for them. (Hold that thought)

Who buys what?

Businesses buy out of necessity 90 percent of the time. But most consumer products and services are more luxury than necessity. In fact, consumers feel a purchase is a necessity only something like 30 percent of the time. In many cases, consumers could do the job (service) or make the item (product) themselves, or just do without. But they buy to save time and trouble; or for fun: What’s an impulse buy most of the time? An “Ooh, I gotta have that!” purchase.

Now, think about how customers see your products or services: as necessity, or luxury? Or do some see it one way and others see it the other way? And does it matter? Yes. It’s important to know, because it can help you figure how to market your products and promote your business. In a nutshell:

  • Promote a necessity as an affordable, desirable solution to a pressing problem. Stress your competence, caring and concern as well as your product’s quality.
  • Promote a luxury by pointing out how much better the customer’s life will be after the customer buys that product from you. Stress how your product saves time, money and hassle. If appropriate, stress how good it will make the buyer look and feel.

But in either case, don’t over do it. There’s an old saying among advertising professionals: When your ad stresses everything, you stress nothing. Here’s an example. In their ads and on their websites, lots of retailers list every single benefit of their product or service. The shopper is faced with a long, long list of bullet points—and they’ll skip right over them. So kudos to these retailers for putting their features and benefits in easy-to-read bullets. But they’d do far better to focus on just a few key advantages.

When promoting your products, whether in print, online or even in person, keep it simple and streamlined. Here’s how:

  • List the top three things about your product or service that you believe impress your customers most.
  • Create a headline that extols the virtues of one of those three things.
  • Then introduce the other two points. This prevents giving customers too much to think about.

Of course, if they’re serious about buying, consumers usually want all the information they can get. But save your complete list of features and benefits for a “Chapter 2″—an all-you-can-read paragraph in the ad, a second page on your website, or further sales conversation in person. (By the way, this is also a great way to structure a radio or TV commercial.)

Marketing mistakes that matter

A well-tuned marketing campaign is a beautiful thing—it connects with just the right consumers to present just the right picture of your product as a necessity or luxury. Sales come in at a nice pace; profits mount. Suddenly, growing your company doesn’t seem hard at all. Or so you think.

Unfortunately, marketing rarely works that easily. One marketing director purchased an expensive series of TV ads to boost product awareness. “I thought getting our brand in front of so many people would naturally increase sales, but it didn’t.” An entrepreneur working hard to get a business started sunk his entire three-month marketing budget into a direct-mail piece to 1,000 people. Only a few responded-what did he do wrong, he wondered.

In both examples, customers turned a cold shoulder to the marketing message. That’s because these two businesses made mistakes. In fact, most marketing gets held back by a handful of very common mistakes. Here’s a look at five of them, along with ways to correct them to keep your advertising on track.

Mistake #1: Lost in the crowd.

Everyone gets bombarded by thousands of advertising messages every day. TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, fliers left on your doorstep, and the Web—the daily ad barrage continues. As a result, people quickly learn to ignore marketing. They tune out. After all, most of it has very little to do with their needs. They only pay attention to marketing that speaks directly to their immediate concerns.

Think you need to be super-creative to stand out? Think again. Highly innovative marketing rarely works. (How many of the outrageous, out-of-the-box dot-com ads from the ’90s do you remember?) What it takes is to be super-direct. That’s where knowing if your product is a necessity or a luxury pays off: you can speak directly to their motivation for buying. Separate your ad from the pack by making it talk directly to the customer about something he really cares about. Make it point out a problem that your product can solve—and show how it solves it. And write it so that it sounds the way customers talk—the way they really would describe the problem, the solution, and how they feel after the problem is solved. This is language that gets attention, and results.

Mistake #2: The scattershot approach.

Marketing to an audience that’s too broad won’t hit a bulls-eye because there really isn’t a target. You have to take aim at something specific. In other words, narrow down the groups of people you’re marketing to. And narrow down the media you’ll advertise in. TV and newspapers work well to sell products that are used by a large, diverse mass of people. But for a more targeted (and effective) approach, you can put ads on specialized cable programs or in neighborhood editions of the paper.

Mistake #3: One-shot wonder.

You blow your ad budget in a one-shot marketing gamble. This is one of the most common (and heartbreaking) marketing mistakes retailers make. A new store will spend everything they have on one full-page newspaper ad or direct mailer. But if that first foray doesn’t work (and it often doesn’t), there’s no money left for a second or third shot. Instead, go smaller, aim for a target, and keep at it (see #4).

Mistake #4: Inconsistent marketing.

There’s an old saying among veteran marketers: The first ad never works. To get consistent, long-term results, you have to continue your ad over weeks and months—and in the same medium, whether it’s the local paper or direct mail or whatever. (Don’t wander!) The continuity will increase your chances of breaking through the marketing clutter to reach your customers. There are countless examples of the store whose small inexpensive ad that appeared in the local paper every Sunday for years: their sales started slowly, then built to a constant roar.

Mistake #5: Not using the Web.

Many specialty retailers still think the Web is their competition. Not so. Huge numbers of consumers look to the Web for information about products—and retailers—before they buy. So get in on the game and let the Web work for you. Create a website (if you haven’t already) to give shoppers the information they need about your business and your products. Whether or not you also sell from the site, be sure to put your Web address on everything—your business cards, ads, bags and tags—so customers can find you online.

The necessity of knowing

Marketing is one of those aspects of retail life where the tried-and-true often works best. To help it succeed, you must know if what you sell is a necessity or a luxury in the minds of consumers; adapt your marketing strategy accordingly; and sidestep these common marketing mistakes to help you reach—or exceed—the level of sales you’re aiming for.


Kevin Nunley

Dr. Kevin Nunley provides short articles on a wide variety of marketing and sales subjects. He supplies marketing advice and copywriting fast and at low cost. Dr. Nunley is a veteran broadcaster and marketing consultant. You can reach Dr. Nunley at 801-328-9006 or .

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