Have you ever noticed how many fast food logos have the same basic color palette? Yellow, red and orange are the colors that signify heat and desire. That’s why they can be found above restaurants promising hot, fast, craveable foodstuffs. We may think that’s all coincidence or that it doesn’t work—but marketing firms know better. Customers choose based on subconscious or emotional cues like these every day. Direct advertising in the form of TV commercials and print ads are far from the only means marketers use to influence your buying.
The art of sales has always been about figuring out what people want, then finding the best way to introduce consumers to products that meet those needs. Once you enter a store, signage and product placements are carefully considered as retailers scramble to put items in the places you’re most likely to pick them up. Walk down a grocery aisle and you’ll see that the most popular name brand items are found at eye level—so customers choose them easily. More expensive items are up a bit higher—a connotative cut above. Cost effective items like bulk beans or cereal that come in nondescript bags are way down on the bottom—where you have to bend and stretch to reach them. That’s not an accident. Distributors pay stores good money to get their products on the shelves they know customers choose most.
Desensitization is another factor marketers consider. While some shoppers are creatures of habit, others crave the next new thing. A study from Columbia Business School suggests that in a line of similar products consumers are most likely to select the first or the last. This is true whether we’re talking about bedsheets, music, microwave snacks or even books. Consumers want samples they can see, feel, taste or hear. Even in an age of internet shopping run amok, customers choose largely based on sampling.
The Columbia study also discusses how the order of items sampled can influence how customers choose them. Looking for a new book in a particular genre might lead a buyer to read sample pages from several books. But the mind tends to grasp onto whatever was experienced first, holding that up as the best or most representative of the samples. The conclusion goes on to assert that humans get desensitized—bored—easily and tend to lose interest quickly when given multiple similar items to rate or purchase. This might explain why packaging is frequently changed in staple products like soaps or pet food. It may also be connected to the hunter-gatherer instinct in humans that keeps them on the lookout for new things.
The most important thing for consumers to remember is that they are part of a dance between marketer and shopper—one that’s ever changing and intent on only one outcome: making customers choose a specific product over all the rest.