In most commercial transactions several motivating factors steer the buyer towards the product. A positive pull — because it tastes good, is visually appealing or is a good deal. A negative push — the feeling that they must obtain it or they’ll lose out. And — a combination of the two. How we communicate these factors in our marketing demands we understand the reach of our target customer’s knowledge. Failing to do can be disastrous.

The A&W example of overestimating common knowledge

Back in the 1980’s the burger chain A&W first launched the iconic third-of-a-pound burger! A national classic! Except of course, you’ve never heard of it because it flopped. The third-of-a-pounder beat the Quarter Pounder in taste tests and size and was cheaper too. However, no one wanted one. And when A&W conducted their focus group research, they found out why… Most of their customers assumed their burger was smaller and wanted the bigger burger.

We can laugh at this today, but it’s safe to say A&W didn’t. They failed a simple test — understanding their target audience and how they were introduced to the product. Regardless of what your definition of ‘’ looks like, your communication must be effective enough that most customers fall under this umbrella term. This means you need to find the right approach and terminology for every customer demographic and situation.

In the A&W burger case, I can see two problems. Firstly, many potential customers would have first met the third-of-a-pound burger on a billboard ad. It would have been written out numerically (copyright and ambiguity got in the way of calling it the Third Pounder) so it was a 1/3 Pound Burger. A casual glance from the driver’s seat sees the numbers 1 and 3 but it doesn’t necessarily sound the phrase out. Naturally, compared to the 1 and 4 shown next to the Quarter Pounder on the old school McDonald’s letter board, it looks smaller. Instinctively, three is smaller than four.

Next, not everyone does visual math or even truly understands what a Quarter Pounder is. To many customers, it’s just a name. I’m willing to bet I can find a high-schooler right now who doesn’t know how many Quarter Pounders you need to get a back pound of beef! Because not everyone is fluent in percentages. And while some see a piece of pie chart — others see nothing.

How A&W could have made their customers smarter

In the A&W case, what’s done is done, but we can still use this example to make better decisions in the future. Here, instead of calling it a third-of-a-pound burger, it seems obvious to me they should have played on the increase. If A&W had switched to ounces they would have been able to advertise The 5 Ounce Burger. Five naturally sounds bigger and their adverts could have underlined that a Quarter Pound was 4 Ounces. Now the visual is clear — your customer understands the math — you have made them smarter and more inclined to .

So regardless of the product, if the customer never knows how good it is — we only have ourselves to blame. Smart communication is really the art of making everyone feel equally smart.

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