How Marketing Can Help Provide the Social Support Your Customers Need to Buy Your Products

Have you ever made a big purchase on a luxury product and immediately experienced buyer’s remorse? You can probably recall that. But what if I asked, “Were you feeling socially supported at that time?” You probably don’t remember.

A recent article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (“Perceived social support reduces the pain of spending money”) examined whether social support lessens the feeling of “spending pain.” The study tested three distinct hypotheses and came to some rather interesting conclusions.

According to the study, “Simple effects showed that when spending money on hedonic goods, the participants with high social support … experienced less pain than those with low social support.” In other words, people that have a lot of social support feel less pain when they buy something for pleasure, like a luxury good.

Let’s examine some real-world shopping scenarios in which social support might apply, and then dig into how you might apply the study’s findings to help enhance your marketing.

Scenario 1: The Test Drive

For auto dealers, getting a person to drop a significant amount of their disposable income on a car is a big deal. Writing that down payment check can cause some significant pain. However, people generally need a car, so some of the pain is buffered by the fact that this can be viewed as a utilitarian purchase: “Importantly, a previous study has shown that hedonic purchases generate more spending pain than utilitarian purchases (Rick et al., 2008).”

How Marketing Can Provide Support: So what’s a method you might use to get people to upgrade to a luxury model? We suggest incentivizing your current customers to proactively offer support to a friend. Consider, for example, a “Share the Exhilaration” promotion in which you offered current customers perks like free service or a month off of their lease agreement in exchange for accompanying new customers to your store. By doing so, you’d increase the odds of prospects bringing friends that would be supportive of the imminent buying decision.

Scenario 2: Shopping Together at the Mall

People like to shop together and when they do, they tend to purchase more. As the study authors write, “Granbois (1968) found that people who were shopping in groups were more likely to make unplanned purchases than people who were shopping alone.”

How Marketing Can Provide Support: So, how do you incentivize people to shop together? What if you offered people the ability to earn loyalty points on the items their friends purchase and vice versa? How much do loyalty points cost your company to issue? How much are they worth if they are adding incremental sales? If people shop together with the same incentive — “the more we buy, the more loyalty points we get” — they would likely be very supportive of each other.

Scenario 3: Group Travel

Have you ever participated in a group trip and spent more for airfare, hotel and activities than you planned, yet felt good about it? I have, for the simple reason that my friends were all spending the same money, and we were having a great time together. I’m not talking about feeling good after the fact, with all the experiential memories in tow. I’m talking about the day I cut the check to the travel agent. There wasn’t much spending pain at all, and I have a feeling it has something to do with the social support I felt in the moment.

How Marketing Can Provide Support: Consider creating a group travel page for customers booking online. Alongside the details and the purchase options, show which connected friends have already booked. Use social tie-ins like Facebook and Twitter. Once the trip is booked, encourage the details to be shared with friends via the same social channels as well as email. If your agency is based on telesales, get approval from group participants to share the details with each other so you can advise each person of the selections made by their friends.

Scenario 4: The Stranger at the Jeweler

As the study authors point out, “Merely being in the presence of others or shopping with others does not necessarily increase perceived social support in consumers. People do not always feel supported by being with others; they need to be with supportive figures to feel heightened social support.”

A well-timed interaction can help create that social support. Imagine you just received a work bonus and are shopping for a watch. While trying it on, you start thinking of what else you’d spend the money on: bills, repairs, etc. Now imagine an elegant stranger walks past and comments, “It fits you so well! That’s a great choice.” Think you’d put in down?

How Marketing Can Provide Support: As marketers, we shouldn’t try to be deceitful, so the strategic placement of well-timed strangers isn’t an option. But that doesn’t mean we can’t employ the same psychological principles. If you were to walk into a sporting goods store to buy a new golf club and were offered a free lesson to help decide which clubs to buy, you’d feel far more supported when you were ready to purchase. Similarly, if you went into a makeup store and were offered a free makeover using the products you’re interested in, you’d feel far more confident.

Getting Started

Social networks are an amazing place to sell things. Why? As the article showed, “participants who felt supported by others placed less importance on money, which reduced the pain of spending money.” So while people are browsing their social networks, feeling nice and supported, what better time to ask them to buy something they presumably don’t need (a hedonic good)?

Facebook, for example, offers a tool called “Custom Audiences builder.” It allows you to import a list of known customers and have a targeted advertisement appear to them in their feed. Marketing Automation platforms even offer integrated apps to streamline the process.

Pick a utilitarian good and a luxury (hedonic) good and run a targeted Facebook or Twitter advertisement to different segments. Then, compare the conversion rate of those goods versus their average sales volume and velocity. You might sell (convert) on the utilitarian good more, but if you get a greater lift on hedonic goods, that would suggest that social support reduces the spending pain barrier for purchasing the more hedonic good, and you can then apply this concept to additional marketing initiatives.

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