How a targeted communication generates pleasure

Mariana Soberano

By Mariana Soberano21 septembre 2021

Consumers experience different feelings following their purchases. While feelings might be fleeting, their influence on consumers’ thoughts and judgments have lasting consequences on consumers’ behavior and their relationship with brands. A study led by Prof. Francine Petersen (HEC Lausanne) in the context of luxury purchases explores the phenomenon.

If the situation is consistent with their personality, consumers will "feel good" (Shutterstock)

It is unquestionable that luxury managers should improve the customer experience and enhance their customers’ happiness. In addition to that, positive feelings are important because they can also generate more enduring downstream outcomes for brands. Research has shown that consumption happiness can potentially generate more positive brand evaluations, increase the likelihood of consumers engaging in word-of-mouth and decrease the likelihood of returning their purchases. In addition, it can also affect consumers’ judgements such as satisfaction with the purchase and downstream brand loyalty.

Throughout the years, advertisement has been putting to test one of their most famous recipes. It consists of three simple ingredients: telling consumers that 1) they need something, 2) what they need, and 3) why they should buy it. Although this formula has been doing alright, it doesn’t necessarily translate in consumer happiness - at least not for every consumer. When facing a purchase opportunity, consumers will automatically, and perhaps without even realizing, judge it against their own character or personal preferences. If the situation is consistent with their personality, it will “feel right”. This feeling is pleasant and is associated with greater happiness. Prior research has also shown that when the brand’s communication is aligned with consumers (i.e., when a message “feels right”), the message becomes more persuasive.

Because they “deserve it” or “just because”?

As different messages induce different feelings in consumers, brands should direct their attention into crafting a fit between the psychographics of their customers and the tone of the message, so that it “feels right”, is pleasurable, and produces more happiness-like feelings in the consumers. In their research "Who needs a reason to indulge? Happiness following reason-based indulgent consumption", Prof. Petersen and colleagues (HEC Lausanne) examined how luxury customers reacted to two different communication appeals depending on their personality type.

One common type of communication appeal in luxury relates to the notion of giving a justification for a luxury indulgence. Consumers intuit that “earning an indulgence”, for example, will produce less negative feelings (such as guilt or regret) following a splurge. Marketing campaigns featuring a message with a good reason to indulge are abundant. For example, Buick Reatta, “go ahead, you deserve it”; Barclays Premier, “you deserve it”; L'oreal, “because you're worth it” and Chrysler, “luxury is better earned”. However, if rationalizing indulgence does not resonate with the target audience, or doesn’t “feel right”, there is a huge potential for such reason-based kind of messages to backfire. Another type of communication appeal frames luxury indulgence as more spontaneous. For example, Lexus’ “dare to be spontaneous” campaign.

The research results showed that consumers with a high level of "self-control", a personality trait associated with rationalisation and discipline, feel good when they have a reason to afford luxury. (Shutterstock)

The key finding of this research was that a segment of consumers responded more positively when exposed to the first message appeal, and another segment of consumers responded more positively when exposed to the second message appeal. Specifically, the researchers identified that having a reason to indulge in luxury “feels right” for consumers with high levels of “self-control”, a personality trait associated with rationalization and discipline. On the other hand, indulging without any specific reason, or “just because”, “feels right” for consumers with low levels of self-control, who tend to be more spontaneous in their behavior and “enjoy the moment”. The resulting “feels right” experience translated into both more happiness and more positive post-purchase responses, including lower likelihood of returning the product, greater satisfaction, and more positive word-of-mouth. These results were found with real purchases as well as in hypothetical situations in a lab context.

Pleasant experience results in a propensity on the part of the consumer to use word-of-mouth, which is positive for the brand (Shutterstock)

Targeting communication based on personality variables and data mining.

These findings show that, for increased happiness, communication should be adapted to customers and speak to “who they are”. This may seem more segmenting compared to using a general message, but it will generate stronger engagement for those consumers who experience fit with the message. How can managers do this?

Marketing messages must be targeted according to the personality of the customer, by analysing their data (Shutterstock)

Advances in technology and innovation have made it possible to highly customize marketing messages, especially online. In fact, the challenge of identifying personality traits is being met with advances in computer science that show that data-based predictive analytics can accurately identify personality through social media content, even better than humans. Accessible consumer data such as Facebook likes and updates, or smartphone and app data, has also proved to be insightful to accurately predict these personality traits. In addition, e-commerce techniques, such as online browsing behavior and website preferences, could also allow for customer profiling. Using such customer data, marketers can infer some personality characteristics based on known correlates. For example, given that self-control correlates with several other dimensions available to marketers, such as credit card usage, better educational performance, higher job success, and fewer hours spent watching television, it is possible for marketers to predict consumers' approximate level of self-control based on these data.

Once luxury brand managers have gathered enough information about their customers’ personalities, they might target consumers with marketing communications that will better resonate with them. For example, they might consider when and how to promote a reason to purchase rather than using mass-mediated campaign copy. As research revealed, messages that align specifically with consumers' personality traits not only persuade consumers more effectively, but also make them feel better about their choices. This way managers can better reap the benefits of congruence effects between messages tailored to an individuals' orientation.


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    Petersen, F. E., Dretsch, H. J., & Loureiro, Y. K. (2018). Who needs a reason to indulge? Happiness following reason-based indulgent consumption. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 35(1), 170-184.

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