Tuesday, March 27, 2007

IGOR and the law: who’s to blame?

Under the terms of the Consumer Protection Act, the « Office de la protection du consommateur » (Consumer Protection Agency) issues 36 violation reports against Saputo; the company may be subject to fines totalling $60,000. These accusations are made in response to a complaint lodged last month by the « l’Union des consommateurs » (Union of consumers) and the « Coalition québécoise sur la problématique du poids » (Quebec coalition about problems of the weight); both organizations demanded that Saputo’s promotional campaign for IGOR muffins in day care centres be stopped. The company did not react to these accusations yet; if it decides to dispute them, a judge will ultimately have to decide on their cogency.

Besides the legal aspect of these commercial actions, one must also question the day care centres’ responsibility in this matter. Obviously, their collaboration was necessary to implement this promotional campaign. Now, I don’t hear anybody admonishing in the least the managers of these organizations; yet, they agreed to collaborate in the launching of this product of a questionable health value in return for some compensation, financial or other. Keep in mind that article 5 of the Educational Childcare Act states an obligation to develop healthy eating habits in children.

Do Saputo’s promotional actions for IGOR muffins shock you?

Was the Consumer Protection Agency’s intervention necessary to protect children?

Was the Consumer Protection Agency’s reaction overly severe?

Should Saputo solely bear responsibility?

Is the accommodating stance of day care centres open to criticism?

Should the government intervene with day care centres under the terms of the Educational Childcare Act?

I would really like to know your opinion on these questions!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Aspirational expects

Aspirational expects address another form of symbolism, one which is much more deeply rooted. They reflect the consumer’s fundamental aspirations: personal values, self-image, self-esteem, etc. Aspirational expects are amongst the most influential elements on consumption.

Cosmetics and perfumes offer excellent examples of products that appeal to the consumer’s aspirational expects; the image of femininity, very much apparent in Lancôme’s advertising for its Trésor fragrance, is a response to such an aspiration amongst some women; other perfumes may use the image of a very active professional woman to answer aspirations of a different group. Cosmetics pledge to fulfil the wishes of those aspiring to beauty, and to be a Fountain of Youth for those seeking eternal youth.

In the field of tourism, several products aim to answer aspirational expects. Religious tourism notably: all countries that feature several churches, basilicas, cathedrals, mosques, temples, attract thousands of visitors each year. Some seek spiritual inspiration, others a form of sacred art, others still cultural exoticism.

Various destinations propose a unique experience, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain for instance. Each year, pilgrims journey on foot, cycling or by car, the routes that lead to it, through Spain, France and at time from further still. In fact, it is so popular that associations exist to promote the routes and site: the Société française des amis de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, established in Paris in 1950, and the Confraternity of Saint James, founded in the United Kingdom in 1983. The motives that drive people to live this experience are complex: spiritual, religious, cultural, artistic, physical, etc.

Do you know what your deeply rooted aspirations are?

Do you think that they influence your consumption?

In retrospect, in the light of what precedes, what are the aspirational expects that have influenced your last important purchase?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Symbolic expects

Marketing specialists are very much aware of the fact that goods and services are often purchased more for their symbolic than functional value. Symbolic expects aim at associating the product to a symbol the consumer wants: fashion, status, life style, social class, wealth, power, technological modernity, etc. One seeks an image, a given life style for instance. Thus, the practice of many sports «requires» wearing such and such equipment and clothing that have become symbols, almost fetishes, of this practice; even beginners will want to be thus equipped to meet the standard the image. In very much the same way, many tourists seek prestige products to answer their symbolic expects: luxurious hotels, exclusive destinations, a sporting life style featured by large vacation resorts, etc.

Symbolic expects answer the consumer’s concern regarding the opinion of others about him. Well-known brands of clothing, accessories, cosmetics, perfumes... are then bought as prestige symbols. Symbolism attached to these brands (wealth, prestige, social class, etc.) is often synonym of durability; brand awareness developed by their owners often has an enormous financial value. Conversely, some eccentric clothing fashions are, by nature, short-lived; however, this is often what people are seduced by, because such garments procure exclusiveness to those wearing them. Once a fashion is adopted by a large number of people, it loses its attractiveness.

Some consumers systematically buy only one well-known brand, because it is a symbol of dependability; to some extent, they buy the image of security products of this brand feature. This is especially true with new technologies. A manager may thus want to convey a favourable image to the company. In the event of a problem, he will protect his reputation by maintaining that if the «best» could not fulfill their expectations, no one else could have.

Therefore, in a whole series of cases, symbolic expects largely supersede functionality; however, many will nevertheless seek a compromise between both aspects. In your opinion, does advertising call upon symbolism too much? To what extent do you believe to be influenced by these symbolic appeals?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Functional expects

Functional expects refer to consumer requirements regarding the utilitarian aspects of a product; goods or services must fulfil the function for which one buys them. They express benefits sought by clients: safety, durability, ease of use or maintenance, performance, etc. They influence the physical characteristics of the product, technology used, etc.

Clothing, childrenswear in particular, provide good illustrations of functional expects. In order to satisfy a safety benefit, they must be manufactured with a fireproofed fabric. To offer a durability benefit, the material must also be resistant to wear. A wear-out guarantee, already offered by some manufacturers, is another component related to durability. Fast-drying underwear, advertised by a well-known brand of travel clothing, is another example of product that appeals to functional expects.

In the field of tourism, booklets of various tour operators provide many illustrations of functional expects. For people seeking effortlessness, as much in the choice of destination as in the course of their journey, one finds fixed price, all inclusive, package deals. For those seeking to see much during a short vacation, a benefit related to performance, one finds tours featuring travel by night and visits in the daytime, in several cities or even several countries.

But the best example of formally stated functional expects is without a doubt the request for proposal process based on an often very elaborate statement of work; this document contains numerous characteristics suppliers must respect. This procedure often aims a performance benefit. For instance, with regards to information technology related purchases, respect of specifications insure sufficient storage capacity, a response time lower than an established standard, compatibility with existing equipment or software, etc.

To give rise to new expects, differentiate a product and inflate the unit profit margin, several companies incorporate so many new features in their products that those lose some functionality. Such is the case of several cellular phones and some motor vehicles. It is absolutely impossible to use certain functions or accessories without consulting a user manual often counting hundreds of pages, a daunting and often unfruitful ordeal.

Talk to me about your experience with a product that has lost its functionality.

Friday, March 2, 2007

What is it that really makes you buy?

Contrary to what marketing theoreticians would have us believe, one does not buy to satisfy inborn needs, but to build and maintain an image. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is useful to understand the consumer’s fundamental motivation, why he wants to consume — the human being has limitless desires. However, my field experience in marketing and sales, leads me to conclude to this concept’s uselessness for product development of and the construction of an argumentation aiming to convince customers. Neither does this concept allow us consumers to become aware of the fact that we consume too much and we consume badly. We buy because we believe to be fulfilling a need, without understanding what has driven us to buy.

To supplement the needs concept, as a foundation of consumption, I propose to use the notion of expects (this is a contraction of expectancies or expectations, a catchy term I have coined to best translate the French notion of « attentes »), used by Rochefort to describe the immaterial value the consumer wishes to see built-in a product; this concept allows a better understanding the consumer’s unsatisfied wants, commonly, and wrongly, called needs.

The concept of expects has the advantage of translating well the expression of needs, something marketing researchers achieve using the concept of wants. However, whereas wants convey a will to possess, expects express an expectancy to obtain certain benefits. Thus, expects better renders the idea of requirement to satisfy without adding the dimension of imminence of the decision attached to wants. In other words, if a consumer’s expects with respect to a product are satisfied, he may develop a desire for this product; this desire may then concretize in the form of a want.

The theory of expects takes into account both the product and the consumer, each expect of whom must necessarily correspond to a product component, for the latter to become « desirable ». The term component should not be taken in the strict sense of physical characteristic of the product but in the broader sense of constituent element. Thus, the name of the product, its packaging, the image created around it using advertising, and other elements, are deemed to be product components.

Countless elements influence expects, above all society’s dominant values, significant events, the evolution of a person’s concerns and aspirations, marketing efforts, etc. New expects and even of new categories of expects may thus appear at any moment. Hence, it is relatively easy to generate new expects for the consumer by offering products with original components; in fact, this is the method used by manufacturers to differentiate their respective products. Memory chips, faster, with increased capacity, and less expensive, well illustrate this phenomenon in the case of technology based products.

Consumer expects are multidimensional; a purchase may involve only one, several or all categories of expects. To account for requirements prevailing in a purchase situation I propose a non exhaustive list of ten types of expects — a list obviously subjected to social and historical variations — that can explain in a more detailed manner what the concept of expects covers. I propose a graphical representation of this list, which I refer to as the « Ring of expects » (PDF format).

To better understand the notion of expect, let us consider the purchase of a car. One may buy a specific model because of its low gas consumption (functional expect), because the brand is well rated (symbolic expect), because the vehicle is associated with an image of youth which this person seeks (aspirational expect), because of the pleasure of driving it (sensory expect), because of its reasonable price (financial expect), because the sales person’s warm welcome (relational expect), because construction makes use of recycled materials (societal expect), because the person likes the unique color of this model (aesthetic expect), because the manufacturer’s Web site features detailed and user friendly information (informational expect) and because the car may be delivered within a few days (temporal expect). I will detail each type of expect in forthcoming chronicles.