Even with my continuous study of the latest thinking of general marketing experts, and my day-to-day involvement in marketing projects for dealers and DHP showrooms, it is not always easy to “walk in the shoes” of a consumer. So, when a friend asked me to help her shop for a new kitchen, I jumped at the chance to not only help her, but also experience a revealing, real life, one-on-one, authentic “Consumer Insight” in action. As a confidante, I had a window into a shopper’s psyche that is usually carefully concealed in the presence of a designer/salesperson.
Katharine is redoing the 1970s kitchen in the weekend condo she inherited a few years ago from her mother. She is a savvy, capable journalist and businesswoman and, while she has done some redecorating projects, this is her first kitchen remodel.
Fear and Worry
Katharine and I had chatted about her budget (modest but doable). She’d visited a few places, made some preliminary decisions and obtained one estimate.
It appeared she was off to a good start. So imagine my surprise when we met at a showroom and the first words out of her mouth were, “This is scary. I’m not good at spending a lot of money.”
Now, having seen her jewelry collection, I happen to know she’s not exactly unfamiliar with big, luxury purchases. But her comments were a good reminder of what Selling the Invisible author Harry Beckwith observed, “…as a service marketer…you face prospects almost shaking with worry. That is where your marketing must start: with a clear understanding of that worried soul.”
Prospects probably don’t know the cost of the service and fear what it might be. They’re not sure they will be able or willing to pay the amount someone quotes, which makes them even more uncertain and fearful.
Katharine queried me about her budget. Would it be enough? Was it reasonable? Were the products she’d seen so far any good?
What she was really wondering about was something called “opportunity costs.” What else could she, or should she, do with her money?
Why do the kitchen? “I might as well spend money on something that will increase my home value and that I’ll enjoy, rather than losing it in the stock market, which I’m sick of doing,” she reasoned. But still, she dithered. Nevertheless, she started shopping. How did she decide where? No surprise…recommendations. But the word-of-mouth was just so-so. No one got a rave review, and this reinforced her fears. A cousin’s kitchen still wasn’t done after a year. A friend was lukewarm about her dealer.
Another referral Katharine didn’t trust because she’d “never heard of them.”
This goes to show the unreliability of word-of-mouth. You can’t count on it to tell the real story of your business. And, without some outside corroboration, a referral doesn’t necessarily seal the deal. It may get someone to your door, but that person is still guarded and skeptical, especially if that person has never heard of you.
Back to our shopping trip. After determining that her key objectives were cosmetic, we began looking at cabinets. Katharine and her husband both like maple (wood, but not a lot of grain). With aesthetics top of mind, we debated finishes. Natural? Too light. Cinnamon, taupe and nutmeg are neck and neck. Too gray? Too red? Too yellow? She struggles to ‘visualize’ her kitchen from one door sample. Thankfully, the catalog has a picture of a full kitchen in one of the finishes. It’s a godsend.
This drives home the point that you can’t have too many pictures in a selling situation. Anything that helps visualize the room will speed the decision and the sale. That’s why I always wonder when dealers want to show something other than a kitchen in their ads. You may be tired of seeing them, but prospects aren’t.
The struggle continues. What countertop? What floor? She’s not as concerned about materials as looks. And, there’s nowhere to see everything all together. So, we head to a home center – not that she’d buy there (“I know better after they did my floors”). But, we can see lots of samples in one place. We take a teensy laminate chip similar to the cabinet color and lay it up against wall displays of solid surface, quartz and granite. There’s no way to put a cabinet door next to a countertop sample, much less a flooring sample.
We troop over to the flooring department with our teensy tiny laminate chip pretending it’s a cabinet door (no, we can’t take a solid surface sample to the flooring department) and wonder if the laminate flooring is too light, too dark? We consider going to the lighting department, but Katharine is overwhelmed.
The lesson here: If we are in the age of aesthetics, why aren’t we doing a better job helping the customer visualize the whole room?
Finally she proclaims, “This is worse than the wedding.” Now some of you guys may not appreciate the gravity of her remark, but let me tell you, this is big! A wedding is off the charts when it comes to stress. The myriad decisions! The money! The angst of doing it right! The inability to visualize the outcome! Once-in-a-lifetime decisions! Pressure!
“Freedom of choice has expressive value,” Barry Schwartz observes in The Paradox of Choice. “Choice is what enables us to tell the world who we are and what we care about. Decisions…become important if we believe that these decisions are revealing something significant about ourselves,” the professor adds.
But there’s a safety valve. Katharine says, “There’s no rush. Maybe next summer I’ll do something.”
Here is a good reminder that often your biggest competition for a kitchen is inertia. According to Harry Beckwith, “The prospect is so fearful she does not buy, even though she needs and could benefit from the service. It is less risky to do nothing. You are a promise, nothing more.” That’s why he counsels, “Don’t put more sale in, take the fear out.”
As we head out of the home center, she perks up. “Of course, if I see something I love, I wouldn’t mind if I had to spend more.”
And that’s the heart of the new luxury. It’s all about the feelings that are delivered, not about the products per se. “You make yourself over by buying and displaying branded stuff,” James B. Twitchell explains in Living It Up: America’s Love Affair with Luxury. “The house is a husk, a second skin, something to surround and extend the self. Houses are brands, before all else, they are an advertisement for/of you.”