Trust in a name makes the difference

ThermacareWhat’s the deciding factor in choosing which branded product to buy (or whether to buy one at all) at the point of sale?

It’s a question I pondered in relation to an experience I had this weekend, and whether it’s a universal behaviour.

All this week, I’ve been suffering from acute lower back pain which I’ve attributed to some rather unwise physical jerks shuffling around and lifting heavy stuff in my garage last weekend (entirely ignoring other perhaps more obvious factors like bad posture sitting, sitting too long, not enough mobility, etc)

As I believe in self-help first with a doctor’s visit being the last resort, some consultations with pharmacists at a Boots chemist resulted in a week of using strong codeine-based pain killers, eschewing over-the-counter heat patches with which I have little confidence after a previous similar experience where they did nothing at all.

But the pain killers weren’t doing much other than camouflaging the pain: the underlying problem seemed to be still there.

So arriving at the conclusion that a doctor’s visit would indeed be my next step, I happened to walk past a shelf full of heat-patch products for back pain in my local Waitrose supermarket yesterday morning.

One caught my eye. Not because of the packaging or brand name, but because a big shelf talker proclaimed “1/3 Off!” – instead of £6, it was £3.99.

But it was a brand name I’d not heard of before: Thermacare. Why would I? Heat patches aren’t products I shop for frequently. Should I take a chance just because the price was good? What if it didn’t work? Should I choose one of the others brands, not on offer but maybe as good? Some names I’d heard of.

Fleeting questions in my mind over the course of a few seconds. I picked up a pack to find the name of the manufacturer. It’s Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical company. A name I’m familiar with as with some of its brands. Anadin, for instance: I’ve used that for years.

Decision – I bought the product. (And to my delight, it works, far better than others of its type I’ve used before.)

So, here’s my decision-process explanation:

  1. Initial attraction: special offer price promoted at display on store shelf for a product that, even if subconsciously,  would be of interest to me right now.
  2. Maintain attraction: attractive packaging that contained key visual elements to continue the attraction: illustration of figure showing product in use, words like “long lasting pain relief”, large number ‘2’ indicating how many products in the package.
  3. Reassurance: brand name itself might have done the job if I’d been familiar with it and had past experience of it. If not (as in my case) the name of the brand owner would work if that name had a good reputation. For me, it did.
  4. Confirmation of a good buy: the preceding factors 2 and 3 set the scene for a yes/no purchase decision: the promotional price in 1, the initial attraction, was good, so with all other factors satisfied, the ‘yes’ decision was easy to make.

I expect you might say that no one actually goes through a process like this when making a purchase decision. I think you’d be wrong – we all do this, at a subconscious level, every time we make a purchase.

It’s illustrative of the complexity of consumer behaviours where, for a brand owner, there are so many variables to influence a purchase decision. But if you get right those variables you control or can strongly influence – consumer trust in your brand and corporate names being the big ones – then the chances are good that you’ll make the sale.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Dan Thornton

    There are some studies quoted in Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science which apparently show the pain relief offered by a brand name painkiller is actually greater than the unbranded versions, purely down to the reassurance of paying more for a brand name – similar to the effect that you get from a placebo delivered earnestly as a treatment (I’d reference the study, but the Kindle is in another room!)

    It’s interesting how even those of us most conscious about our buying decisions still make subconscious choices so often.

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