Why You’ve got to Make the Consumer Feel Special

“Experiential marketing.” Sounds kind of exotic, doesn’t it?
According to a new survey from Unity Marketing, it is the way to go when reaching out to consumers.
 Stevens, Pa.,-based Unity Marketing typically focuses its research on purchasers of luxury goods—people whose means are above the mean.  The company recently conducted a survey for American Express Platinum Card on highly affluent consumers and found that the majority of those polled favored luxury experiences over luxury things.
Those findings got Unity Marketing founder and president, Pam Danziger, thinking. She wanted to see if consumers at other income levels favored the experience over the “stuff.” So she commissioned a nationwide sample of shoppers at all income levels who had purchased three types of luxury items—a personal luxury, a home luxury and an experiential luxury.
The survey results? The largest percentage (42 percent) of luxury buyers—at all income levels—reported the greatest luxury satisfaction from the experience.
Danziger puts it this way: “In research with consumers at all income levels, I have found that no matter who they are or where they live, no matter how much or how little money they make, no matter how much or how little money they spend buying something, they all want the same basic things. They want to feel special. They want to buy the very best quality thing—whatever that is—that they can afford.”  
There’s a message in there for retailers: Do whatever you can to make the shopper feel special—no matter what their economic level. There are plenty of prosperous consumers out there, of course, but as a late-August Census Bureau report showed, one in eight Americans live in poverty.
I was reminded of how differently consumers approach spending during a recent airport stopover—always a great opportunity for people watching. I’d just shelled out $3-plus for my preferred caffeine fix on that particular day—a nonfat latte—when I overheard an attractive, fashionably dressed woman I guessed to be in her early 70s questioning the coffee shop employee about the price of a cup of yogurt. When told that it was $1.50, she hesitated, and replied, “Well, I guess I’ll go for the donut. It’s just 79 cents.”
The exchange took me by surprise. It definitely left me feeling a bit rueful about my latte purchase, as well as grateful for the realization that I could make such a purchase decision without a second thought. (Of course, my credit card balance might look a bit better if I did re-think my coffee habit, but that’s another story.)
The real point is that with retail competition as furious as it is in this era of channel blurring and consumer anxiety, retailers would do well to differentiate themselves from the competition with unique and special features. This applies to channels ranging from dollar stores to specialty shops. (And by the way, for a comprehensive look at the former channel, please check out our special report “Candy by the Dollars,” which begins on page 30.) Clearly there’s room in the marketplace for products targeted to a broad cross-section of shoppers—all of whom would appreciate a bit of special consideration.