Paint an abstract portrait for potential customers


When we’re buying something, we like to think that we’re logical creatures. Sorry, but most of our decisions are not based on a logical process at all.

That’s the finding of research projects into how we think, often dubbed “behavioral psychology.” Marketers pay big money these days to uncover how people make decisions and, even more important, what factors influence those decisions — particularly if there are influences that would be considered counterintuitive.

Let’s say you have a prospective buyer sitting across the desk. You would likely assume they would respond more positively when you offer logical, concrete information about the boat or product. Not necessarily. The Journal of Consumer Research has reported that studies, using traditional psychology lab tests, reveal people respond more positively to abstract, not concrete, language. More specifically, it concludes that people prefer using more abstract terms when they are describing a good or pleasurable experience. On the other hand, the studies also indicate that concrete language will take center stage if the person is describing a bad experience.

So can we conclude that in our selling presentations we should intentionally focus the prospect’s attention on the positive experience they’ll have by purposely using abstract terms instead of concrete facts? You decide, but words like: exhilaration, success, romance, delightful, freedom, elation, amazing, elegant — among many others — are abstract terms that convey positive experiences. There are literally dozens of abstract nouns from which to choose.

In a somewhat parallel study done at Tel Aviv University in Israel, researchers reportedly identified that a prospect’s behavior and purchasing decision can be influenced in an unexpected way. Specifically, it can depend on whether the person’s attention is focused on the present or the future. In studies, subjects were sent to a grocery store. But before sending them, half the participants were instructed to think about “who you are right now” while the other group was told to think about “who you will be in the future.”

Interestingly, the group that were told to focus on the present mostly bought pleasure-oriented items, like sweets or chocolate. The second group, asked to focus on their future, turned out to be buyers of healthful foods. Conclusion: people are receptive to messages that focus on the moment and imply pleasure right now as opposed to the future. They will respond accordingly in their buying decisions.

Whether you’re into behavioral psychology or not, it’s worth considering. Emphasize during the selling situation that a prospect can enjoy all the benefits of owning the boat or product right now (using well-chosen abstract terms to focus the prospect) and it could be a potent tool for all members of the sales team.


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