Friday, June 10, 2011

Do You Know Why You Buy The Wines You Buy?

We like to think that we are rational beings, that our decisions are carefully made after a consideration of all of the relevant factors. Because of that, we rely on studies and focus groups to tell us the rationale for why people purchase certain products, including wine. Yet I think we are deluding ourselves, falling to grasp the reality of our purchasing decisions.

This post is a follow-up to Who Has The Most Influence On The Wines That We Buy?, written by Joe Roberts, 1 Wine Dude.  Joe addressed the questions: "Put another way, if critics say a wine really sucks, how relative of a measure is it? Do people act on that assessment when it comes to buying wine? And if they do, should they? Could a winery still manage to pawn off its crappy stuff to newbie consumers in the tasting room, even if critics pan the bejeezus out of it?"

To derive answers, Joe did an informal survey on Twitter and Facebook, receiving replies from 23 people. The consensus was that friends and wine store clerks had the most influence on their buying decisions. Joe then consulted two other studies, which came up with similar answers.  This would tend to show that wine media, including both print and bloggers, have a much lesser impact on buying decisions. Most of the replies to his post supported those answers as well. I though offered a contrarian position, which Joe thought would be appropriate for a follow-up post.

The problem with these surveys and studies is that they rely on the assumption that wine buying is completely a rational decision, and wine buyers fully understand their reasons for buying certain wines. That assumption is incorrect, thus invalidating the results, so much more research is needed to answer the original questions.

In Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, Martin Lindstrom discusses how neuromarketing is changing the way we think about purchasing decisions. Its main conclusion can be summed up as: “But now we know that roughly 90% of our consumer buying behavior is unconscious,…(p.195)  This might be disturbiung to some. But like it or not, all of us consistently engage in behavior for which we have no logical or clear-cut explanation.(p.19)  Our decisions are far from as rational as we believe them to be and “…our irrational minds, flooded with cultural biases rooted in our tradition, upbringing, and a whole lot of other subconscious factors, assert a powerful but hidden influence over the choices we make.(p.18)

Because of this, we cannot rely on the surveys and studies Joe cites as “…what people say on surveys and focus groups does not reliably affect how they behave—far from it.” (p.20-21)  If all these studies and surveys were accurate, then market research and marketing should also be very successful. Consider all the money spent in this area. “In 2005, corporations spent more than $7.3 billion on market research in the United States alone. In 2007, that figure rose to $12 billion.(p.20) But it appears much of that money is actually wasted because “….eight out of ten new product launches fail within the first three months. (p.20)  If the buying decisions of people are so easily understood through surveys and studies, then why is the failure rate so great? Maybe because those surveys and studies are plainly wrong.

A purchasing decision is not a carefully calculated pros vs cons choice.  “Because when we make decisions about what to buy, our brain summons and scans incredible amounts of memories, facts and emotions and squeezes them into a rapid response—a shortcut of sorts that allows you to travel from A to Z in a couple of seconds, and that dictates what you just put inside your shopping cart. A recent study conducted by German brand and retail experts, Gruppe Nymphenberg found that over 50% of all purchasing decisions by shoppers are made spontaneously—and therefore unconsciously-- at point of sale.(p.130) There are so many factors involved of which we are unaware, and which lead us to make our choices. For someone to claim they know why they bought a certain item ignores so much that likely went on in that person's subconscious.

One of those subconscious factors are our emotions.  “Because emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value, and a brand that engages us emotionally—think Apple, Harley-Davidson, and L’Oreal, just for starters—will win every single time.” (p.27) This gives us a better understanding of why a tourist visiting a winery may enjoy and buy a wine, then later find they are not so crazy about it when they get home. The emotional experience of being on vacation elevates the winery experience. There is little rationality involved.  Buyology discusses some of the ways that products can connect emotionally with consumers.

We can see emotions in action concerning wine consumers by looking at a study in the Journal of Consumer Research (April 2008) that dealt the use of animals on wine labels. Commonly, a logo should be relevant to the product it is intended to represent. So, adding animals to wine labels seems to run counter to this common methodology. But, research has show that consumers have an easier time with an image if they are already primed about that image. This means that the consumer already has some preconceptions about the image from prior familiarity with that image. For example, if a person already likes dogs, then a picture of a dog on a wine label may appeal to that consumer, even if the dog has nothing to do with wine. It is an appeal to emotions not logic.

So, what effect do wine critics and bloggers have on wine purchasing decisions?  It seems that those writers who emotionally engage their readers may have a greater impact than people realize, though on a more subconscious level.  Writers could take some clues from Buyology, learning better ways to emotionally connect with their readers, and thus have a more pronounced impact on their buying decisions. Just don't look to surveys and focus groups for easy answers.

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