Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics

Michael Solomon is an expert on consumer psychology and why people buy. He joins us to discuss his new online course focused on consumer engagement. Called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics, the online course provides six hours of tuition. Michael gives us a taste of what to expect from the course and provides some examples drawn directly from the content. Listeners can save $100 with promo codes provided in the transcript accompanying this episode.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Michael Solomon: Today, we’re not just competing for revenue, We’re competing for attention. It’s great to have an engaging product, but if you don’t show people why they should be engaged with that product and you don’t present that message in an environment that’s conducive to their absorbing that , then that’s probably not enough.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. If you are a regular listener, you already know that understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors is a frequent topic of discussion on this podcast. Irrespective of the economy, marketers are always seeking new ways to engage with consumers, and our guest this week is an expert on the topic. Making a return visit to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Michael Solomon is a consumer behavior psychologist, marketing professor, and international keynote speaker. Currently, the Professor of Marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Michael also advises global clients on marketing strategy and consumer centricity, working with brands including Intel, BMW, eBay, McKinsey and Company, Ford, and Levi’s. And if you’ve taken a college marketing course anytime since the early 1990s, it’s quite likely that you are familiar with Michael’s work because he’s the author of Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being, the most widely used book on the subject in the world, and now in its 13th edition. To talk about how marketers can engage consumers, Michael is joining us from his home office in Philadelphia. Michael, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Michael Solomon: Well, thanks so much for having me back. I really appreciate it. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, back in March, 2021, we discussed your book, The New Chameleons: How To Connect With Consumers Who Defy Categorization, which back then had recently been published by Kogan Page. So Michael, can you explain why today’s consumers are like chameleons?

Michael Solomon: Yeah, sure. And it’s a little hard to believe that it’s been two years since we spoke, but it is, and yes, and we still have a lot of chameleons out there. So what do I mean by that? Well, I use that metaphor in my book because what I’m observing is that, in a sense, consumers are a lot like chameleons. As, as you know, a chameleon is a small reptile that changes its skin colors due to various changes in the environment, you know, camouflage, and so on. And, I’m not implying that we are changing our colors per se, but rather that we’re changing our identities, and we tend to do that pretty rapidly. We each play a lot of different identities. And by that I mean the roles that we play in society: parent, child, student, teacher, boss, employer, customer, athlete, on and on. Each of us is being asked to play a lot of different roles and far more varied lifestyles than we used to have back in the old days. What I found is that, a lot of the assumptions that we have made in traditional marketing thought and practice – and Maya Culpa I’ve been teaching marketing for 40 years, and I’ve been saying the same things – it’s no longer really possible to categorize people to put them into very traditional categories. And sometimes these are often dichotomies, like male versus female, rich versus poor, black versus white, et cetera. Those assumptions were very useful for a long period of time when we really relied on a broadcasting model rather than a narrowcasting model that we have today. And it made a lot of sense to just lump consumers into these big homogeneous groups and hope that we would say something to that group that would resonate with at least some of the people in that group. And so this idea is, that really because we are playing so many different roles, this kind of mass segmentation often doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes a lot more sense to talk, almost literally, about markets of one where each of us is our own, unique person. And we’re just like chameleons. We’re going through our day, trying on and discarding different identities. And of course, that’s very important to us in marketing because each of those identities is accompanied by a broad set of products and services that people believe they need or they want to really enact that identity properly. So understanding the identities that people play, acknowledging that there’s more than one, there’s no such thing as the consumer anymore, really forces us to rethink some of our very basic assumptions about marketing, and especially segmentation.

Adrian Tennant: The last time we spoke, you also explained that as consumers, we don’t buy things because of what they do; we buy them because of what they mean. Michael, can you unpack that for us? 

Michael Solomon: Yeah, sure. That’s my mantra. Because in so many cases, what we see is that people are not buying functionality. Now it’s a given that they’re going to get that functionality. I don’t mean to imply that it’s a trade-off, but you know, Adrian, the reality is that in today’s world – there are notable exceptions – but you know, pretty much the stuff that we buy is going to work. It’s going to work. It’s not going to explode or implode or anything like that. And so when you look at a lot of different categories, and of course, especially in the B2C space, but even B2B as well, I think, you’ll see that, in just about any category, there are one or two brands that are functionally, reasonably the same as the others, but their market share, their popularity is way, way above. And almost always the reason is not that they’re selling better functionality, but rather that it’s a brand that is telling a superior story. It’s giving us the background, it’s giving us a sense of who we might be, the possibilities of who we might be if we use this product or service, and so it’s really the story that we’re buying. So anybody who thinks that they’re competing strictly on the basis, whether my widget performs 3% better than yours, that is probably not going to work, in this age. Whereas we’ve already seen, each of us is so busy trying to acquire these different social identities, experiment with different lifestyles, express ourselves, and of course, that expression is a work in progress. So the brands that have figured this out, the Nikes and Apples and Lululemons of the world, they’ve done a wonderful job of building a really complex and desirable story. Even those brands, however, can’t rest on their laurels because we can also look at brands that used to do that then decided that they could check that box and move on, and they failed to keep their story developing, to be in line with what people are looking for. So it’s always a work in progress, and you know, the worst kind of marketer is the formerly successful one who thinks they can just rest on their laurels now and not keep innovating and changing. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, you are an expert on consumer psychology, including decision-making, that is, why people buy, and the importance of engagement. Now, since we last spoke, you’ve created an online course focusing on this topic, called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. Michael, what is it about engagement that’s so important that you decided to offer six hours of tuition on this topic?

Michael Solomon: Yeah, it’s a very important question. I actually polled about a hundred marketing executives, not a scientific poll, but I polled them and I said, “What keeps you up at night?” And overwhelmingly, the answer that came back is, “How do I keep my customers engaged? They’re jaded, they’re bored. There are so many distractions.” The so-called eyeball economy that we like to talk about – the notion that today, we’re not just competing for revenue, for dollars, we’re competing for eyeballs. We’re competing for attention. And understanding how to break through that clutter and persuading people that they really need to pay more attention to what you have to say because it’s going to somehow impact them, hopefully in a positive way. I mean, after all, all of us are just human. We always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” And that’s why that engagement is so important. We can talk about different ways to create engagement, but the key is just to do it one way or the other because the worst thing we can face is a totally apathetic customer who really can’t be bothered to look into more of what you have to say because they just don’t believe that it’s something that it’s worth wasting their time on, frankly.

Adrian Tennant: Well, at the risk of this being a spoiler alert, the introduction to the Engage! course mentions the million-dollar question. Michael, what’s the question? And why is it important for us to understand?

Michael Solomon: I guess the million-dollar question is, “How do we do it? How do we get people to focus their attention on us when there are so many demands on their time?” There’s so many distractions as I’ve said, engagement is the holy grail. And there’s actually a lot of research, both academic and I think in the corporate sector, that shows that there’s really substantial ROI associated with this. This is not just a marketer’s dream. This is about enhancing ROI. And the way you do that is by creating an engaged customer. And ironically, I think one of the mistakes that a lot of marketers make is they are –  and understandably – they’re always looking for the next customer. They’re always looking to expand their market. But they’re not necessarily thinking about the depth of engagement of the people they have already managed to convince to come into their fold. And so we know that, even though that’s a goal for many marketers, it’s significantly more expensive, for example, to attract a new customer than to keep an old one. And yet our best asset usually is our existing, and especially our loyal customers. There’s so much more value that we could give to them and get from them that I think many companies, large and small, are leaving a huge amount of money on the table because they’re just ignoring those people, taking them for granted, assuming, “Well, they bought once, they’re just going to keep buying. So I’m going to think about this next person who hasn’t bought yet.” So our million-dollar question is really how do we show someone that a company or an organization is really relating to and understanding how can they solve at least one of the various life projects that the customer’s working on at any point in time.

Adrian Tennant: Your Engage! course structure reflects the classic AIDA model of persuasion. That’s A-I-D-A. Michael, can you explain to us what that is? 

Michael Solomon: Absolutely. And it’s not rocket science. It’s definitely not new. And I definitely didn’t invent it! But it’s a framework that’s very simple, and we know that it works. It just makes sense. It’s attention, interest, desire, and action. Those are the stages that we need to move people through. And one of the reasons I structured the course around this framework is really just to remind everyone that engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. We can’t reasonably expect a customer who has just become familiar with what we offer to become a zealous fan overnight. There’s a process just like in a dating relationship. Yeah, sure, there might be love at first sight, but we’re trying to look for that relationship, and we’re trying to understand how the feelings are going to grow over time. And so we need to understand that, we start with a customer who literally doesn’t know who we are, perhaps. A company like Coca-Cola, they solved that problem many years ago, but most of us don’t have that luxury. We have to first deal with basic name recognition and in that awareness stage before we can build on to the other stages. And so what I’ve done in the course is to show how at each of the four stages of the AIDA model, awareness, interest, desire, and action, we can take various steps to maximize the likelihood that people are going to successfully pass through that stage and move on to the next one.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s look at some illustrations. The first two stages of the AIDA model are awareness and interest. Michael, what are some of the ways a brand can create awareness and then interest? 

Michael Solomon: You know, creating awareness is so crucial, and yet, what’s amazing is that by far the large majority of information about products and services never gets absorbed by the customer. By some estimates, the average person today in the western world is exposed to somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 commercial messages every day. And your listeners might say, “Wait a second, there’s no way that I’m seeing 5,000 messages!” And my answer is, well, you probably are, but, you know, 4,950 of them never were interesting enough or impactful enough or novel enough to make it to the next level. And so, at this crucial stage, you’re basically throwing your money away. If you build it, but no one comes, it’s basically a waste. So at these early stages of awareness and interest, you’re not selling the ultimate benefits of the product. You’re not necessarily showing someone how this product is going to solve a problem in their life. You’re simply getting them to turn their attention to it, which means that, for example, it probably doesn’t make sense to overwhelm people with a lot of detailed information about what the product does so early on. You’ve got to create that interest first. Now, if you get to the interest stage, that’s where people are going to start to search for more information. But at the awareness stage, for example, one thing I talk about in the course is we want to fall back on some very basic principles of perception. That is what are the characteristics of messages that make it more or less likely that they’re going to get through all of these barriers? And some of them are so basic and so much common sense that people tend to forget about them. So, for example, novelty or contrast: is your message standing out from other things in the environment? And you might say, “Well I use color in my print ads in order to stand out.” And I say, “Well, that’s great, except if all the other ads around your ad also are in vivid color. In that case, you might want to use black and white as a way to stand apart.” So there’s not really any absolutes. It’s a question of what’s going on and what you have to say relative to what’s going on in the person’s environment. Another strong suggestion that I make is to rely on some principles of what’s being called sensory marketing. A lot of companies are understanding that most of the competition for attention is going through our eyes, our visual channel, but there are other ways. We have four other sensory receptors that allow us also to learn, to absorb information. All of these senses are actually quite powerful, and what’s great about it is there is so, relatively speaking, little competition on these other levels. So, for example, you find in the hospitality industry, a lot of big hotels are starting to develop signature scents for their lobbies or maybe their rooms. That becomes a part of the brand. Other companies like MasterCard, McDonald’s, and Intel are turning to sonic branding where they’re engineering different sounds that would become a part of that brand story. So they’re not giving up on their visual identity, but I think they’re recognizing that it can’t hurt to have that extra boost by appealing to the person through their other senses as well. So there are different ways to build awareness, but you know, sometimes it’s just a matter of repetition. I think politicians know this. You know, the ones that are first trying to sell themselves to the electorate, they probably shouldn’t give a detailed list of their positions, but rather just put their name out there over and over again until people feel familiar with it. And we have this interesting psychological quality, which is that we tend to think that things we’ve encountered more often are better, because they’re more familiar to us. And even when you do research by showing people nonsense names, when they see a nonsense name that has no meaning, if they’re exposed to it several times, they actually like that name better than another one. So again, think about at the very basic level, don’t overwhelm us with this amazing Super Bowl-type message, but rather, who are you, and how do you stand out from the crowd? 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for February is Lateral Thinking For Every Day, by Paul Sloane. IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with the exclusive promo code, BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of Lateral Thinking For Every Day, go to KoganPage.com. That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. 

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a hundred dollars discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage! to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics!

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Michael Solomon, a recognized authority on consumer psychology, a bestselling author, and the creator of an online course focused on consumer engagement called Engage! Staying with the AIDA model, let’s move down the funnel to the desire stage. What is it, and how can brands create consumer desire for the products or services they’re offering? 

Michael Solomon: Yes, desire. Here’s where it gets tricky. Anybody can become aware of a product. Maybe you can stimulate some interest, but if you don’t create that desire, then the race is over and you’re out of it. How do we create desire? Well, desire means that there’s an actual longing for that product or service because it’s something that we feel that we need or that we really want to have. Why do we want to have it? Well, obviously, there’s the functionality element, but there are so many other reasons why we want things, and after all, we all buy products that really don’t do very much, but we buy them because of their name value, or perhaps they’re linked to some important process or story in our personal lives. So, for example, one thing that you can do is to link your product to some kind of a ceremony or story that’s already going on in culture. Maybe it’s a holiday. So, when you link your product to a holiday, like Valentine’s Day for example, you’re basically taking a shortcut because you’re relying on the fact that your customers know what Valentine’s Day means. And so part of the story has already been told. In some cases, marketers invent a holiday or embellish one, to take a free ride on it. Like Cinco de Mayo, for example, the 5th of May, which really doesn’t mean anything, even to Mexicans, but in the US it means”Let’s sell a lot of alcohol and fast food.” So there’s an example where some companies, the beer companies, et cetera, have actually created a cultural event. And then they hitch their wagon to that. There are other kinds of rituals and ceremonies we can talk about. Many of your listeners may know the story of engagement rings and why it is we buy a diamond ring when we’re going to propose. Well, a lot of that had to do with the DeBeers Diamond Company and their ad agency back in the 1920s. That really gave us the idea that if you’re going to propose to her, you better put a ring on her finger. And by the way, here’s how much you should spend on it! So, there are a lot of great examples of cultural rituals that are either linked to products or where the products create a ritual in order to have another reason to sell their products. So basically, you want to tie your message to something that’s already going on in people’s lives, like a cultural observance or something that has some meaning to them. And that is how you can build desire.

Adrian Tennant: The final stage in the AIDA model is action. In your course, you talk about three distinct paths to engagement. Can you tell us more about these? 

Michael Solomon: Sure. And I do this actually in each of the four stages of the AIDA model. Most people think, “If I want to build engagement, I have to make a more engaging product,” and maybe that’s the case. However, we know that you can also build engagement, perhaps in addition to that or maybe sometimes instead of that, using at least two other channels. So we have the product, but we also have the messages about the product. And the third one is the environment in which the product or the message is being consumed. And that’s one that a lot of people frankly don’t think about very much. A lot of people aren’t aware, and psychologists and others are just starting to really, become aware of this, of the impact of very subtle cues in the environment that can profoundly affect our behavior, profoundly affect our preferences for different products, our shopping behaviors. And yet we tend to largely ignore that. And at a basic level, it can be something as simple as what is the temperature in a store when you walk into it. Is it freezing? Is it stifling? I mean, that’s just at the most basic level. You can, I’m sure, understand right there, that that’s going to have an impact regardless of what you’re selling in that store. So there are a lot of different ways to engineer the environment. Sometimes you can create what are called, nudges, or little hints in the environment, to get people to think a certain way or to notice something. But again, many of these things are quite subtle. And so it’s worth it for a lot of marketers, whether they are selling, in a bricks and mortar environment, or selling online, something as basic as the color of the font you use can make a difference. So we need to be sensitive to all of these things. It’s great to have an engaging product, but if you don’t show people why they should be engaged with that product and you don’t present that message in an environment that’s conducive to their absorbing that, then that’s probably not enough.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, as you mentioned, you’ve been a college professor for 40 years. You’re an experienced writer, speaker, and consultant. I’m curious, how did you approach the creation of your online course? Was it very different from, say, writing a manuscript for a book? 

Michael Solomon: Yes. That’s a great question. and I don’t think it’s one I’ve ever been asked before. In some ways it’s the same. I do, in addition to trade books, I write textbooks, and there I have the challenge of distilling maybe a complicated concept into a paragraph that will be understood by a 20-year-old who’s probably not that motivated to read it in the first place. So dealing with students for 40 years and trying to get them engaged is definitely a challenge. Trying to translate that material into a context that, say, executives or entrepreneurs would also appreciate is a challenge. But you know what, at some level, whether you’re a college student or an accomplished executive, we all want to be entertained to some degree while we’re learning. And so I actually adapted some of the techniques that I’ve used to write my textbooks over the years, by building in a lot of visuals, a lot of examples, now and then a little bit of humor, by the way – or at least I think it’s funny. But basically, not creating a course that’s just a “talking head” lecture, so you don’t see very much of me. I’m just up in the corner if you want to look at me. But, for the most part, what you’re going to see are pretty vivid, visual examples, and not just from the US either, but from around the world, of companies that have tried to engage their customers in different ways using different techniques. 

Adrian Tennant: And Michael, what do you hope the folks who enroll in your online course Engage! will take away from it?

Michael Solomon: Well, I hope that they’ll understand, first of all, that it is a process. You shouldn’t be discouraged if your initial efforts don’t result in wonderful engagement because it does take time. But it’s important to recognize that at every stage of that process, you do have tools available, but the things that you should be doing in that stage are not necessarily the ones you can use at another stage. So I would hope that people understand, number one, the importance of engagement and move away from the mindset of just counting the number of customers you have without really gauging how invested they are, and looking at especially their lifetime customer value. In other words, how much revenue they’re going to generate for you over their lifetimes and over your lifetime, rather than just a one-off kind of exchange. So, for the most part, we want to move away from a very transactional kind of perspective on buyers and sellers and think a lot more about a relationship and maybe use the metaphor of a dating relationship where that courtship process is going on. And then hopefully, eventually, there’s going to be a marriage of some kind. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and engagement doesn’t happen in a day either.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn about your online course, Engage! where can they find more details? 

Michael Solomon: I believe that you’re going to have a link to this. You’re welcome to go to my website, which is MichaelSolomon.com. And you’ll see a link there where you can sign up. Anyone’s also welcome to email me at michael@michaelsolomon.com, and I’ll be happy to supply the link to your show and to obtain the course that way.

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to enroll in Michael’s online course, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a discount of one hundred dollars, when you use one of the special promo codes we have available. We’ll be sure to include a link to the course details and those codes in the transcript for this episode. Michael, thank you very much for being our guest again on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Michael Solomon: Well, thank you very much again. I appreciate it.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Michael Solomon, marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, author, and the creator of the online course, Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com, just select ‘Podcast’ from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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