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It all starts with the eye - Aristotle

Each purchasing decision a buyer makes is a multi-sensory experience. Aristotle observed that, "It all starts with the eye." Meaning that before we process information about a product, consider the price, or determine the integrity of the salesman, we take in environmental sensory stimuli. The old saying "you only have one chance to make a first impression," just re-states Aristotle’s Maxim.

In a new book by Bernd Schmitt and Alex Simonson,Marketing Aesthetics, The Strategic Management of Brands, Identity, and Image, the authors raise the ante on corporate and product image. The notion that corporate image is important is not new to many. However, Schmitt and Simonson show how the aesthetics of product and company in fact are critical to the highest levels of success. If you as a business owner or executive have ever had doubts about your budget for corporate image, lobby design, product labeling or instruction booklet graphics, this book makes a case even your tight fisted controller will embrace.

The total aesthetics supporting product positioning are clearly the major differentiation between the competing products. Assuming the quality and service are appropriate for the market positioning, the aesthetics complete the sale. "Aesthetics offers multiple, powerful, specific, and tangible benefits to organizations," according to Schmitt and Simonson. These tangible assets include:

  • Loyalty, the experience is one of the major "satisfiers" to the buyer.
  • Premium Pricing- Due to aesthetics, the perceived value is increased by properly positioned products. Aesthetics cut through information clutter- with thousands of images daily bombarding our lives, only the best are remembered.
  • Aesthetics build bonds with customers that protect against competitive attack.
  • Increased employee satisfaction and longevity. Comprehensive aesthetic marketing includes buildings, work spaces, correspondence and transportation. Employees are more efficient, and can be tougher to lure away by competitors.

These are concrete and monetary benefits which cannot be explained on a financial statement. Yet hundreds of companies know that the aesthetic benefits are real and carefully craft entire companies around a careful conceived aesthetic concept.

Oakley Sun Glasses is such a company. Built around innovative design, and cutting edge manufacturing technique, they have carved a $230 million chunk out of the high end of the market. Their new $40 million facility looks like a robot factory out of Star Wars, illustrating their attention to detail and total devotion to aesthetics. The pay-off? Getting $60.00 for a few bucks worth of glass and plastic.

Who in their right mind would think that the slumping vodka market would support another brand in the late 70’s? The odds were against Absolut, a Swedish distiller in a country that thought all good vodka was Russian. A marketing study warned against attempting to import to the US: however 10 years later Absolute was clearly here to stay. How is this possible? Common explanations do not account for a 60% market share among imported vodka in the US. Product quality (who can really tell the difference between vodkas?), efficient distribution, or low price do not explain the success. Aesthetics do. A well integrated identity campaign termed "smart, showy, sassy, sophisticated, sometimes silly, but always stylish, " proved to be all of those things where margin was concerned.

Here’s an idea for your controller. Let’s start a café, that sells a few flavors of coffee, a few muffins, and open them on every corner! Sound nuts? Can a coffee really be blended that can attract that kind of market? Can we increase the service to create that kind of market? No. While coffee can be blended and flavored many ways, the market is full of very good choices. The answer is that Starbucks created an "experience" that attracted thousands of customers to its good coffee and adequate service "cafes." Starbucks has well over a thousand outlets now. What Starbucks created was a "place" to sit and retreat for a few moments a day, an environment where total sensory experience brings back customers daily. The excellent use of coordinated company wide aesthetics is the reason for their stellar performance. Sure, the coffee is distinctive and good. Is it the best? No, not without the cup and store anyway. Some might argue that together it is the best. But it’s the whole experience; not the coffees, biscotti or service and certainly not low price that makes it very good-it’s the total aesthetic quality.

But aesthetic marketing is not possessed just by the rich and famous companies. Thousands of very small businesses can and do very nice jobs of coordinating the aesthetic effect of their businesses. They don’t generally gain national recognition because they serve small local markets. One such example is Longmont Dairy Farm, in Longmont Colorado.

Milk is even more of a commodity than coffee. Yet by carefully examining their market, and designing a total product, they have been able to grow and prosper. By developing a market that wanted old fashioned home delivery in returnable glass bottles, and combining carefully crafted imagery, a new market was created. With an emphasis on quality, and the cows and plant to back it up, Longmont Dairy can assure their customers of the highest standards in taste. So high that the shelf life of their milk is much longer than "store bought" milk. But the taste due to the glass bottles is un-paralleled compared with plastic or paper containers, which flavors the milk.

Branding Longmont Dairy Farm milk is an important part of its strategy. Everything from the Logo to the bottles, trucks and invoices as been influenced by the aesthetics developed based on the market positioning. It’s aesthetics and hard work.

Marketing "all starts with the eye," but ends with the nose, the ear, touch, emotion, and finally the money. In a market place crowded with products, and customers that are sophisticated, the higher degree of image is the aesthetic one. It’s a vital strategic edge in creating perceived value.

Copyright-Ronald L. Burgess, Distribution in whole for non-commerical uses is allowed. Partial use require credit and links to website (for digital content) for quotation.


Ron Burgess