Being the 'Best' Isn't Best for Marketing to Consumers

If you want consumers to think your product is the best of its kind, don't tell them that. A new study finds that brands that position themselves as "the best" actually set themselves up for failure.

The study by researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management found that marketing managers who advertise their products as the best alternatives actually decrease the business' chances of success with consumers. Researchers call this problem the "maximizing mindset."

"If you're in this maximizing mindset, no matter how good the product is, [consumers are] going to be unsatisfied with it if it's anything less than the most amazing thing ever," said Neal J. Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and co-author of the study. "It's a hidden danger that marketers need to be aware of." [Thanks, But No Thanks: Avoiding Customers You Don't Want]

Roese and co-author Jingjing Ma use the example of a well-known brand to emphasize their point. Red Bull, the energy drink manufacturer famous for its larger-than-life advertising (one ad features a renowned skydiver jumping to Earth from outer space), avoids claims that its product is superior to other energy drinks on the market. By sidestepping such superlatives, the researchers found, Red Bull pushes consumers outside of the maximizing mindset and decreases dissatisfaction with the product.

Brands that don't follow Red Bull's example, and instead focus on why their products are better than others, can actually increase feelings of regret and dissatisfaction in consumers. The researchers found that people who think they've opted for the best are more likely to be disappointed after purchasing a product. And these customers, once dissatisfied, are more likely to switch brands. [See also: 3 Ways to Keep Customers Coming Back]

Roese and Ma based their research on seven experiments that studied how consumers shopped for products when primed to adopt a maximizing mindset (i.e., told to look for "the best" product) versus a "satisficing mindset" (i.e., told to look for a product that was "good enough"). The researchers also measured how satisfied these two groups of consumers were after they made a purchase.

Across all seven experiments, the researchers found that participants who adopted a maximizing mindset made purchasing decisions by working harder and searching more widely and thoroughly to find the best outcome. While such a result may not bode ill for marketers, the researchers subsequent discovery certainly does.

The study authors found that customers with a maximizing mindset were more likely to feel negatively about a product after they purchased it. Because they thought they were getting the best deal, customers who had adopted a maximizing mindset were more prone to feelings of regret or disappointment if the product failed to meet their expectations.

So if touting your brand's products as "the best" doesn't work with consumers, what does? Ma and Roese discovered that brands need to change the conversations they have with customers about products. Drawing on the example of Red Bull, Roese said that brands should focus less on superlatives and more on cultivating product experiences for their customers.

"The more experiential you can make the product, the happier people are," Roese said. "Experiential purchases push people out of a maximizing mindset."

Roese went on to say that taking materialistic items and putting them in the realm of experience will push buyers away from comparing similar models, and "give a brand a special glow."

This is where companies like Red Bull have succeeded. By focusing on the experience of using their product — guzzling an energy drink prior to jumping out of an airplane or hitting the basketball court — Red Bull encourages customers to buy an experience, not just a product.

Originally published on Business News Daily.