I (Scott) just read an article in Saveur Magazine about a store on Manhattan’s lower East Side called Economy Candy, which specializes in selling vintage candy brands such as Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, and Sugar Daddy taffy pops. The author wrote about how eating an old-fashioned coffee-flavored candy flooded him with memories of his grandmother’s apartment and her ever-present candy dish. Just reading about that made me in turn remember my own grandmother, who always kept candy in a covered glass dish that resembled a chicken sitting on a nest. Reflecting on these intense memories made me realize that knowingly or not, Economy Candy is selling far more than sweet treats – it’s selling a high-pressure pipeline into strong emotional memories, and the pleasure they bring.
That article stuck with me, as Pam and I have seen how some of the companies who are most successful at reaching their consumers have developed a keen appreciation for the fact that while people may purchase a thing such as a car or a cell phone or a bottle of mouthwash, they are actually buying real or perceived benefits like excitement, freedom, or sex appeal.
For example, we recently met with a senior executive of a consumer products company who had successfully spearheaded a major effort to change the work models of his company, breaking down “Silos” and increasing communication and collaboration among functional areas which had been used to operating as independent entities. He freely admitted that his ideas for this radical change had initially met with considerable skepticism and resistance at all levels of the organization, but that as sales and profits grew, employees and managers alike became increasingly enthusiastic about the changes. So how did this leader generate enough support for his “crazy idea” to grow into “the way we get things done around here?” He engaged people up and down the line by getting them to confront their greatest areas of dissatisfaction, and imagine how they would feel if isolation, conflict, and confusion engendered by the silo mentality actually did give way to higher levels of interaction, cross-fertilization, and rapid, effective decision-making. In other words, he sold the feelings and imaginings of success even more than the process of getting there.
So there’s the lesson triggered by memories of old-time candies: although the “thing” is important, whether it is a product or a business plan, the more we can engage the people we’re trying to influence in positive emotions triggered by “the thing,” the more likely they will be to buy in. This can require a fair degree of empathy and imagination, particularly if “the thing” is an idea rather than a tangible product. However, just think about how satisfying it would be if using this approach actually gained hordes of new customers, or critical stakeholder buy-in that massively increased your level of success. That seems pretty sweet to us. How about you?