With most research focusing on high-involvement product categories (such as cutting-edge products and ‘sexy’ brands), managers of low-involving products often struggle to get their brands noticed; the same rules just don’t apply. This article explores the factors that may influence consumers’ purchase decisions in what could be seen as emotionless product categories. How can marketers begin to re-engage their audiences?
What is a Low-Involvement Product Category?
Some products may not excite all consumers. For example, for me (and I believe a lot of others), insurance and antivirus software aren’t particularly inspiring. When selecting products in categories of little interest, consumers are unlikely to spend time assessing which brand to buy because to them, their final purchase decision is of comparatively little importance. Instead, they may act by habit or simply buy what is top of mind. Their lack of motivation to actively weigh up the pros and cons of the brands means that any actual feelings of like or dislike are often based on subconscious factors.
What Factors Influence Consumers’ Decisions in these Categories?
Attitude: When consumers are shopping, they appear uninfluenced by strongly polarized feelings towards their choice of brand at purchase point. Instead, consumers use choice heuristics or rules (such as price and product familiarity) to simplify their product decisions. Price is a common heuristic among consumers but it is only one of the many; others such as familiarity and perceived risk may also be used.
As such, marketers have little time to attract consumers at point of purchase. They must ensure that their product is superior to competitors by identifying the rules that consumers use to select that type of product. Noteworthy also is that previous brand and product experience may also affect the product decisions of consumers.
Influence of Others: In a low-involvement product decision, such as choosing antivirus software, consumers tend to use trusted recommendations (such as their friends’ opinions) for functional concerns (such a picking up viruses – a practical feature). In particular, it appears that in situations where a consumer believes the risks of their choice are higher (for example, in the context of antivirus software, they may have heard that others have had negative experiences, including PCs slowing) they will be more likely to turn to others for advice.
Product Category: Consumers shopping for low-involvement products do not generally consider a wide range of brands; they therefore use limited criteria to evaluate their choices and have less knowledge of the overall category. As a result, consumers often perceive there to be no differences among the category, and consequently see no point of paying more for more expensive brands. Additionally, it appears that consumers need to view a product category as one they can really experience or find pleasure with in order to consider it worthwhile.
Tips and Examples of How Technology Brands Can Escape the Low-Involvement Trap
1) Product Trials/Experiential Marketing: Marketers need to give consumers more time to experience the product so they can build up positive associations. In some categories, product samples are a good idea. Whilst this is often impractical with technology, free trials (as per antivirus software) or perhaps something more creative may be achievable:
Example: Bing and experiential – In one month, Bing increased its search queries by 11% by fashioning a treasure hunt in which consumers had to use the search engine to discover pages of Jay Z’s book in unusual destinations. A fully integrated campaign combined with consumer participation and a creative idea allowed consumers to build experience with the product, and hence gave them a chance to build a positive attitude towards it. Although the challenges for smaller brands are larger, there may be other innovative ways to spread experience.
2) Unique selling point (USP) and ‘Make it Known’: Marketers need to ensure that their products are positively discriminated from generic providers (e.g. supermarket-owned brands), and that the differences are well communicated. If consumers are aware of brand benefits, they will become more engaged and this will encourage them to make active choices when selecting their purchases.
Example: PLUSNET and brand of origin– the UK's PLUSNET (a connectivity provider) works on consumers’ choice heuristic of familiarity – Yorkshire-related images in their advertising such as Yorkshire puddings and ‘Heaven 17’ combined with the tagline ‘a centre down the road’ gives the brand a regional identity and creates an emotional connection with consumers. This encourages loyalty and drives a USP among its target audience.
Example: O2 and fishing for ducks - O2 (a mobile phone and broadband company) takes the boredom out of "topping up" by offering consumers the chance to win prizes. The feature helps consumers learn the unique benefits of their product (like unlimited Internet when they top up £10) with an interactive online game where they can hook yellow rubber ducks to win prizes.
3) Increasing the Hedonistic Value of Brands through Emotional Advertising: This could be difficult in categories that are more intrinsically functional; marketers in these categories must also demonstrate user benefits, so that consumers have these in mind at purchase point.
Example: BT and the family life cycle - BT (British Telecom) understands that when consumers go through life changes, such as weddings or accepting a new member into the family, they rely on possessions to help them move through the transition smoothly. The company has frequently used this idea in their wedding campaign over the last seven years by creating ads that connect perhaps otherwise low-involvement brands with consumers and allow them to become more engaged with their products. Taking this one step further, the recent interactive ‘family’ campaign (including YouTube and video voting) creates a different way entirely for consumers to engage with a low-involvement category.
As demonstrated, engaging consumers in low-involvement product categories is a difficult but not impossible task. Marketers should use research to understand their target audience’s lifestyles, creating advertising campaigns that demonstrate both the emotional and the functional benefits of their brands.
Of equal importance are opportunities for consumers to experience the products pre-purchase, not only reducing boredom with the category but also demonstrating the brand's worth. Of course, brands in high-involvement categories are not immune from these problems. After all, every consumer is unique. And while the likes of insurance and antivirus software may not light up my eyes, they undoubtedly do some.
Fawn Doherty is a Trainee Research Executive at GfK Business & Technology (UK), part of GfK NOP. She recently graduated from Lancaster University with a First Class Honours degree in Marketing Management; and she wotrked for a year as a Marketing Intern in the Consumer Healthcare department of GlaxoSmithKline.
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