Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Introducting the 'wine bottle effect'

I'm a pretty basic bloke and like a drop of wine, sometimes two. In recent years, I have noticed an encroaching fungus on wine bottles that has nothing to do with the contents being corked. Rather, the fungus I refer to is a growth of gold, silver or even bronze splotches on and around the labels.

Careful inspection of these reveals they are 'medals' won at wine shows around the country. From a distance, they all look like each other. Closer inspection though, reveals small type disclosing the prestige or relative obscurity of the wine show at which the medal was won. But the average punter appears to care not whether the medal was won in outer Augathella or at the Sydney National Wine Show - a medal is a medal is a medal. More importantly, it is a third party endorsement of a product which most buyers, including me, only have a superficial knowledge. It is assurance that someone - perhaps only one other - actually thought the stuff tasted okay.

I have invented a term in my marketing chat. I call this the wine bottle effect. Marketing financial services (which I purport to do) is, perhaps surprisingly, very similar to marketing wine. Most consumers have little knowledge and thirst (excuse the pun!) for someone else to provide a reliable referral. So on our pension products, for example, I have bought a medal at an outrageous price from one of our best-known ratings agency to use on Product Disclosure Statements. My view is that, despite the reams of product description contained therein, most people who pick up the book will take a cursory glance at it, crease their brow, throw their hands in the air, look at the 'medal' and sign up.

I know this is an over-simplified view of the buying process, but there are two psychological drivers here: fear and pride. In the case of our pension product, there is: a) fear of the consequences of putting one's life savings into our hands and getting it wrong; and b) avoidance of looking dumb because you don't understand what is in the book.

We always recommend people see a professional financial planner before signing up, but this creates another psychological hurdle for many: c) trust, particularly in recent times when money has simply evaporated thanks to tainted advice from some 'professionals'.

So thank God for the wine bottle effect. Let's drink to the medals that'll overcome fear, pride and mistrust any day.

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