Be a smart consumer. Buy the product, not the sales pitch.

Be a smart consumer. Buy the product, not the sales pitch.

In light of a recent experience, I thought it’d be helpful to outline some psychological sales strategies that you’ll find everywhere. Be a smart consumer and know the mind games marketers are playing — and then look beyond that to the product itself and decide then whether or not it’s something you are interested in purchasing, and whether or not you approve what that company stands for and want your purchase to support them.

Remember, every purchase you make is a vote for a company to stay in business. Every Advokate customer is helping me pay my bills and do what I love!

Please keep in mind that companies who use sales techniques are not dishonest or out to get you. You should not avoid companies who use sales techniques. Many great companies do! Just be informed and think before you buy. On the flip side, perhaps this list of strategies will be useful to small businesses.

I’m no expert, and there are tons of these, but here’s a list of some strategies I like to notice when I’m shopping – brought to you by my cynical brain, 6th-grade DARE class, bargain-hunting upbringing and experience as a door-to-door vacuum salesperson.

1. Ooh, free stuff!

The line: Offering something for nothing.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That saying – “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!” Leads are very valuable to companies, and they’ll offer things up just to get your contact information – think giveaways, raffles or free memberships. Getting their foot in the door is valuable to companies as well – will you taking their free whatever let them deliver their sales pitch to you? Advertising is also valuable to companies, and they’ll offer freebies with their name or message on it so you’ll carry it around and advertise for them.

Of course, that free stuff may totally be worth it! For example, Advokate offers a free initial consultation in the hopes that when you meet me and see what I can offer you’ll be just SO blown away that you’ll want to do business together. And you get to have coffee with me and talk biz and I’ll throw some ideas out there for you. So it’s a win-win.

2. Time crunch

The line: You only get this great deal if you buy now!

This strategy makes you into an impulse buyer. You have to make a decision quickly and you don’t want to regret passing up a great deal. It happens with door-to-door salespeople, infomercials, sale items at the store and even the little items at the checkout counter. It’s meant to appeal to emotion over reason – to your self-gratification. Sometimes it’s actually a great value and something you need, and sometimes it’s not. When this happens, take a moment to think about whether you really want to purchase something or if you are just feeling pressured about making the wrong decision and missing out. Think about the next day and whether you think you’ll have buyer’s remorse or be glad you snagged that item.

3. Up-selling

The line: But wait, there’s more!

This is where you go into the cell phone store and they don’t just sell you a phone, they sell you a bucketload of accessories to go with it. Or when you’re asked if you’d like to SuperSize your order. Or when you can get 6 raffle tickets for $5 instead of paying $1 apiece. Maybe you need the extras and maybe you don’t – but the strategy is about getting into your head, where you’re thinking about your new life with this product and all the things you might need to go with it. Chances are that the add-ons are more profitable for the business than the original sale. Carefully consider whether you need the extras right then and there, or whether you can sleep on it and decide another day.

4. Bait-and-Switch

The line: We have the lowest prices around!

Of course you’ll click on something advertising the lowest rates. But once you get to their site you may realize there are add-ons or extra fees or something else and it’s actually a comparable rate to all the others. But you’re already here, so you may as well just go with them. Well, maybe so. Maybe not. Make sure you really want to go with that company.

5. Bandwagon

The line: All your friends are doing it. Or: “If you don’t have an ____, well – you don’t have an ____”

Maybe all your friends are actually doing it. Facebook is a good way to see this in action. Have you noticed the little “Posted via iPhone” or “Posted via HootSuite” things? The games? If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? You would? Well, then. I guess I don’t have a case! But really – that’s not to say going with the flow is necessarily always a bad thing. You don’t want to be the guy that hates his favorite indie band once they get signed and have a ton of fans. Or maybe you do?

6. Framing

The line: In 15 minutes or less, you can save hundreds on  ____.

It’s all about how it’s said. Would you be more likely to respond yes to it if I said Choice A meant you could save 70 percent of lives – or if I said Choice A meant 300 of every 1,000 people had to die? Maybe you are saving money on your insurance, but you have less coverage which could screw you up in case of an accident. Maybe this product is cheaper, but it has less value. But of course, the pitch is going to be all about how it saves you money. Which sounds great! And maybe saving money is your top priority. But look beyond the pitch to the value and make your decision based on that.

7. Demographics.

The line: You may also like _____.

No matter who you are, you are a targeted demographic. If you’re watching Saturday morning cartoons, the commercials are for toys and children’s cereal. If you’re watching Jeopardy, the commercials are for Hoverounds and LifeAlert. If you’re watching Family Guy, the commercials are for fast food. If you’re on there are suggestions based on what you’ve viewed. If you’re on Facebook, the ads on the side have been targeted to your age range, gender, marital status, location and interests. Your Price Chopper AdvantEdge card tracks what you’re buying so they can align their products with what you like. They all know who you are and they know what you’re into, whether it’s ecofriendly products, brightly-colored packaging, convenience or low prices. This is great and super helpful to the consumer in some ways – and a little scary in others. Just know that you’re being watched, your purchases logged – you, my friend, are being marketed to.

8. Get it in your hands.

The line: Just feel this/Just smell this/Just taste this

It’s way easier to say no to something before you try it – just ask Dr. Seuss’ Sam I Am. Once you try it, you might like it! And hey, great if you do like it – but if you’re determined beforehand to not purchase something, you’re better off not trying it. This is what’s going on when mall kiosks spritz you with something or offer lotion samples or grocery stores offer food samples or you get a free massage or a first lesson. A great way to try before you buy – but it definitely makes you more likely to buy.

9. Loss leaders & Coupons

The line: Best prices anywhere for ____.

The loss leader is one product or service priced below market value to draw customers into a store where they are likely to buy other products. Do you hit up a certain store because they have the best price/sale/coupon for one particular item? Do you walk out of the store with ten other items priced normally? There you have it! Try to be conscious about whether you would have shopped there anyway.

10. Testimonials

The line: I tried it and I liked it. You will too!

Try to determine whether testimonials are real or whether they were written by the company itself. Testimonials appeal to us as social animals – we are more likely to trust somebody talking as though they have used the product or service, even if they are acting! Does that celebrity really use that shampoo or were they paid to say they did? Look beyond this to the product itself. (By the way: Advokate’s testimonials are all copy-and-pasted from actual customer’s emails!)

In closing, I hope this is a small way to fight consumerism and boost small business. Here’s a clip of a staged reading of a great book by V. Campudoni called Wendal, His Cat, and the Progress of Man.

Kate Austin-Avon

Kate E. Austin is known for her creative advocacy. She is a regular speaker on branding and social media with educational institutions and Chambers of Commerce. She owns and operates Advokate, LLC. Currently she serves on the boards of the Glens Falls Business Improvement District, the Jackson Heights Elementary School PTA, Lower Adirondack Pride, and is on the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s Advisory Council. Originally from Killington, Vermont, she studied art at Hartwick College and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art from Empire State College. She is a mother of three.