eMany experienced landlords can predict how quickly a newly stocked beer will sell from its pump clip design. Intuitively they understand something about “visual marketing”. PubLAB™, based at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, specialises in researching visual marketing which is best defined as the strategic configuration of visual assets to deliver effective point of purchase messages and experiences. The basis of visual marketing is an understanding of visual attention and its role in consumer buying behaviour. We use eye-tracking technology to unobtrusively measure visual attention by recording and analysing eye movements of consumers typically during purchase situations.
Predominantly we work with drinks brand owners to understand how drinkers make choices at the bar. This is the first in a series of features which will explore the practical implications of our work for brand owners, pub operators and anyone involved in beer marketing.
Whether the eyes are windows to the soul or not they are certainly windows to purchase intention and purchase behaviour because visual attention precedes all other antecedents of choice. All our purchase decisions are made on the basis of memory and attention based influences. Memory influences are all the things about the brand that we have learned, remembered and can recall at point of purchase e.g. Oakham beer is really hoppy, Adnams beer comes from the coast. Attention influences are all those factors designed to influence our decision making directly at point of purchase e.g. the pump clip is bigger, the beer name is funny or ridiculous. Visual attention is the first thing to be activated at point of purchase most likely by the “stand out” (known as visually salient) characteristics of pictorial, textual, colour, shape, size, position and luminance cues. Indeed there is some evidence to suggest that the most salient objects in the scene are pre-attentively determined based on basic perceptual features.
The Pump Clip
Now let’s have a look at a typical pump clip or a bottle label design. If you are an established and well-known brewer these are just two of your brand assets; if you are a new or micro-brewer the chances are they are the only brand assets visible to the consumer prior to decision making. The better known you are, the more important are memory based factors in decision making; the less known you are, the more important are attention based factors.
The Anatomy of a Pump Clip
For owners of leading brands, the brand equity lives here as does the shortcut to decision making in which brand owners invest so heavily. For drinkers who are new to the category however (and all brands need to remember that the most important customer is not the one who is most loyal but the next brand recruit) the brand name conveys no relevant information. Even where brands are well-known, the brand name itself has only limited value in a crowded “brandscape” unless it is visually salient. One aspect of visual salience is the ease with which consumers can process the information, known as “ease of processing”. It means exactly that and is closely linked to brand liking. Ease of processing makes a brand easy to find under time pressure and when the imagery is visually degraded such as when the drinker does not see it full on. Our example above uses typefaces which are not easy to process, especially when visually degraded.
For drinkers new to the category, the informativeness of the pump clip is much more important than the brand or product name. In our pump clip example above, the level of informativeness is low. This is a typical pump clip design and its visual saliency could easily be improved through the addition of task relevant information. For example, “a light citrusy ale” works much better for new category drinkers than “pale ale” because salience is greatest when objects are informative.
This forms part of the visual salience of the object. Some brewers achieve consistency between imagery and product name, which is important because in terms of processing fluency or ease of processing words and pictures which are congruent are liked more.
The situation is not the same however for new category drinkers where the congruent name and imagery tell them nothing about the product and its consumption characteristics. In the absence of the memory based influences referred to earlier, new category drinkers may make inferences about consumption characteristics based on pump clip imagery. From these pump clips a drinker could easily infer that the products are “old fashioned and traditional and not for me at all”.
The key question here then is does the imagery reflect the characteristics of the product that the brewer wishes to convey? Even inexperienced drinkers can make flavour inferences from pump clip imagery.
Based on simple principles of visual marketing the pump clip design can easily be improved.
The new pump clip is more visually salient including as it does text which is easier to process, an image which is relevant and congruent and a product descriptor which is especially helpful for new category recruits.
Future articles will present further evidence from pubLAB’s research and discuss practical implications for beer marketing.