Unintentional offers are more attractive
People are more attracted to offers that seem to be given to them by mistake. Business news fans were 149% more likely to take an offer for The Economist if it wasn’t meant for them.
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We’re bombarded by marketers or salespeople who tell us “this is a great offer for you”.
But in reality, we often like to decide for ourselves whether an offer is great for our needs or not.
And you know what makes an offer particularly appealing?
When we feel that we’re smarter than the marketer that’s pushing it to us…
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Unintentional offers are more attractive than tailored ones
Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition
Channels: Promotions | Product recommendations
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: December 2013
Telling people that an offer is tailored to them can help or backfire depending on your product.
If it’s hard for the customer to judge whether a product is a good fit for them (e.g. a fiction book, jeans) or they have strong trust in your brand, explicitly recommend it to them (e.g. “you would like this product”, “20% off for science-fiction readers like you”).
If it’s easy to judge whether a product is a fit (e.g. Spotify subscription, a car), don’t give people an explicitly tailored recommendation. Instead, frame it as an offer that’s unintentional or not meant for them (e.g. a coupon intended for business travelers, although I’m a tourist).
People perceive offers that were unintentional, or not meant for them, to be better value and more attractive - as long as the product is still obviously a good fit for them.
For example, one of six experiments asked participants (who previously declared they were very interested in business news) whether they would take a 70% off offer to subscribe to The Economist magazine:
12.9% took the offer when they were told the offer was “designed especially for the classic reader of The Economist” (i.e. tailored for people like them)
8.5% took the offer when it didn’t mention anything about being tailored
32.1% took the offer when they were told the offer was “designed especially to get the average person excited about The Economist” (i.e. tailored to others, not them)
Is stronger when people feel particularly competitive (because they’re more motivated to outsmart the marketer)
Disappears if the products are for non-profits or donations
🧠 Why it works
We are aware that companies, and marketers, want to earn as much as possible when selling to us. We don’t expect a “free lunch” - a truly great value offer - to be voluntarily offered.
So when we come across an offer that seems to be an unintentional bargain, we are more attracted to it and want to take advantage of it.
This is driven by a mindset of being in competition with the marketer, over who will ‘win’ the most value. In our minds, we exaggerate this point of view. There can be no ‘win-win’.
Note: tailored marketing offers are still positive for many products because they can make us feel that:
People may feel lucky when coming across an unintentional offer. Although this is not the main driver of this effect, it likely explains part of it in some situations. It’s unclear when exactly this is the case.
🏢 Companies using this
Companies don’t appear to be actively or intentionally using this technique.
⚡ Steps to implement
When developing an offer for a segment of customers that you know are clearly interested in your product, you can make the offer even more appealing if you frame it as not targeted directly at them.
This offer will seem even more valuable if it seems to be targeted to a different segment that would value the product less.
For example, an audiophile is more likely to take up an offer for a pair of speakers if the offer is framed as “a 30% off special offer to let amateur listeners experience the true power of a high-end Bose system”.
Be careful to not frame your offer in a way that changes perceptions of the product (e.g. “these Bose speakers are perfect for amateur listeners”).
Most importantly, always be ethical.
🔍 Study type
Online experiments. United States
Beating the market: The allure of unintended value (December 2013). Journal of Marketing Research.
Aner Sela. Warrington College of Business, University of Florida
Itamar Simonson. Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
Ran Kivetz. Columbia Business School, Columbia University
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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