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A nod to Rory Sutherland: Acknowledging the value of intangible value

February 10, 2015 0 Comments

rory-sutherlandRory Sutherland is an executive at the advertising and marketing firm Ogilvy, where he has developed a practice around behavioral economics called OgilvyChange. He gave an influential TED Talk in 2009 in which he argued that advertisers (and by extension, marketers) should not apologize for what they do but should celebrate the fact that they provide a rather remarkable service to society — they increase the pleasure and enjoyment we get from consuming things by increasing the intangible value, rather than the tangible value, of the things around us.

You can join the 2,000,000+ viewers who have seen Rory’s talk by watching it here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man

The key point here, humorously made, is an important one. Neuroscience and behavioral economics have taught us that all value, as represented in the human brain, is relative. It isn’t inherent in any external “thing” but is perceived — subjective and constructed inside our minds — always in relation to some other subjective perception. Sutherland asks the heretical question: What’s so bad about improving our enjoyment by improving our perceptions, rather than spending money to improve material goods directly?

Some commentators have called intangible value the placebo effect of marketing. Like a placebo drug, it doesn’t really do anything, but it makes us feel better anyway. Sutherland cites a well-known definition of poetry:

“Poetry is when you make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

This can easily be a definition of marketing. Marketing is very much about helping people accept the value in new things and continue seeing the value in familiar things. Neuromarketing provides some unique new tools to help marketers address this challenge.

Brands are carriers of intangible value. They simplify choice and encapsulate the essence of a product’s promise to consumers. They can summarize a lifetime’s worth of experience with a variety of products under a single brand concept. Strong brands can add intangible value to a consumption experience by adding excitement, pleasure, a sense of well-being, security, or heightened self-worth, thereby delivering more value than an unbranded product can ever hope to achieve.

Is that such a bad thing?

For a more academic treatment of this important idea of intangible value, you should read a classic article written in 2009 by Dan Ariely and Michael Norton called “Conceptual Consumption.” A free online copy of this paper is available here.

N4D-cover -120pxThis post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 4, “Why Neuromarketing Matters.”

About the Author:

Steve is a pioneer in the field of neuromarketing. He founded one of the first neuromarketing research firms in 2006 and published the first comprehensive overview of the field, Neuromarketing for Dummies, in 2013. He established Intuitive Consumer Insights in 2012 to help clients, vendors, and industry associations navigate the opportunities and challenges neuromarketing presents to the marketing and market research communities.

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