Michelle Guiles looks at the affect of persuasive imagery on perceived value.
Last issue, the article, “Profit + the Psychology of Choice: The Influence of A Customer's Perceived Value,” explored how customers look for the “best value” of a product or service, where the value of a purchase is more or less the sum of the product’s perceived value and the perceived value of the retailer. Of the many steps a dessert-based business can take to positively influence perceived value, effective visual merchandising sits atop that list. Focusing on business-to-consumer businesses with brick-and-mortar locations and putting aside factors such as product quality, I’d like to explore how visual cues and, more specifically, visual persuasion affects perceived value from the point of view of your customers and how you can increase not only a product’s perceived value but also your business’s perceived value by using them correctly.
Visual Persuasion in Visual Merchandising
In a store setting, the affect of visual merchandising begins as soon as your customer walks through the door of your establishment. Visual merchandising is the concept of using floor plans, visual cues, and displays to engage with or motivate a customer towards a purchase. Everything in-store from layout to installations to signage, catalogs, brochures, uniforms, etc., that customers interact with visually all fall under the heading visual merchandising. In a previous article, we explored the importance of keeping interior design and layout simple and straightforward, as the setup of your store instructs your customer on what your business is, on what to buy, and on how to complete a purchase. Visual persuasion, an element of visual merchandising, refers specifically to the science of using images with the intent of influencing a buyer's decision, or the use of persuasive imagery.
In advertising, persuasion refers to a concept that involves the intentional execution of verbal and nonverbal cues to affect choice. Unfortunately, the term bears a negative connotation for most, implying some sort of trickery. The purpose of persuasion isn’t to trick customers; rather, in a retail setting, it can be implemented to guide consumers through the purchasing process to ensure that customers get what they want and what they expect, and that they are ultimately happy with their final purchase.
A Reflection of a Business's Ability and Expertise
A business's use of persuasive imagery, and imagery in general, can positively or negatively affect the perceived value of that business's products and the business or brand as a whole. For dessert professionals, persuasive imagery can be likened to plating in that, like plating, persuasive imagery is an aesthetic presentation that offers more insight into the product quality, level of artistry, and overall value. It allows a business to highlight key features and to show what sets the product apart from those of competitors. For a pastry shop, the majority of customers will likely be less knowledgeable of culinary techniques, terms, and/or ingredients than a chef would be, so written descriptions about the intricacy or difficulty of the process that use words a consumer may not be familiar with may not work nearly as well as images that are designed to capture the chef's level of expertise along with the details of the product.
Visual Persuasion and Uncertainty
Several consumer psychology studies conducted over the years have shown that visual persuasion is incredibly influential in customers' purchase decisions, especially when compared to the influence of other factors such as descriptions, ratings and reviews, and product-specific information. Customers are largely visual creatures. While a customer’s visualization of a product based on a description is subjective, basic and even complex information about a product (for example, a product's shape, composition, and color), can be conveyed nearly instantly using an image. Visuals can present a more accurate representation of the final product, and this reduces the uncertainty that a customer feels when making a purchase decision. By reducing uncertainty at the store-level, you enable the customer to value a product more accurately and to purchase with confidence.
Visual Persuasion in Practice
To illustrate the role of persuasive imagery, let’s take an example from one of my clients. During the rebrand of a prominent French pâtisserie, we designed a catalog to replace an existing album of cakes. Employees used the album as a reference tool from which customers would select decorations and shapes that were available on request. It was filled with hastily taken Polaroids and printouts of only custom designed cakes. The images were of poor quality and suffered from any number of photography no-no’s—they were out of focus, overexposed, underexposed, etc., but the real issue was that they failed to show even basic information about the composition of the actual cakes, and they did nothing to persuade customers towards a particular, or any, selection. The images didn't answer customers’ immediate questions or concerns about what they were ordering. Worse still, the poor quality of the photography made it seem like the cakes did not warrant their above average price tag, despite their being made with premium ingredients.
Our solution was a fully-branded catalog, or "Book of Confections," with layouts that featured multiple images per cake, proper titles, and plenty of room for written descriptions and information about each type of cake offered. Directed photography was an essential piece of that solution. I have provided example before-and-after images to illustrate the concept of persuasive imagery.
In the before image, you see a heart-shaped cake, covered in chocolate with a message on top. Though it captures the entire cake, the picture is unappetizing, unclear, and does not provide any real detail about the cake’s composition. From this image, customers really only learn that they can order a chocolate cake in a heart shape with a custom message. In the after image, you see a slice that shows thin layers of chocolate cake, chocolate ganache top, chocolate sprinkles and fresh berries that hint to the filling used. Every element of this image—from the choice to photograph a cross section of the cake, to the angle, to the lighting, to the white plate, to the garnishes—intentionally illustrates key points in the description. The image highlights the texture; details the elements; and shows a moist chocolate cake, fresh fruit, a dense chocolate top, gooey filling between the layers, and tasteful plating. Even though the image doesn't show the customer a full cake, it conveys more information and, simultaneously, entices. With this image, the customer isn't left imagining the cake’s shape or composition, and that clarity enables them to value the item more accurately. To further clarify the product for customers, we paired the slice image with an image of the full cake in the final catalog.
Persuasive imagery is an undeniably effective element of visual merchandising that should not be overlooked or compromised when you are creating or planning your business. Assuming the quality of your end product or brand is not misrepresented, persuasive imagery that is properly executed will also improve your business's perceived value.