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Want to stop buying junk? Understand the psychology behind this marketing tactic

In the age of COVID, consumers are craving connections to people, places, and the past. Marketers know this.

Want to stop buying junk? Understand the psychology behind this marketing tactic
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Pandemic shopping much? You’d best avoid overspending by understanding the newest concept driving product marketing: groundedness. 

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In a new article published in the retail bible, Journal of Marketing, researchers at Cornell University and Vienna University of Economics and Business explain that in the age of Twitter, COVID-19, and global warming, consumers crave connections to places (locally made or from an identifiable place), people (made by artisans, individuals, or identifiable groups), and past (traditional roots or tangible history). Any of these that remind consumers of their childhoods do particularly well. “In times of digitization, urbanization, and global challenges, the need to feel grounded has become particularly acute,” write the researchers.

They point to dozens of examples, including the popularity of farmers’ markets, hand-cut soap, artisanal bread, local microbreweries, and the boom in old-school grocery brands during the pandemic, all of which are unexpected in a society that is predominantly globalizing, automating, and digitizing.

“We argue that the dual forces of digitization and globalization have made social and work lives increasingly virtual, fast-paced, and mobile, leaving many consumers feeling like trees with weak roots at risk of being torn from the earth,” says coauthor Isabel Eichinger, a PhD candidate in marketing at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. She suggests that marketers will find more success selling products that emphasize local origin or traditional designs, and target consumers with “higher need for groundedness.”

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Who, you ask, are these people with “higher need for groundedness”? The researchers created a survey with a representative panel of American consumers, and found that the consumers most easily swayed by groundedness are people who work a lot on computers, have higher-socioeconomic status, reside in big cities, or perceive COVID-19 to have put their life into flux.

“Groundedness” is not just a sales scheme, says Stijn M.J. van Osselaer, a professor of marketing at Cornell University’s Johnson College of Business, but a sense of anchoring and emotional rootedness that makes people feel “stronger, safer, more stable, and better able to withstand adversity.” Pro tip: You can probably foster it without spending a dime.