Capitalizing on the 'Magnetic Middle' To Find Where Clients Will Spend Money


By Dave Chace January 13,2014


Dave Chace (dave@trainingallies.com) is president of Training Allies, a CE-focused training firm in Philadelphia.
“When I grow up, I want to be incredibly average!”

Was this your aspiration as a kid? To be just like everyone else when you grew up? Not likely. However, while we often aspire to be exceptional–at least in some worthwhile way–the sociological reality is that most of us don’t really want to be better (or significantly different) than everyone else; we want to fit in. We don’t want to stay ahead of the Joneses; we want to hang out with them.

This may or may not come as a surprise, but what may be genuinely surprising is the enormous opportunity that this knowledge can present. If you understand why people do what they do, and why they buy what they buy, you can significantly influence what they choose to buy from you.

The middle of the road tends to be the comfort zone for consumers. They like to feel that they are in the norm, and if they learn they are outside it, will often take strides to adjust. Research proves this. An interesting example is a study that involved monitoring homeowners’ power consumption. Homeowners volunteered to have their power usage monitored, and they were then given the results. Those who learned they were consuming more energy than their neighbors responded by reducing their consumption by an average of 5.7 percent–not a big surprise. However, those who learned they were consuming less than their neighbors actually increased their usage by over 8 percent.

This demonstrates the power of the “magnetic middle,” the inclination to gravitate to the middle ground. To be like others–average–as opposed to being significantly different.

Keep this in mind if your selling style tends to target your customer’s sense of pride and ego, and the strategy entails convincing them how much more impressive their new system will be than anyone else’s in the neighborhood, on the presumption that this will elevate the customer’s desire. Understand that this is an uphill battle, and in fact, may elicit the opposite of the desired result: they may be turned off to the idea, instead of being fired up about it.

Studies show consumers exhibit the power of the “magnetic middle,” the inclination to gravitate to the middle ground. To be like others–average–as opposed to being significantly different.
This inclination extends beyond the big picture and right down to the specific models people tend to select. Consumers gravitate to the middle here as well; and this can actually benefit you enormously, if you have a proper strategy.

Williams Sonoma, a $3.5 billion retail corporation, discovered this when they introduced an improved, more expensive bread-maker. The result? Sales of the inferior model nearly doubled. Why? Because the comfort zone for most consumers lies between the bare minimum they need in a product and the most expensive option they can reasonably afford. Therefore when the new, more expensive bread-maker was introduced, the older model now became the middle ground, and people suddenly found this model more appealing than before.

So how do you capitalize on this “middle of the road” mindset? The secret lies in carefully considering what choices you present to your customers. For instance, if you know that consumers are most comfortable with mid-level products, does this mean you should avoid offering the fancier, more expensive models? Absolutely not. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

First, understand that there will always be an audience for the more expensive high-end gear, and not offering these items means you’re forfeiting the increased revenues and profits that these products generate.

Secondly, realize that while most customers gravitate toward the middle, you can define where the middle is. For instance, if you typically present a pair of $2,000 speakers as your high-end option and the lower end falls around $500, then customers will likely gravitate toward the $1,000 models. However if you routinely present a higher-end pair of $5,000 (or more) speakers as your starting point, you’ll find that customers will consequently find the “middle ground” $2,000 models much more appealing, and your sales of these models will increase significantly.

As an aside, be wary when deciding how many options you offer throughout the process of a system presentation. It’s true that when three options are presented, the middle option tends to be the most popular choice. However it’s also true that when faced with an overwhelming number of choices, people tend to shut down and make no decision at all. Therefore, carefully plan which system elements warrant offering multiple options, and keep the other choices as simple as possible.

Building a successful book of business entails understanding and mastering a vast array of skills and knowledge. It’s a science, just like psychology or sociology. Taking some time to learn more about the science that lies behind people’s behaviors–like the gravitational pull of the magnetic middle–will better arm you to capitalize on these behaviors and build a more successful business.

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