Why analogies can do wonders for your marketing material

May 4, 2016

How often do you use analogies in your marketing material? Steve Jobs was a big fan of an analogy, using them time and time again at new product launches, to great effect. Now, a new study suggests Jobs was ahead of the game with his attempts to make the unfamiliar familiar.

University of Delaware marketing professor Michal Herzenstein teamed up with a colleague from Vanderbilt University to delve deep into customer psychology. They found that one of the strongest devices for marketing new and innovative products is an analogy.

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and entitled ‘Of Clouds and Zombies: How and When Analogical Learning Improves Evaluations of Really New Products’, leans heavily on analysis of a campaign run by the software company SunGard.

SunGard, which offers cloud computing services, found that its customers were not entirely au fait with the technology behind its products – so it compared its offerings with surviving a zombie apocalypse, to help encourage understanding.

While it might sound like a tenuous comparison, it worked.

Herzenstein, however, wanted to get to the root of why the analogy worked, and whether it’s more effective to come up with a ‘distant analogy’, like SunGard, or a ‘close analogy’.

To test, the researchers developed ads for really new items. Each item had two ads – one that described it using a close analogy and another using a distant analogy.

They found that it didn’t make too much difference which type of analogy they fed to the study participants, but the additional information included alongside the analogies took some of the fun out of the ads.

"When we give too much information, customers are like, 'We get it.  Stop bugging us!" Herzenstein said. "We rob them of the positive feeling they get from understanding it themselves."

So there you have it. Coming up with an analogy that helps your customers understand what it is you’re offering them can work wonders. Just don’t make the analogy too obvious, or too elaborate for that matter, as that will only serve to annoy and confuse customers. It’s a fine line to tread, then, but the risk could pay off big time.

Kevin Mason - Director