How Can We Leverage On The Placebo Effect?
The relevant metric to whether a certain medication works is mostly based on one question and one question only — “Do you feel better?” As consumers, we are less interested in the specific effects of drugs. We’re more concerned with whether the drug is safe for consumption aimed at our illness and if we actually feel better after consuming it. As counter intuitive as this may sound, statistics and objective facts do not necessarily improve our quality of life. There may be an objective way to measure the data from our body, but do we really need to go through the burdensome procedure to know whether we feel better? What improves our quality of life can be entirely subjective. If we experience a headache and after consuming a tablet or two of paracetamol, we feel better.
Isn’t that good enough?
Just by having faith in a pill, even if the pills have no pharmacological properties, we could often get relief from our suffering. This phenomenon is known as the placebo effect. The placebo effect refers to the improvement in our symptoms not being attributable to a specific drug or therapy. Scientists have provided many standard practice to use double-blind randomised trials in research for the placebo effect. The procedure is as such: one group would actually receive the treatment and the other group, typically labelled as the control group, would receive inert substances. Results in medical trials (and we have all probably experienced it in one way or another) has shown that, for some unknown reason, the control groups would report that their symptoms had alleviated or that their pain had gradually fade away even though they had no real treatment. This phenomenon occurs across a variety of pain events spanning from ulcers, erectile dysfunction to multiple sclerosis. Soon, scientists discovered that there were tangible measurable physiological changes happening despite the fact that patients were consuming inert substances.
Could it be possible that the human mind has the capability to powerfully influence many aspects of our physiology, which includes our experience of pain, the alleviation of symptoms and the actual healing of our conditions?
The answer is.. -cues imaginary drum roll-.. YES! If you’ve yet to read what I’ve previously written about neuroplasticity, you can do so here. In effect, placebo can be a psychological remedy for a physical ailment. However, it is important to note that the placebo effect is not just for sick people. It is what marketers do at the core of their profession. No marketer would go up to their customers and say, “This new model is exactly the same as the last model, except the phone come in three different colours. Be it green, purple or yellow, it is much cooler now when you whip it out of your pocket.” No vodka marketers would go up to their distributors and say, “This new vodka comes from the same distillery, except it has a new black and gold label with a hint of truffle scent if you go close enough to sniff it.” Instead, marketers talk about the cold hard specifications of their product, from lightning speed transaction rate to warranty failure analysis. Most of the time, they will fail.
They will fail, because being cheaper or slightly better will almost always be taken over.
Rather than touching on the quantifiable, some marketers bite the bullet and strive to tell stories. We’re in the placebo business. The reason why such a strategy is dangerous is due to the nature of the placebo effect. It cannot be measured, and stories can go either ways. If our target audience isn’t listening, it is not their fault. It is ours. If one story isn’t working, we have to change what we do, not how loudly we yell (or whine). If we’re singing a lullaby to our beloved baby, we don’t continue to sing the same lullaby when they burst out in tears.
The difference in scenario is that customers don’t often burst out in tears, rather, they burst out in anger and frustration.
A story of a brand do not simply rely on the design of the website, or the packaging of the product or the delivery duration it takes to land in the hands of the customer. It involves every nitty-gritty detail, both internal and external, to be designed and function in a way that creates the placebo effect. Employees and customers must speak the same language of the brand. It does not matter who opens the can of coke, because the sound of happiness is universal. It does not matter the specification (and often price) of a product, if what it does is makes you feel like you’re on cloud nine.