A curly-haired woman lies on her stomach on a faded yellow couch. She looks down at the open laptop in front of her on the couch with a smile. In one hand, she holds a credit card.
Although a mental simulation, like an image or video of a product, might get a customer to imagine using your product, it might take more than that to lead to a sale. — Getty Images/Westend61

In an effort to convince people to come out and make a purchase, a restaurant may post a picture of a mouthwatering burger on their Facebook page. This strategy is known as mental simulation and strives to help potential customers imagine they’re enjoying a specific product or service. The hope is that the people viewing the image will eventually buy the product.

A study by researchers from Yale University and University of Southern California aimed to understand whether or not mental simulation is effective. It found that, while mental simulation can increase the chances of a purchase, its effect is quite small. While an image of a juicy burger might make someone hungrier, it won’t necessarily lead to a sale.

The study also revealed that not all mental simulations are created equal. Those that include augmented reality (AR) or 360-degree videos with verbal descriptions are far more impactful than static images. It’s also important that marketers find a good balance in how often they use mental simulation, as repeated exposure can annoy potential customers and deter them from making a purchase.

Overdoing [mental simulation] can lead to more harm than good.

Additionally, the study uncovered that mental simulations are more likely to succeed in person than online via social media, email marketing, and other digital channels. This is important to understand, as today’s marketers often use online marketing instead of traditional marketing strategies like postcards and billboards.

If you’d like to succeed with mental simulation in your marketing, the researchers from this study offer these tips:

  • Use interactive tools: While interactive tools like AR and 360-degree videos can be pricey, they might be worth it if you’d like your customers to imagine using your products before they buy them.
  • Diversify: Implement mental simulation on more than one social media platform. Try a combination of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok if it makes sense for your unique target audience.
  • Balance is essential: Control how often your customers are exposed to mental simulations. Overdoing it can lead to more harm than good.
  • Consider offline channels: If most of your marketing is performed online, you may want to invest in offline marketing and position your brand in front of customers who are actively seeking out your products.

Mental simulation can help you attract and retain customers, but you must be strategic in how and when you use it. Best of luck!

Read more: [A Quick Guide to Social Media Branding]

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