Pavlovian conditioning

Studies have observed that certain stimuli produce learned responses from us on the basis of our associations.

Eliciting favourable responses from consumers through associative learning has revolutionized marketing.

Classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning refers to the famous Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov’s idea that animals and humans can be conditioned to react to neutral stimulus. Pavlov discovered dogs’ ability to learn by virtue of association as he was studying their indigestion. He noticed that the dogs started drooling once they saw the white lab coats of the researchers who were feeding them. Pavlov started by ringing a bell every time the dogs would be fed. Eventually, the dogs made the connection between the bell ringing and being fed, and once they heard the sound of the bell, they would start drooling, even if there were no food in sight. In essence, through conditioning, he was able to condition dogs to react to the sound of a bell ringing in a way that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Applying this to people, studies have also observed that certain stimuli produce learned responses from us on the basis of our associations. That’s why you check your phone at the sound of someone else’s notification or why you can’t look at sushi after that time it made you throw up. Classical conditioning therefore focuses on using preceding conditions to alter behavioural reactions. Pavlovian conditioning therefore has also played a central role in the development of marketing strategies. Eliciting favourable responses from consumers through associative learning has revolutionized marketing.

Rather than focusing solely on getting the product itself to sell, conditioning involves getting people to associate it with a given stimulus. When the stimulus is present, so will be people’s desire for the product. This is achieved by appealing to the priorities of your target audience, in order to reinforce its connection with your product. Coca-Cola is a classic example of a brand that has used this technique successfully for years. Coca-Cola’s marketing campaigns associate various activities and environmental factors, like sports, dehydration and heat, with their product. These associations lead to conditioned responses among potential clients, where for example people become thirsty whenever they see a coke, thereby effectively increasing sales.

When it comes to luxury sales, it is important to remember that luxury marketing strategies shouldn’t ever follow the same rules as mass-market brands. Unlike companies producing soda, for example, you are not in the business of selling as many products as quickly as possible to as many people as possible. This makes the application of classical conditioning in terms of luxury sales infinitely more complex.

Luxury conveys a sense of excellence and exclusivity more than anything else, so central to your marketing strategy should be to get your very particular client base to associate that with your product. Being in touch with your clients is the key to effectively employing Pavlovian conditioning to achieve the desired results. Understand your audience. You want those experiences that characterise their lifestyle to be constantly reminding them of your brand. Incorporating certain colours in your advertisements, such as gold, which is associated with value, or purple, often associated with royalty, can in itself go a long way to achieving this.

Emphasising the authenticity and rarity of your product is another strategy, whereby clients can come to associate it with scarcity and by extension exclusivity. Producing and selling only a limited number of products (or services) can help prioritise this sense of exclusivity and authenticity. Another important stimulus for luxury consumers are the idols or influencers they look up to and associate with, so effectively associating your brand with those personalities your potential customers are keen on following is vitally important.

Ultimately, the purpose Pavlovian conditioning serves in marketing is to increase constant and perpetual brand awareness among your target audience. You want neutral stimuli, that otherwise would not have anything to do with your brand, to start reminding your potential customers of what you have to offer. Communicating your brand through associations that can become the right stimuli is a vital key to reaching the right clients and ultimately making those important luxury sales.

About the Author

Paul russell

Paul Russell is co-founder of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise exclusively in the luxury industry and deliver training in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across the globe.

Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles within luxury hospitality. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.