True or False: Do Consumers Really Know Quality When They See It?

It was many, many years ago that I read a survey about perceived quality. The results stuck in my mind even though the source hasn’t. It probably came from an advertising trade magazine like Ad News, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The study focused on random groups of consumers and involved random products from clothing, to bicycles, to cameras. Again, the exact categories now escape me, but these three will serve the purpose of illustrating the point. Of course, any brand identifications were removed to prevent skewing the results toward the better known names. The consumers were interviewed independently to remove any influence of another’s opinion.

12fe3605Imagine that you were one of those consumers and they gave you two pair of shoes to examine. All you had to do was judge the quality of one pair of shoes in comparison to the other. If you knew some of the technical names like eyelet, toe cap, or tongue you could use them, but wasn’t the primary purpose of the study. The survey was simple, “Which pair of shoes A or B, is of higher quality?” After the 1st set of items were decided, the next was presented, and the next. The researchers recorded the answers very carefully.

When the dust settled, and all the information analyzed, what did they discover about consumer knowledge?

Buzz words and industry jargon are pretty much meaningless to consumers

  • First, consumers were not usually aware of the technical terms and didn’t use them in selecting their choices. They may not know corduroy from velvet, but could determine that item A was softer than item B.

A feel for quality is innate

  • Second, even without a technical vocabulary to describe the differences, more often than not they got it right. It seems that we have an innate sense that guides us to the best quality. My wife always swears that she can go into a department store looking for a dress and pick out the most expensive one on the first try. I believe her, because I’ve seen her do it.

Cameras messed up the curve

  • Third, cameras seemed to be the biggest bugaboo. Consumers were confused about the value of cameras, because from their comments it was extrapolated that weight was a factor. The heaviest camera, they assumed, was better than the lighter one.

You can fool some of the consumers some of the time, but not all of the consumers all of the time

What does this study tell you about books? You can’t fool the readers, the booksellers, or libraries with an inferior self-published book. I’m telling you here and now, they will know it. If a self-publishing author wants to penetrate traditional distribution channels they will not accomplish it with an apparent self-published book. Why is this important? Self-publishers are often lured by promises of Quick publication at Cheap prices. Oh yes, you can write a book in 15 days. You can do your own editing and art. You can send it to an online service who will print and even pretend to distribute your book. Will your book sell? Probably not, because you’ve just stacked the deck against yourself.

Quick publishing at Cheap prices are mistakes you can’t afford to make

I’ve written about this before, and will probably harp on it again. There is a reason why traditional publishers put emphasis on every aspect of the book’s appearance from the dust jacket to the type. They know that the book buying consumers know the difference. Theoretically, if the customer is faced with deciding between two choices that are approximately the same cost, which will they choose?

To prepare yourself with the knowledge you will need as a self-publisher to keep from falling into the trap of second rate publishers be sure to keep up on the formation of The Red Hen Association of Self-Publishing Authors.

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