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Subliminal leasing.

Subliminal Leasing "Psychological studies have shown that people receive 87 percent of their information on the outside world through their eyes and only 13 percent through the other four senses," according to Charles Futrell in his university text Fundamentals of Selling.

Other research has shown that in our communication process, 70 percent to 90 percent is nonverbal (what is seen). Logically, this means that the verbal portion (what is said) comprises only 10 percent to 30 percent of our communication efforts.

In Subliminal Seduction, Wilson Bryan Key calls subliminal stimulation the "language within a language." He says, "The basis of modern media effectiveness is a language within a language--one that communicates to each of us at a level beneath our conscious awareness; one that reaches into the uncharted mechanism of the human unconscious. This is a language based upon the human ability to perceive information subliminally or unconsciously."

Since the late 1950s, advertisers have spent billions in research to find out why we do what we do, and millions more to use the research findings to influence our behavior. While no one property management company in the country has the financial ability to conduct research on such a scale, all of us can benefit from the research already done. We can and we should use their research. And, we can and we should use it ethically.

In seminars I often ask a group to match up a country with the following products: Haagen-Daas, Frusen Gladje, Barricini, Bridgestone, and Nestle. The first three are almost always said to be from Europe, and the last two American. In fact, the opposite is true. Haagen-Daas, Frusen Gladje, and Barricine are all American; Bridgestone is Japanese, and Nestle is Swiss. Our perception is greatly influenced, incorrectly, by the brand names.

This article will deal with subliminal stimulation and its potential use in leasing, by looking at ways to influence the customer's perception of the property. By consciously projecting positive images, we can subliminally influence perceptions, and, to some degree, customer behavior.

We must realize that a customer arriving at a property is influenced more by what is seen than by what is said. We might want to consider concentrating 80 percent to 90 percent of our selling efforts toward influencing the customer's perception, and then reinforcing this perception by what is said.

Much of this visual perception comes through subliminal stimulation and subliminal persuasion. If we can successfully influence the customer's perception of the advantages of a property, then we can begin to influence the customer's behavior.

To do this, we must first consider what is seen: color, shape, texture, form, pattern, dimension, and so forth. Second, we have to understand that people are subconsciously affected by what is seen. Third, we have to make sure that what is seen has a positive influence on the customer's perception.

The concept is the same whether leasing commercial or residential space. The following, however, is slanted more toward apartment leasing.

Subliminal leasing--the

first impressions

For years, we in the leasing business have devoted most of our efforts toward selling by telling, overcoming objections, initiating hard closes. Not that these things are unimportant. But our emphasis in this direction has often led us to overlook the fact that we can presell with subliminal visual stimulation. We can preempt some objections. We can cause the customer to relate to our property without a single word being spoken. Then, we can reinforce the influence of the subliminal stimulation with what is said by the leasing agent.

Remember that subliminal impressions are just as important as conscious observations. Advertisers, for example, have found that the success or failure of a product often depends on the packaging. They know that the consumer, subconsciously, will transfer positive feelings about a package to the product (a process psychologists call "sensation transference").

For example, in The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard tells of a test done by the Color Research Institute into the effects of colors in detergent packaging. In the test, women were given three different boxes filled with detergent. They were asked to try them for a few weeks and then report which detergent they found best. The women were made to believe that they had been given three different types of detergent. In fact, the detergents were exactly the same; only the boxes were different.

One box was yellow and was used because some merchandisers believed that yellow was the best color, and had a very strong visual impact. Another box was blue. The third was mainly blue, but had splashes of yellow.

In their reports the women stated that the detergent in the brilliant yellow box was too strong; it even allegedly ruined their clothes in some cases. As for the detergent in the predominantly blue box, the women complained in many cases that it left their clothes dirty looking. The third box, which contained what the institute felt was an ideal balance of colors in the package design, overwhelmingly received favorable responses. The women used such words as "fine" and "wonderful" in describing the effect the detergent in that box had on their clothes.

In real estate management, our "package" is the entrance and the exterior. No matter how good the property or people may be, the customer has already received a positive or negative impression from what he or she sees first.

The customer may not consciously see trash, or weeds, or a flag pole that is not straight. But those negative are imbedded in the customer's subconscious. On the other hand, if the entrance is perfectly manicured and extremely clean and neat, the subliminal message is simple: "This is well taken care of...this property will take good care of me." This is an example of what psychologists call "priming"--a way to pre-condition the customer.

Perhaps the care of the entrance should be a part of an advertising budget. Because we are generally unobservant creatures, when an entrance is average, we usually don't notice it, and we pay even less attention if we see it often. However, if an entrance is really well done, and well maintained, with flowers, and flags, and good signage, we not only notice it, we remember it.

Look at your entrance carefully. Resod bad lawn areas. Install flowers, and keep the weeds out. Paint the old sign. Put up flags, but not 20 feet apart. Cluster them in groups of at least four flags, and put the poles six feet apart. This gives greater visual impact.

By taking good care of your entrance, you can tell a prospect, subliminally, that you will take good care of him or her. You can influence perception from the instant of arrival, and you can prime the prospect to be receptive at his or her next stop, the office.

The walk to the office is the second critical area in influencing perception. The parking area and the walk to the office must be clean, neat, and wellmanicured. If the entrance is great, but the area around the office contains dead grass or trash, we have created mixed signals (what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance").

Mixed signals create confusion, which creates tension in the customer. The inability of the customer to relax is one of the main reasons a lease is lost. If a prospect cannot relax, he or she cannot feel at home. If he or she cannot feel at home, the prospect will not lease. The customer probably does not understand why he or she is uncomfortable, only that things do not feel right.

Following up on first impressions

When the customer enters the office, he or she has reached critical point number three. The office must look like a professional leasing office. If it does not, we have again confused our customer and created mixed feelings.

Here is another area where we can learn from other industries. For example, I can probably describe the interior of any established banking institution in the country (and so can you, with a little thought). Almost every bank has very high ceilings, with stone or hardwood floors and counters. Most or all of the bank officers sit out in the open, not in an office. If there are offices, they frequently have glass walls, and are placed where you can easily see inside. Every employee will be dressed somewhat conservatively, and there is little laughter.

All of this is planced and exerts a powerful subliminal projection. The high ceilings and desk without offices suggest an openness, with nothing to honesty. The floors and counters are stone, which suggest something solid. The style of dress too suggests something conservative.

Bankers know what they are doing. They are creating an intentional subliminal projection, which is meant to stimulate a predictable perception, and to make us think that our bank is open, honest, trustworthy, conservative, and solid. And it has always worked (at least until the last few years when we have learned the hard way that all banks are not so solid).

If you entered a new bank today which had low ceilings, linoleum floor coverings, and a president that approached you wearing a yellow plaid sports coat, would you feef comfortable? Of course not. A bank should look as we expect it to look. Otherwise, we are uncomfortable.

The same is true of the leasing office. The key words to describe the image we want to project are "professional," "efficient," and "businesslike." At the same time, we want to convey a felling that is warm, inviting, and friendly. We can help the customer to be more comfortable by giving him or her what is expected. However, we can increase the comfort level with certain conscious and subliminal stimuli:

* Clean, organized desks are perceived as efficient. Do not have papers all over the place. In/out boxes should not be loaded. Pencils should be sharp.

* To be perceived as professional, a leasing office should be free of dirty ash trays, soft drink cans, used coffee cups, full trash cans, dirty floors, cigarette smoke, half-eaten hamburgers, and the smell of onion rings.

* Furniture that is neatly arranged, and a staff that understands that the leasing office is a business office, will create a business-like perception.

* Turn off the cold fluorescent overhead lighting; instead, use lamps with incandescent bulbs. I have personally never been in a home where fluorescent lighting was used in the living room. We should try to load the office with the subliminal suggestion of home. Use as many live plants as is reasonable. Green is a color that suggests security and harmony, and plants are the best way to use it. The incandescent lighting and plants (real ones, not plastic) are two of many things that are perceived as warm and inviting.

* The staff should react instantly when the customer enters the door. this "recognition" of the customer with quick attention is extremely important. And, for a truly friendly atmosphere to be perceived, there should be a smile. The smile, according to psychologists, is the most powerful human bonding behavior. It is the most important tool that can be used by a leasing agent.

Subliminal leasing--the agent

The instant a prospect sees the leasing agent, impressions are formed. The first second of this encounter is critical. Scientists have determined that the human eye can receive up to 1 million simultaneous visual impressions. What a customer sees is generally what is perceived as truth, and perception is often more important than reality.

To understand, and therefore influence, the customer's perception, we must examine the visual presence of the leasing agent as seen by the customer. Obviously, the customer sees the consultant's face, hair, clothes, hands, legs, jewelry, and physical location

in the office. The customer may perceive shape, style, color, texture, and pattern. What we must also examine is what the customer can see perhaps with conscious awareness, but with subconscious reactions--facial expression, posture, grooming, confidence level, attitude, and initial reaction to the customer's presence.

Most salespeople have been told repeatedly to pay attention to their face, hair, and clothes, and may even have been taught to understand the influence of color, style, and pattern. However, any training for making the most of that important first impression must address all aspects of the visual image projected to the customer, including expression, posture, and attitude.

In the college textbook Social Psychology, authors Michener, DeLamater, and schwartz state that "Information that is presented early in sequence is weighted more heavily in impression formation than information presented later. This phenomenon, called the primacy effect, ...accounts for the power of first impressions.

"One explanation is that after forming an initial impression of a person, we interpret later information in a way that makes it consistent with our initial impression. ...A second explanation of the primacy effect is that we attend most carefully to the first bits of information we obtain about a person, but that our attention wanes once we feel we have enough information to make a judgement."

We all make assumptions about people based on what we judge to be their personality traits. Psychologists call these assumptions "implicit personality theories." We are not conscious of these theories, so "we can draw upon them without realizing it to flesh out impressions of a person based on just a few bits of information. Instead of withholding judgement until we know more about their relevant traits, we jump to conclusions about others' personalities using our implicit personality theories."

In leasing, our goal is to influence the customer to jump to predictable conclusions. To accomplish this goal, we must pay attention to every detail because every detail is observed and entered into memory. Psychologists tell us that the subconscious has something in common with a computer. The subconscious receives, stores, and retrieves information, but, like the computer, the subconscious does not have the ability to reason. The subconscious cannot think. However, it can and does associate--positive with positive, negative with negative.

In my seminars my goal is to teach that the real edge, the "real" winning edge, in leasing and sales comes from attention to every detail within the visual range of the customer. Everything that is seen communicates a negative, neutral, or positive impression.

There is subliminal power in the smile; in standing and moving toward the customer; in the way we shake hands; in the subtle control we exert; in sincerity; in the colors, textures, and patterns we wear; in moving very deliberately. All of these, and more, communicate to the customer. For example, research has shown that solid red, solid green, solid black, or bold patterns can be very distracting and perceived as negatives.

Psychologists have found that we communicate six different emotions by our expressions alone, and one study determined that the human face is capable of forming thousands of different expressions. Most of us are unaware of the incredible amount of non-verbal information we communicate, and how important this information is in forming opinions.

You cannot "tell" a customer you are friendly, you must show him or her with a smile. You cannot "tell" a customer you are sincere, he or she must see sincerity in your eyes. You do not have to "tell" a customer that he or she has your attention, he can see it when you stand up and approach. You cannot "tell" a customer that you have a good attitude, he or she can read it in your expression and posture. All of this... before a single word is spoken.

Subliminal leasing--showing

the model

We have stressed the subliminal importance of the appearance of the entrance, of the exterior and interior of the office, and of the leasing agent. In apartment leasing, the walk to the model must be consistent with everything previously seen. No trash, weeds, and so forth. Again, appearance discrepancies cause customer confusion.

Certain areas have always seemed to present problems during the model demonstration. Proper planning can not only prevent customer irritation, but convey a positive perception.

Before reaching the door, the leasing consultant should have the key ready. Not a key ring with 200 keys, one key on one key ring. In the past I have found it to be much easier for each leasing person to have a master key or a key to the model on one special key ring. This eliminates the frequent mistake of using the wrong key and creates an impression of competency.

I always prefer that the customer enter first, for several reasons. Traditional courtesy is one. Another is that by letting the customer enter first, the leasing consultant is out of the way and not in the customer's field of vision. Today's apartments are not that large, and the empty room appears larger. Third, it gives the consultant the option of leaving the door open or closed. I know there are times when the consultant is showing the model to certain customers that make them somewhat nervous. Safety is a factor, and I always like to leave that decision to the leasing consultant.

One of the most important first impressions is enhanced or diminished by lighting. All of the lights should be on. As in the office, use as many lamps with incandescent 100-watt bulbs as possible. The use of incandescent lighting creates a warmer, homier feeling. Even if the kitchen has an overhead fluorescent, turn on the light in the vent hood to create warmth. If the model is furnished, use as many plants as reasonable to provoke the same warm feeling.

When showing a small bedroom, the leasing consultant should immediately move to the farthest opposite corner from the door. This helps make the room appear larger. The use of mirrors also helps, as does painting one wall an accent door.

Certainly the leasing consultant should encourage the customer to touch everything. Opening drapes or appliance doors not only satisfies curiosity, it creates desirable involvement.

The customer's perception is more than walls, floors, appliances, and fixtures. With careful attention and planning, the demonstration can help give the customer positive perceptions. The model then becomes another "priming" spot to prepare the customer for the verbal sales pitch and close.

Subliminal leasing--the pitch

To this point, we have completely ignored verbal persuasion, what is said by the salesperson or leasing agent. However, there are powerful subliminal stimuli, both positive and negative, in certain words.

Considerable research supports the view that we perceive certain words in generally predictable ways. For example, in his 1980 update to The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard talks about a use of word testing to determine a precise "feeling-tone" of words:

Take the two words "good" and "nice." Most people tested couldn't explain any difference between them. But when they were tested on the potency scale it turned out that the word "good" is a masculine word and "nice" a feminine word. A "nice man" comes out softer and more "effeminate" than a "good man." And while a "nice girl" is appropriately feminine, "good girl" has a decidedly "moral overton."

We are conditioned every day to perceive some words as good or bad. Even the news tells us that business is "up," or that the stock market is "down."

"Segregate" and "separate" are words that denote keeping objects apart. "Segregate" is a negative word to many people that associate it with racism. "Separate" is a neutral word.

A common early mistake is leasing occurs in the way we ask questions. "I need to ask you some questions..." is perceived as commanding answers, whereas "Would you mind answering a few questions?..." is perceived as politely asking for answers.

Speaking involves much more than word production. It also includes loudness, pitch, speed, emphasis, infection, breathines, and pauses. These other aspects of speec are called "paralanguage."

Paralinguistic cues reinforce words and expressions. For example, you would not say "come here" to a loved one in the same manner you would say "come here" to a pet dog. In his book The Silent Language, Edward T. Hall gives another example: "In spoken English the difference between the green house (the color green), the greenhouse (where plants are grown), and the Green house (house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Green), is solely a function of varying stress."

Over many years of reading and research I have found hundreds of examples of communication "misunderstanding." However, none were as astounding as the example I found in the college textbook Social Psychology, where authors Michener, DeLamater, and Schwartz related:

As World War II continued into 1945, American analysts carefully monitored the Japanese emperor's messages to his people. They understood his words as exhorting his people to fight the invaders to the death. This seemingly defiant message, a suggestion the war would drag on and casualties would mount, weighed heavily in the American decision to drop the atomic bomb. Only later was it learned that the connotative meaning of the emperor's messages for the Japanese was that surrender, though certain, would be honorable. In other words, if we had understood Japanese paralinguistics, it is conceivable that the bomb might never have been dropped.

Words have power and affect each of us consciously and subconsciously. We must be careful about using certain words because we can never be certain how the listener will be affected. We must be just as careful about how we speak. To say something the wrong way is like dropping the bomb.

The following is a summary of tips from numerous experts:

* Lower pitched voices have more authority.

* Speark clearly; mumblers are perceived as afraid or shy.

* A rhythm makes words more impressive and the content is more easily remembered.

* Do not try to use big words; they seldom impress anyone.

* Maintaining eye contact increases credibility.

* Short senteces are stronger than long ones.

* Precise words are more convincing than vague words.

* Formal sentence structure sounds more important.

* Very fast talk is often perceived as deceptive.

* Good communicators know when to stop talking. Listening to the other person creates a perception of friendliness and understanding, and, who knows, you may even learn something.


A vast amount of information on human perception has been accumulated from research over the last 30 years. From this research, manufacturers and ad agencies appeal to us through advertising an estimated 2,000 times a day. This persuasion process is often straightforward. However, much of this persuasion is directed toward our subconscious. By using subliminal stimulation, the marketers are influencing our perception, and therefore our behavior.

For example, in his 1980 update to The Hidden Persuaders, Packard tells of Louis Cheskin, the father of motivational research, and a sales strategy called "sensation transference." In sensation transference, people transfer feelings about a package design or product name to the product itself. Cheskin describes one experiment.

Two hundred women, who were being questioned purportedly about furniture designs, were told that as a reward for their help they would be given a substantial supply of cold cream. They had a choice of two kinds and were told to take the two sample jars home and try them out. When they came back after two weeks, they could have a large supply of the cream of their choice. Both of the jars were labeled "high quality cold cream." The cap of one jar had a design of two triangles on it. The cap of the other jar had two circles.

The women were not told that the cream inside the jars was absolutely identical. Cheskin knew from his design testing that women prefer circles to triangles. But even he was astonished at the margin of their choice when they returned. Eighty percent asked for the cold cream with the circle design on the cap. They liked the consistency of that cream better. They found that cream easier to apply. And they said that cream was definitely of finer quality.

Subliminal influence is real, and research results are available now. As we move toward a new decade, we in the apartment industry should compare our selling and leasing efforts to what the giants are doing. We can learn from them. Several companies in this country will spend over $1 billion on advertising this year--advertising based on incredible consumer research that we can also use. Real estate is too often limited by feature-benefit selling and overcoming objections. We overlook the use of color, texture, pattern, and appearance as powerful selling tools.

What worked in 1980 will not work as well tomorrow, and may not work at all next year. There are new tool to use, sophisticated new techniques to learn, new information to absorb. We must meet the challenge to move real estate marketing into the 1990s and beyond.

Terry Taylor, CPM[R], is the president of his own consulting him. He has traveled in 45 states and eight foreign countries. He has consulted across the country, and, at the international level, as far away as Malaysia. He has been president of a national management company, an award-winning radio newscaster, a multiple award-winner for the design and composition of newspaper ads, and an award-winning university lecturer.
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Author:Taylor, Terry
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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