A few months ago I traded in my truck for a large SUV. While we were at the dealership, the salesman (whom I've bought from before), was telling my wife and I about other people he'd sold the same model vehicle to. I found the tactic annoying.
"So what?" I thought (and discovered later that my wife had the same feeling). It didn't matter to either of us that other people had bought the same model SUV recently. We both just wrote it off as hubris on the part of the salesman.
However, I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast that helped me understand why the salesman told us about other people who'd bought the same SUV. In that podcast, the host (Stephen Dubner) interviews a guy who conducted a social experiment involving saving energy. That experiment has a bearing on how you can better market your products and services, so pay attention!
The research group went around neighborhoods in California and put one of four signs on people's doors. Each sign encouraged the homeowner to conserve energy, and gave a reason to do so. The four reasons were: 1) to help the next generation, 2) to save money on your electricity bill, 3) to save the planet, and 4) because your neighbors are already doing it. After some time passed, the group went back to the houses and measured the electricity usage against the reading they took before putting up the signs.
Can you guess which sign had the most impact? In fact, the only sign that had ANY impact at all? It was the one that said their neighbors were already conserving electricity and encouraged them to do the same.
The funny thing is that, when polled, the homeowners said that they would personally be least influenced by the "peer pressure" sign! That really helps you see the difference between how people think of themselves ("I'm not affected by the opinions and actions of people around me!") versus the reality (Um, yes you are).
That helped me to understand why the car salesman was telling me about other people who bought the car. Although in my specific case I already knew exactly what I wanted, had researched the model in advance, etc., in many cases people will walk into a dealership not knowing exactly what they want. The car salesman was taking advantage of a marketing method that would help an undecided potential customer feel better about the model the salesman thinks they should get. "If three other families bought this car this week, it must be okay."
Your initial reaction is probably the same as the homeowners who said they wouldn't be influenced by the peer pressure sign. "That wouldn't work on me!" But the reality is that, like it or not, you are a social creature. We all are. That means we're influenced by what other people do -- our friends, neighbors, even strangers we don't know at all. You may be less influenced than other people, but face it: you are influenced. If you still think you weren't, ask yourself: Why did you choose to read this blog post? Did the title have anything to do with it?
This social influence is why people tend to stick to accepted cultural norms and social niceties that are like the grease in the gears of society. If the majority react to certain situations the same way, then we all feel comfortable and know how to get along.
How does this apply to your marketing methodology? Simple: you need to make sure that your undecided buyers are aware of other people who have made the decision to buy, and how they felt about it.
That's why the classic "testimonial" works so well. People feel better when they can read the thoughts and experiences of other people before they make the purchase themselves. No matter how advanced advertising technology gets, you still see a large number of ads that consist primarily of customer testimonials. They just work.
So if you have happy customers, it behooves you to make sure that your potential customers know about them when you're pitching your product or service. It doesn't matter how many of those potential customers would claim that they're not influenced by other people's opinions. It doesn't matter how independent they think they are. They're human beings, and that makes them social creatures.
You can even take the testimonial a step further and write your sales copy as a story. I've done that many times with great success. If you can engage your audience and get them to relate to the story of another customer, really get them involved, then you're much more likely to close the sale.
This psychological influence shouldn't be abused, of course. You need to make sure that the story you tell and the testimonials you share are all true and honest. My own personal opinion is that you'll appeal to more people with testimonials that come off sounding true (because they are) than hype-filled doctored stories that are clearly fabricated anyway.
So what do you think? If you have any questions or insights, please leave a comment below. Your feedback is always welcome!
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