By James C. Crimmins
What if you could give people a reason to buy that is far more compelling than information or statistics? What if you could convey a wide range of positive attributes associated with your real estate property, car model, or investment opportunity, while actually saying very little? What if you could show buyers a shortcut that leads in the direction of your sale?
People are not good at objectively comparing options. It’s no wonder we all struggle with making major purchases. Even experts disagree on which property has the most potential, which automobile is the best value, or which investment opportunity offers the best return. No matter the category, prospective buyers often feel they are at a disadvantage. They are usually not equipped to carefully examine the choices and pick the best. Even in those rare cases when prospective buyers can accurately judge the options, they usually don’t have the time. Buyers are looking for a shortcut.
The best shortcut – the one thing prospective buyers find most compelling – is what other people are doing. Who else is interested? Who else is buying? People’s perception of who’s interested in what you have to offer can be your most valuable asset. No one is a skilled judge of every item they buy, but we all believe we are good judges of people. Your user image – or the perception of who’s purchasing your product – should be carefully crafted.
User image helps you make a sale in several ways.
First, though we are reluctant to admit it, we all feel the urge to imitate. When other people yawn, we yawn. When other people laugh, we want to laugh ourselves. When we see a long line outside a restaurant, we try to make a reservation there to discover what those people find so appealing. If many have bought a product and there are only a few left, we quickly grab one lest we lose the opportunity to imitate. Perceived popularity – especially perceived growing popularity – is hard to resist.
Second, we use the opinions of others to inform our own preferences. What we believe others think of a product informs our appraisal much more than the product’s objective qualities. We are social animals – and social judgment often trumps our own personal evaluation. Scientists have seen, around the world, that, if we are buyers of a product a lot of people buy, we generally buy it more often. If we are buyers of a product few people buy, we generally buy it less often. When we think a product has drawn the interest of a lot of people, we have a much higher opinion of that product.
Third, if we have a positive stereotype of a product’s users, we want to participate in that stereotype by using the product ourselves. When we use the product, we feel like we are joining that attractive club of product users and, as a result, we believe others will see us as we would like to be seen.
Even when we use a product in private, our perception of who else is using it makes the experience more pleasant – and this “positive user image” enables us to see ourselves as the type of person we would like to be. This works on something as mundane as oatmeal. If I think people who serve oatmeal to their kids are good parents, I will see myself as a good parent when I do likewise – even if no one else knows what’s on the menu.
Finally, people draw narrow inferences from factual information, but they draw general inferences from user image. If we learn your hotel has soft beds, we draw no inference about the attentiveness of your hotel’s service, the quality of your hotel’s food, or the fun of your hotel’s bar. However, if we learn your hotel is the choice of sophisticated travelers, we assume your hotel has responsive service, great food, a cool bar, and also soft beds. If we learn your investment is the choice of smart, aggressive investors; or your auto is the choice of people who are on top of the latest trends; or your real estate property has drawn the interest of savvy buyers, we infer many more positive attributes about your offering than if we learned some additional product fact.
When you communicate something positive about the people who use your product, you say much more about your product than if you had described it directly. User image is, therefore, not only a shortcut for buyers, but also a shortcut for sellers.
James C. Crimmins is the author of 7 Secrets of Persuasion: Leading-Edge Neuromarketing Techniques to Influence Anyone. He has been a professional persuader for 27 years, mainly as chief strategic officer for DDB Chicago and a worldwide brand planning director with clients such as Budweiser, McDonald’s, State Farm, and Betty Crocker. He has earned a PhD in sociology and a Master’s degree in statistics from the University of Chicago and has taught integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University’s Medill School.