Influencers: Very few people make truly individual choices
by Jason Stewart (@HaveYouHeard_SA) Influencing someone to change behaviour is very hard to do:
- 85% of corporate change efforts fail.
- two out of three criminals are rearrested within three years.
- two years after life-saving coronary bypass surgery, 90% of patients revert to old, unhealthy behaviours.
These failure rates should scare marketers whose job it is to convince consumers to buy their brands.
Another scary fact is that it’s often not the brand that makes us buy, but rather the source of who said we should buy it, which influences us. That’s why offspring continue to buy the same brand as advocated by their parents, regardless of the advertising they are bombarded with by competitors, offering superior benefits.
The most credible
According to Nielsen’s 2013 Global Trust in Advertising & Brand Messages, recommendations from family and friends remain the most credible form of marketing. Also, Millward Brown recently showed that people we more aware of what people say than we are of the messages in the cluttered media landscape: consumers act on one in every three recommendations they receive, whereas only four branded messages of the estimated 6000 we are exposed to daily or registered.
So, peer pressure can come to the rescue; it’s one of the most powerful influences when it comes to enforcing change.
Much of the work I do involves ‘unpacking’ mothers as a target group. Over the years, I have come to realise that mothers — possibly more so than any other community, with the exception of teenagers — want to know that they have made the right decision and that their peers (other mothers) agree with that they are doing.
As with all other communities, they don’t need to make that decision based on their own research and judgment, but apply their brand choice according to the accepted general norms of the day. Their behaviour is consistent across every product category and demographic.
Simply put, very few people make a truly individual choice.
At this stage, I’m certain you’re muttering, “Wait — people buy my product because they love it” or “People are independent-minded, not stupid. How dare you say that I buy brands because of what other people think or say?!”
Peers and sources of influence
I’ll concede that maybe 5% of what consumers buy is their own choice, but I maintain that 95% of purchase decisions are based on other people’s recommendations or endorsements, no matter how subtle or surreptitious they might be. I argue that people buy a product because they think it is the right option based on what their peers and what their sources of influence, most importantly, deem is right.
Look at fashion. You may decide to buy black skinny jeans and credit yourself with that choice. But what about the brown, flair corduroy bootlegs that you would have bought instead 40 years ago? You didn’t, because they’re not the fashion. So, your individual taste may not have changed as much as everyone else’s has.
Of course, there are the few fashion and media influencers who provoke the fashion changes every season. They are the true influencers of general taste. Our best friends and our peers are the true influencers when it comes to the specific item purchased. They influence the brand, colour and style of jeans, touching us immediately and almost always at the point of purchase.
So, when looking at influence dynamics, there is a lot at play. For example, consider an 82-year old grandmother we used on a campaign for a pharmaceutical product.
Most brands would never give her a second glance: too old, no longer sexy, not very influential. Yet this lady had more energy than a 19-year-old and more influence in Cape Town than Helen Zille. Her recommendation single-handedly converted over a hundred consumers onto this product, based upon her standing in the community, and the passion and conviction with which she advocated the brand.
Jason Stewart, a Red & Yellow School graduate, joined the industry as a project manager at Draftfcb Cape Town before taking on business development responsibilities at Instant Grass, a position he held for three years. He is now managing director of HaveYouHeard (@HaveYouHeard_SA), an innovative word-of-mouth and social media agency founded in Cape Town in 2008.
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