Can Marketing Cure What Ails You?

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A recent article in the New York Times got me thinking about the psychology of marketing again, and how some basic principles are used or under-used in social media marketing.

Warning: Habits May Be Good for You” explores how an anthropologist turned to marketing experts from CPG companies like Procter & Gamble to help increase the incidence of hand-washing with soap after using the toilet in the nation of Ghana to improve the health of children.  Obviously, this was an important effort and I was encouraged to see marketing practitioners as instrumental in helping achieve success in this endeavor.

As I was reading the article, it struck me that many of the techniques used are found in Robert B. Cialdini‘s classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I’d lent out my copy a few years ago and, thankfully, had to buy a new version which includes an epilogue written by Dr. Cialdini in 2007.  My re-read then triggered a few thoughts on social media.

If the social media crowd can stop navel-gazing long enough to do some quick research and scientific work, boy will money be made. [More after the jump.]

Dr. Cialdini’s research caused him to identify six key weapons of influence:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Many of his examples focused on face-to-face selling or just plain interactions with others.  When I first read the book (originally published in 1984) for the first time in 1995 or so, I was struck by the fact that my company at the time was using all six of those principles, but in various offline direct response channels.

We didn’t intend to use Cialdini’s principles; rather, we evolved into using them through years of scientific univariate tests.

Which of the six principles is most important to a social media startup? From what I can see, it’s the concept of Social ProofJason Calacanis becomes a Twitter advocate and, because several of his followers also pick up on Twitter, it soon provides proof to a certain circle that Twitter is a good thing.  Boom, the product takes off.

What’s the problem with the concept of Social Proof in growing social media? Try this:  Ask anybody over 40 who’s not a regular reader of Alley Insider, Valleywag or Paid Content what Twitter is.  My bet is you get a blank stare two out of three times.

Simply relying on Social Proof can get you pigeonholed within a very select segment of people.  Now, for companies that provide great services to that limited target audience, it can be very good business indeed. (See how Rafat Ali made out with Paid Content.)

The key is how to use the concept of Social Proof to expand beyond that initial, lucrative target audience and become more ubiquitous.

Summary and key takeaways

  1. What’s “old” is new again. Go back and do your research.  Classics of marketing and psychology are relevant today, just as the concepts they cover were 10,000 years ago.  Plus, with Amazon, it’s now cheap to really build your library of information!
  2. Consider how humans are hard-wired. When building products, services and delivery methods for those products, think about basic human infrastructure and how you can find the path of least resistance to your ideas.
  3. Remember that great psychology can’t overcome a bad product. You can certainly fool some of the people some of the time using some of Dr. Cialdini’s “click, whirr” discoveries.  But that’s still only going to take you so far.  Start with great products.

I’ll look at more of Dr. Cialdini’s concepts in the future.

In the meantime, how have you applied psychology in your marketing?  Or, when have you seen good (or clumsy) attempts been applied to you?

Creative Commons License photo credit: HeffTech

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