Sales & Marketing

Three hidden forces that motivate customer behaviour

7 min read

03 August 2016

Our lives are governed by an intrinsic, almost mystical-like force that influences and informs most of our decisions. Don’t believe me? Take a look in the mirror. This “invisible influence” inspired what clothes you wore today, what car you drove to work, and even where you ate for lunch. It’s called social influence. And it’s an omnipresent force in your next customer’s shopping decision.

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I recently interviewed Jonah Berger, New York Times best-selling author of “Contagious”, marketing professor at the Wharton School of Business, and consultant to global brands like Facebook, Google and Unilever.

Berger proposes an unequivocal truth: your customers are being influenced right this second. If you’re not in control (or at least a part) of these influences, your brand will suffer, popularity will shrink, and customers will simply look elsewhere to be inspired.

Here’s the good news. With the right approach, you can take control of your brand influence and ensure that today’s customers continue to be there for tomorrow’s future. Let’s explore the three hidden forces that motivate customer behaviour. 

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(1) Social influence

We live a life defined by social influence. “Not me!”, you might be screaming. Berger is quick to refute these claims, and his research backs up the point. Consider this: we see social influence as an active current in the world around us, but very rarely do we see or judge ourselves through the same lens. We see conformity and imitation in others. Or maybe we see an overt attempt by some people to be different or unique.

Collectively, we suffer from a lack of perspective and perception. This manifests itself as an almost complete lapse of personal awareness; that feeling that our lives and actions cannot possibly be the result of subconscious social influence. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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The first step is to acknowledge that most of your decisions are shaped by social influence. As Berger asserts, we can use this knowledge to create happier, healthier lives for ourselves. In the world of business, self-awareness can make us more influential, help guide smarter decisions, and spur motivation in ourselves and others.

Once you grasp the gravity of social influence, you can begin to make the shift from influenced to influencer. That’s a step that any savvy brand or marketer would love to take.

Read on the next page as I detail how you can master the curiosity gap and why the problem of securing customers isn’t about poor attention span, but an abbreviated tolerance.

(2) Attention or tolerance span?

Marketers and advertisers have wrestled with the same beast for years: “How do we captivate and maintain customer interest for any serious length of time?”

Our modern age brims with bedlam. Social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat (rooted in the ephemeral) and Facebook run riot, smartphones have become our best friends, and an endless maze of news alerts, updates and notifications mean our days are busier than ever before. This makes standing out as a brand quite challenging, doesn’t it? Maybe. Or maybe not.

What if I told you the problem isn’t due to a poor attention span, but rather an abbreviated tolerance span?

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Think about it. Millions of busy people found time to binge watch Netflix’s viral hit “Making a Murderer,” while global sport fans have no problem watching their favourite teams play for hours on end. In this very real sense, our attention spans have not deteriorated; what we choose to tolerate has.

In order to stand out as a brand, you need to understand this principle and apply it to the world of social influence. Whether you’re promoting a service or selling a product, you need to lead with customer benefits and not the features.

What does your product or service do for the end-user? Focus less on yourself and more on your audience.

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(3) Optimal distinctiveness

“We want to be similar and different at the same time,” says Berger in our recent podcast. This, he posits, can be referred to as an “optimal distinctiveness”, or our own ideal blend of uniqueness and conformity.

It’s quite true though, isn’t it? The ultimate aim of marketing isn’t to purely influence, but to propel people into action. This Holy Grail can be made easier when you master the “curiosity gap”, a simple trick that can win you new customers in a heartbeat.

The curiosity gap is the space between what we know and what we want or even need to know. As a marketer, your job is to delay the filling of the gap, which keeps the consumer hanging onto the edge of their seat for as long as possible.

Raise your standards, focus on the customer and imbue marketing with authenticity to see this little trick have a very big uplift in engagement.

In an era of boundless distraction and competitive content, understanding the power of social influence and its sway on our decision-making will take you one step closer to becoming an influencer in your own right. The next move is yours, so make it with a purpose.

Bryan Adams is CEO and founder at Ph.Creative

The UK MD of Tiger has said: “You cannot expect customers to be loyal, it doesn’t exist”

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