"Multi-level marketing" schemes like Herbalife and Young Living work for one reason: the psychological bias toward Liking.
This concept essentially states that if someone likes you, they're more willing to buy from you (or do what you ask).
Multi-level marketing companies take advantage of this by relying on their customers to sell more product to their friends.
But Liking doesn't only come into play with friends and loved ones. You can like complete strangers, and the effect is just as strong.
Social scientists have identified 5 main factors that lead to Liking.
Let's take a look at how they can be used in psychologically-based startup marketing.
1. Physical Attractiveness and Grooming
The "halo effect" is when one positive characteristic causes you to assume there are other positive characteristics as well, even if they're not at all related.
Thanks to the halo effect, people tend to assume that attractive people are smart, talented, honest, and kind.
As an entrepreneur:
- The clothes you wear and the way you present yourself will have an impact on how potential investors see your startup. You are more likely to get funded if you're well-groomed.
- The level of design polish your site and app have will affect how much people like and trust it. Better design (even just superficially) = more users.
- Studies show that we automatically like people more when they dress like us. So while it's true that looking good in general can increase your chances, it's also a good idea to dress and look like the investors you're pitching to.
- Having a similar background, having gone to the same school, coming from the same place, or having faced similar challenges all lead to liking as well. That's why politicians tend to claim to be "Washington outsiders" who come from unprivileged backgrounds: they want you to see them as similar to yourself, so you will like them more and vote for them. This is also a major purpose of small talk before a sales pitch -- finding things in common to create a bond and increase the chances of a sale. You can "play up" the aspects of your bio that you believe your audience is most likely to connect with, and downplay the parts that they aren't.
- A common sales technique is "mirroring," where you lightly mimic the prospective client's posture and demeanor in order to trigger the similarity effect and cause them to like you.
- Giving a compliment, even one as simple as "I like you", fills the receiver with an immediate appreciation for the person who gave it.
Quoting Influence, "we have such an automatically positive reaction to compliments that we can fall victim to someone who uses them in an obvious attempt to win our favor."
4. Contact and Cooperation
- Contact: the more familiar someone is with you, the more they start to like you. And the same is true of your brand. That's part of why it's important to focus on a narrow niche or small target audience: it's much easier to get repeat exposure to the same people when the group is smaller and reachable. This leads to familiarity which creates liking.
- Cooperation: when groups of people are separated, they naturally form an "us vs. them" dynamic that is often only strengthened when they are brought back together again (the book Influence offers the example of a school becoming more racist and combative after desegregating). But when competing groups are forced to cooperate to achieve a common goal, they bond and begin to like each other. This principle may be harder to apply to startup marketing than the others, but collaborating with a fierce competitor would be one way to make use of it.
5. Conditioning and Association
When a person or brand appears along with a positive or negative experience, other people naturally connect the two and associate the feeling of the experience with the person or brand -- even if one did not cause the other.
That's why we have to say "don't shoot the messenger".
Conditioning is when this happens repeatedly, making the association much stronger and altering the neurological structure of the brain in the process.
When Nike spends tens of millions of dollars sponsoring elite athletes, it's to condition people to associate Nike with elite athleticism and #winning. That association makes the Nike brand and Swoosh logo worth billions.
But you don't need a massive marketing budget to make use of conditioning and association for your startup or side project. Here are some ways this psychological concept can be used much more cheaply:
- Include humor in your marketing and/or pitches.
- Send emails at a consistent time and day each week, so your subscribers grow to expect them.
- "Surprise and delight" your users or customers to build loyalty and increase word-of-mouth.
- When choosing your company name, make sure it's not similar to something already associated with negative connotations.
- Do what you can to associate yourself and your business with well-regarded others. (You don't have to do official partnerships or sponsorships, either; simply making comparisons often enough can do the trick.)
One last example...
If I wanted to use the principle of Liking to encourage you to subscribe to my email newsletter, I might say this:
Now It's Your Turn
Try using the psychological concept of Liking in your marketing or pitches, and let me know how it goes!