The science of speech
Editorial

The science of speech

To harness word-of-mouth advocacy, marketers need to understand the psychology that leads people to share.

The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Combine this with the fact that no two people are the same, and it’s hardly surprising that psychology is not an exact science.

That said, there are general rules of human behaviour. Psychologists figure out these rules by asking questions like: ‘What leads people to make certain kinds of social connection? Why do people pay attention to particular influencers? Why are some people more trustworthy than others?’ The answers are extremely valuable for marketers looking to really reach consumers on a deeper, more personal level.

Perhaps the most important question of all, though, is: ‘What is it that gets people to communicate with each other?’ That’s because direct advocacy is arguably the most powerful tool in a marketer’s arsenal. According to McKinsey, word-of-mouth is behind 20-50% of all purchases and is especially important both when selling high-ticket items, and when seeking to attract those all-important first-time buyers. What’s more, customers coming through referrals have been shown to be cheaper to acquire and less price-sensitive.

So, what is it that leads people to communicate, and what does it mean for marketers?

  1. People communicate because they are looking for help. They ask a friend for a referral because they have faith in that friend’s judgement. This underscores the importance of finding brand advocates on social media that are inherently likeable/trustworthy for your target consumer.
  2. People communicate for self-expression. This can be self-expression in the artistic sense – hence various brand campaigns have sought to give people an outlet for creativity, for example, Audi. However, self-expression is more generally about sharing your personality with others. When consumers identify so strongly with a product that they make it into a part of themselves (see the legions of Apple fans), they can’t help but talk about it with friends and acquaintances.
  3. People communicate to show that they are part of an in-group. Almost all of us want to feel a sense of belonging, and brands have long used this fact to their advantage. You don’t have to focus merely on making consumers feel like they are part of a big family, with the brand at its heart, or that they are in an exclusive ownership club – you can also ensure employees understand that they are part of a worthy group because they work for you. They will become very powerful advocates if you help them to become engaged both through team-building activities and supporting their ambitions.
  4. People communicate to share information and opinions. Much of your outreach should encourage them to do this: give them interesting content to pass around on social media, and make your brand exciting – or infamous – enough for them to talk about you with their friends.
  5. People communicate to discuss their experiences. The value of event marketing is not just in having your brand logo on banners where a large number of potential customers can see them. It’s also a way of giving these people a positive experience they will talk about with friends. For this reason, organisations that sponsor events are now looking to become more closely involved and to contribute real value to what is going on, instead of just handing over cash in return for exposure. Doing this means that they become part of the entire narrative rather than just an ancillary.

If you're interested in finding out how to create more impactful marketing communications and campaigns that will help your customers make faster, better choices, then check out our Psychology of Persuasive Marketing Communications course.

Rob Coston Reporter CPL
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