Yesterday, we discussed how contagion may play out in the marketplace, and how other people may affect our brand evaluations. But social influence is ever-present in our lives as consumers, affecting our impressions and our behavior in many ways. Consider how you hear about new bands, or hot clothing trends. Often, we become exposed to these things through our environment. Specifically, through the influence of what marketers call early adopters.
Early adopters are people who are “ahead of the curve” on new trends, and they’re the people you know who always have the new technology, who always have the new clothes and generally know about trends before others. Once those early adopters begin influencing their community, the trend increases exponentially in popularity, through word of mouth and the visibility of the trend. The diffusion of the trend is even faster in close, heterogeneous groups like schools or small towns.1 But, make no mistake, early adopters are just as influenced by us as we are by them. Researchers have found that early adopters enjoy consumption visibility, or, the fact that other people recognize them as early adopters because of their purchasing choices.2 They have a cooler phone than you, and they want you to know it.
Social influence can also alter our brand choices, even when the influence is coming from a total stranger. A study by Maryland and Duke researchers uncovered evidence that incidental consumer brand encounters significantly influence product choices.3 Participants were shown 20 photographs of people engaged in mundane activities, like waiting for the bus.3 Within those photographs, participants either saw 0, 4 or 12 pictures that included a bottle of Dasani water near the person.3 They then asked participants to choose 1 of 4 brands of bottled water, with Dasani among the brands.3 Controlling for participants who explicitly noticed the Dasani water in the pictures, participants who viewed 12 pictures with Dasani brand images were more than 25% more likely to choose Dasani bottled water than those who saw none or only 4.3 While this may seem obvious, this is the reason advertisers flood you with repeated brand messages in hopes of altering your purchasing intentions. Fight the repetitive power!
So, you heard it here first folks, go out and be the anonymous consumer influences you were born to be!
- Delre, S. A., Jager, W., & Janssen, M. A. (2007). Diffusion dynamics in small-world networks with heterogeneous consumers. Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, 13(2), 185-202.
- Fisher, R. J., & Price, L. L. (1992). An investigation into the social context of early adoption behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 477-486.
- Ferraro, R., Bettman, J. R., & Chartrand, T. L. (2009). The power of strangers: The effect of incidental consumer brand encounters on brand choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(5), 729-741.