By: Dr. James McFarland, People Scientist
In our previous blog post, we covered the effects of ostracism on today’s consumer and how warm and “cuddly” messages (including images of teddy bears) can reduce those lonely feelings and help build brand preference and loyalty. This week we are diving even further into some of the best scientifically proven ways to connect with those who are feeling disconnected.
For starters, research out of the Journal of Experimental Political Science, finds that warm behaviors (e.g., smiling and personable greetings) exhibited by caseworkers during an otherwise negative interaction (e.g., experiencing a rejection of one’s request) buffers against the reduction of trust that otherwise accompanies such events. This can be important as studies show that feelings of ostracism are easily induced via social and online interactions. For example, even something as small and simple as only receiving a single “like” on a social media platform has the potential to leave consumers feeling alone and vulnerable. According to research, this not only reduces self-esteem but also tends to result in withdrawal from any further interactions. Warm, friendly, and good-natured behavior on the part of your brand and representatives can help offset any associated feelings of distrust and the self-imposed distancing that typically results in these situations.
Other ways to help attract and connect with socially isolated consumers can be found in research done on anthropomorphizing. In a series of three different studies, Chen et al., (2016) found that consumers who had been socially excluded were more likely to prefer brands and products that were “human-like” in their features and presentation. This included more favorable attitudes and brand preference towards products that were perceived as having “free will” as well as products that were portrayed as functioning as a long-term “partner” rather than a one-night “fling.” Socially isolated consumers were also more attracted to and favorable towards products that used first-person language in their messaging (e.g., “Hello, my name is Quick Coffee. I might be small, but I promise I will work tirelessly to keep you alert and awake in your daily life.”), vs. third-person language (e.g., “Quick Coffee is compact and reliable. It is perfect for busy individuals who need to keep alert and awake in their daily lives.”).
These reaffirming human-like qualities in products and brands significantly predicted more favorable views and preferences from socially excluded consumers. This occurred regardless of whether the exclusion was explicit (via a game of Cyberball) or implicit (via a social networking scenario). However, maybe anthropomorphizing isn’t your thing. At the opposite end of the spectrum, research shows that viewing nature scenes is another reliable way to reduce the pain of being socially excluded. Including images of natural environments such as trees, lakes, and oceans in your messaging can also lessen the pain and increase the affiliative response of the lonely or excluded consumer.
Finally, to connect with the disconnected consumer, try presenting your messaging or your brand in experiential terms rather than material terms. A study in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology finds that consumers who feel socially excluded exhibit a preference for experiential purchases (obtaining life experience) over material purchases (obtaining a tangible good).
Even when your product or brand does not naturally lend itself to being “experiential,” there are a variety of ways to increase this aspect via your messaging:
- Focus on the benefits of the experience, not just the product. What kind of experience will your product provide? Will it help people relax, have fun, learn something new, or connect with others? When you’re marketing your product, focus on these benefits, not just the features of the product itself.
- Create a sense of anticipation and excitement. People are more likely to be interested in a product if they feel like it’s going to be something special. You can create this sense of anticipation by using evocative language, sharing photos and videos, and offering exclusive previews.
- Make it easy for people to visualize themselves having the experience. This means using clear and concise language, as well as visuals that help people imagine themselves using your product. For example, if you’re selling a new type of coffee maker, you could show people how it makes a delicious cup of coffee, or you could show them how it fits into their lifestyle.
- Provide opportunities for people to interact with your product. This could mean offering free samples, hosting events, or creating online interactive experiences. The more people interact with your product, the more likely they will have a positive experience and remember your brand.
- Tell stories about how your product has enriched people’s lives. People love hearing stories, so share stories about how your product has helped people relax, have fun, learn something new, or connect with others. These stories will help people see the value of your product and make them more likely to want to experience it for themselves.
All in all, there is a wide variety of proven ways to better connect with today’s increasingly isolated consumer, and that is a good thing for us all.