Ever order a sandwich because your friend or spouse did, and it just sounded good? That simple act could be the best lesson you’ve ever had in why customers buy — and how you can get them to buy more.
Companies sink dollars and resources into surveys, gathering data and analyzing all of it. They measure every touch point and ask customers what they think after nearly every transaction.
Yet, most companies overlook the single most important influence on any customer’s buying decision: observing what other customers actually do.
We’ve long talked about the influence word-of-mouth, reviews and social media have on customers and their decisions. But seeing other people — strangers and friends alike — use and like a product has a huge impact on buying decisions.
Watch, then buy
Harvard Business Review researchers stumbled across this realization: Customers commonly observe other customers before they make buying decisions. What they see is strikingly important in shaping their views of a product, service or company. In fact, “peer observation” has as much of an impact on customers’ decisions as the companies’ advertising — which, of course, costs a lot more.
Why are customers so susceptible to peer influence? Some researchers say it’s because we’re lazy. With so many decisions to make every day, it’s easy to assume that if other people are using a product it’s good enough. They might think, “Why try figure it out myself through research or making a purchase I’ll regret.”
4 strategies for you
Companies can capitalize on this sense of laziness. Here are four ways to influence customers to buy based on peer observation:
- Think about the group, not just the person. Don’t just focus on selling one product to one person. In your marketing, sales and customer service initiatives, give customers ideas on how they can share your product. Offer group discounts or give customers samples to pass on to others. An example: Coca-Cola customized cans in the past couple of years to encourage passing it on to “a friend,” “a superstar,” “mom” and dozens of actual names.
- Make the product stand out. Your product designers can act on this. Think about how the product looks when it’s being used, not just when it’s purchased. For instance, Apple’s iPod had characteristic white earphones — visible and unique even when the iPod wasn’t anymore.
- Let customers see the not-so-obvious. Just adding the number of buyers of a product to a website increases sales and the price customers will pay, researchers have found. Anecdotally, hotel visitors are more likely to reuse their towels if they’re given statistics on how many others reuse in the hotel.
- Put it out there. Go ahead and plant people using your products. It works: When Hutchison, a Hong Kong-based technology company, launched a mobile product, it sent young people into train stations during the evening commute toting its handset to catch eyes. It helped lift initial sales.