The Engineering of Digital Consent

Today, we build brands through social interactions. People opinions online shape our decisions on what brands should we buy or endorse. 90% of customers said that online reviews influence their buying decisions. Our challenge is that consumers don’t pay attention and trust the message coming from brands. So, how do we affect the opinion of others in this environment?

In marketing, we spend a lot of time and money creating advertising with the hope that it goes viral. However, most of the campaigns have little influence in today’s consumers. Many campaigns have even the oppositive effect, with consumers sharing negative opinions or blocking advertising altogether.

Changing behavior is hard. I don’t think we have a silver bullet to influence people online, but we can learn best practices from behavioral science to increase our chances. Getting a little better in predicting behavior can make a big difference.

Here are four behavioral principles that we should consider when crafting a social campaign, and how they can make a difference: Ask for a small favor to create cognitive dissonance, leverage the power of authority to drive obedience, create conformity by making it public, and have a sense of purpose to increase motivation.

Ask for a small favor to create cognitive dissonance. The Benjamin Franklin Effect: When you ask someone for help, and they oblige, they are more willing to do you a further favor in future than if you had been the one helping them.

Implication: Rather than asks what brand can do for your customers, ask what your customers can do for your brand. Make sure to start with a small request that it is ease to do. Remember, behavior always finds the path of least resistance. The social campaign that goes viral tends to start with a small ask — Wearing a red nose for Red Nose Day, growing a mustache in November for Movember.

Leverage the power of authority to drive obedience. The Milgram’s Experiment: Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right or legally based.

Implications: Leverage a legitimate authority to ask for a small favor. Please keep in mind that most of the consumers don’t trust advertising. The most successful social campaigns tend to have a credible authority in the form of an institution or a model. e.g., The ALS for the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Create conformity by making it public. The Asch’s Experiment on Conformity: People tend to align your attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors with those around you. It’s a powerful force that can take the form of overt social pressure or subtle unconscious influence.

Implication: We don’t have to create a movement. We only have to create the perception of a movement. Numbers matter. Make the ask public and ease to pass it along. For instance, Red Nose Day, only ask to wear a funny nose for a day.

Have a sense of purpose to increase motivation. The need for purpose is one the defining characteristics of human beings. People crave purpose and suffer severe psychological difficulties when we don’t have it. A Purpose is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life.

Implication: Connect the brand to a higher purpose that’s core to the organization’s social responsibility.

In summary, advertising is an art and science. We can apply all these behavioral techniques and get little traction from consumers. We still need creativity to make it interesting and fun. To quote David Ogilvy, “The best ideas come as jokes, make your thinking as funny as possible.”

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