Why personal recommendations are a foundation of our social relationships.

Did you ever notice how often you use personal recommendations in your daily life? When talking to friends, family or with colleagues at work?

“Hey, do you know this new bar in Highbury Street? It’s so awesome and has definitely the best cocktails in town.”

What is this? Right! A recommendation.

“Last week you told me you are going to Nepal for a trekking trip and need a new rucksack? I saw one at GO outdoors, I think this could be the right one for you!”

Again. A recommendation.

“I can’t decide if I shall choose the goat cheese salad or the crab cake…” — “Take the crab cake, it’s marvelous!”

“What is the fastest way to Forest Hill?” — “Take Taraval Street, there’s a building site on 19th Avenue!”

“There’s a special discount for True Religion Jeans at Marcy’s today, didn’t you tell me you were searching for one?”

“You still type your tweets by hand? Use Buffer! It tweets for you automatically!”

I could go on now, but I’m sure you got the point. All of these conversations have one thing in common: they’re personal recommendations.

But there’s even more! Check out this — by the way very recommendable — article recently posted on Inbound.org (by @NikkiElizDemere). You will immediately find out that this is also a personal recommendation.

A recommendation (or word-of-mouth, as some may call it) is not only a key element of interaction between people, it is also one of the — if not the — most powerful marketing tool at hand.

But why are they so powerful? And why do we use them so often — mostly without even recognizing?

The key to unlock the secret behind the power of personal recommendations is trust. In a world where a lie is no longer considered a sin, but rather a clever move to blend truth into the shadows of one’s own intentions, people are desperately craving for everything they can firmly rely on.

And what could you more rely on than the word of a person you trust from the bottom of your heart — be it a family member, your beloved partner, a friend, a familiar colleague? Whatever one of them may recommend to you, you’ll certainly have no doubt that it may be something of quality, something you can trust on.

In contrast to this trustworthy statement stands classical advertising — home of the lie. Since the beginning, exaggerations and bending the truth have been the main tools of the guys from Madison Avenue (and their successors still use them). Have you ever discovered a strip of purely clean metal after putting a drop of dish soap on a sponge and stroking gently through a fat-covered pan? Have you ever seen your shirts seemingly glowing in an incredible white after you took them out of the washing machine?

No? Really? But tv ads tell you this happens day after day… OK, let’s stay serious. These examples show clearly what the problem with advertising is: ads exaggerate — and people no longer trust them. I recently found an old newspaper from the fifties and there was a little ad for Maggi stock cubes (an old and established product in Germany). The copy just said: Buy Maggi stock cubes and you will be satisfied! Nice claim, isn’t it? In those years, something like this really worked.

Today, we laugh and say “Sure! Tell us another story!” And they do. They tell us how our health increases after each spoon of soup, how we feel better, how we loose weight, how beautiful women or handsome men buzz around us when they smell the soup in our dish… But whatever they tell us, we won’t trust them as we always do (well, at least most of us), because we know it’s just a bunch of lies.

So, as we know about the power of personal recommendations now, this leads us to the next question: why do we use them so often and so unconsciously?

The answer is obvious. Each of us knows the facts I just talked about. But each of us tries to build life on a reliable basis — social connections to people we can trust. And as social connections are fueled by the wish to do the other something good, we try to help whenever it is needed (and even beyond). This makes us unconsciously use the most powerful tool we have in our toolkit, the one that offers the ultimate amount of trust — the personal recommendation. Each recommendation to our friends, our family, our fellows is another brick solidifying the foundation of our relationship, a relationship which offers us shelter in a world of falsehood and lies.

So I will recommend something to you (even if we do not have a close relationship) — use the personal recommendation whenever you can, your friends will be thankful. And it will make you happy too when you see the smile on their face because you gave them some trust. Believe me.

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