It came to my attention recently, after a very successful shopping spree, that the clothes and shoes I had just bought were all ‘in fashion’. While I’m sure most of you will think that’s a good thing, I couldn’t help but feel that I fell into the category of following the crowd. A ‘sheep’, some would say. Although I would argue that I don’t go out of my way to purchase the same clothes as my friends, I wouldn’t deny it, either. The shoes I had just bought were similar to the ones I had seen Victoria Beckham wearing in Vogue, and my new jumper was from the shop my friend had recommended to me.
It became very apparent that the people around me, as well as those whom I follow regularly in the media, influence my buying choices. For years I believed myself to be an early adopter — one of the first in my social circle to have the latest phone, computer and tech gear. But I was very wrong, because in actuality I am just one of the herd.
So with this in mind, it made me start to question the ‘Customer Buying Behaviour’ theory. The theory states that we all go through stages before purchasing a product — usually starting with recognising the need for a certain item and then gathering information on specific brands that can potentially satisfy this need. After evaluating our alternatives, we then purchase the product we see as suitable. Of course, this theory does make a lot of sense, and I am certain that I have followed this same process plenty of times.
However, I believe, as I’m sure others also do, that customer buying behaviour is much simpler. Going back to the idea of everyone being a sheep (hypothetically, of course), people are naturally influenced by their friends and idols. We grow up watching and copying others around us, because that is how we learn. We say things not necessarily because that’s what we believe, but because others have swayed our beliefs. As Oscar Wilde put it, ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation’.
When considering mass behaviour, I think a lot of marketers fail when trying to understand their consumers. It’s all very well pushing the brand towards the target audience through different media, but sometimes that’s not enough to make someone want to buy into that brand. Marketers need to remember it is humans they are communicating to. And human relevance needs to be apparent in marketing strategies if they are to succeed in securing consumer interest.
According to WARC (2010), word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool in terms of encouraging people to buy something. This is because we trust recommendations from those whom we believe are reliable sources, which is why blogs, forums and social media keep on growing. Take youlookfab.com, for example. It’s a popular website for fashionistas and lets users offer advice on style and items through discussion forums. Its success is largely due to the fact that people want to know what others are thinking and wearing. This goes back to our caveman instincts: We need to keep up with the pack in order to survive.
Of course, some marketers understand that the majority of people will follow suit when it comes to buying something. Perhaps the reason why some campaigns fail is because marketers overcomplicate things?
For centuries humans have been labelled as a complex species, but are we really that complicated? If we are anything like our furry ancestors, I would say no. Maybe the real challenge is to accept that people are natural followers, and that the key to successful marketing is to focus on influencing and engaging the masses together.
After all, as the proverb goes, birds of a feather flock together.
Stina Sanders is the office manager at gyro London.
Follow her @stinasanders