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Consumers Need Self-Verification
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Sociology and consumer behavior studies have both come to the conclusion in recent years that individual behavior is influenced by the standards established in the communities and situations one may find themselves in. In our world, social proofing is not just part of our activities, but a crucial element in building customer engagement and brand loyalty. We know that the need to belong is important in the decision-making of individuals, and that if there is a group, the person is less likely to go against the grain in order to belong.

In the current issue of the American Sociological Review, there is more to determining the motivator of behavior. It deals with how individuals views themselves.

The study, called "A Theory of the Self for the Sociology of Morality," examined how individuals viewed themselves in terms of high-morality versus low-morality, and how the people around the individual verified or condemned that person's behavior. 

The results were that wherever the people were on the morality spectrum, they looked to be rewarded with the verification of their self-identification. Meaning, if they acted on a low-morality level or a high-morality level, they searched out ways for their identity to be verified. It is interesting, too, that those who were more likely to act on a high-morality level and did not get their identity verified would report feelings of guilt or shame as often as the opposite.

So what does this mean? This study does not throw out the tenets of communal consumption or social proof, but it does add yet another interesting level of how the behavior of the individual can be influenced. Individuals want to know that their behavior, whether generally approved or otherwise, would be verified. Here lies the power of advertising — we can help influence the behavior and self-verification of these people by sending messaging that tells them that they fit in with the audience we are trying to gather.

This study has an impact on our industry as well. The article focuses on the illicit behavior of the brokers and investors in the U.S. financial industry, showing that if all the brokers self-identified as having low-morality standards, they would be encouraged to continue their work. As for advertising, are we letting professionals with low-morality standards engage in misleading and deceitful practices? Bad advertising and creative? Are we verifying poor practices by giving them more business, or refusing to chastise?

Something to think about.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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