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Consumers: We're the Same, But Different
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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The need to belong is a constant theme when consumer behavior is discussed. It's a basic need. People need to feel like they are not alone. That is one of the major reasons that online communities and social networks have boomed: they enable people to connect with others with like interests from all over the world. The fact that people are able to meet others like them from thousands of miles away makes life more enjoyable. The community or social groups we knew offline, though they still exist in that form, have spawned online communities. People on Twitter can talk regularly to each other, even if they've never met in real life. People on Pinterest can share recipes even though they may be hundreds of miles apart and will never share a kitchen together.

We're not so different.

Yet, we try to be different. Though we enjoy fitting into a group, we want to show our kind how different we are. According to research done by authors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado Boulder, consumers simultaneously attempt to satisfy both the need to belong and the desire to be different.

The research suggests that those who want to be accepted by an in-group will most likely choose the brand or style that majority of the group likes. Then they choose different colors or methods of showcasing the brand to mark their "uniqueness." Those who choose to be different than the group are more likely to choose a less popular brand.

What's the point of the study? The researchers say that it shows that there is tension between differentiation and belongingness and could provide insight into motive. This could be helpful to the advertising world when we are trying to figure out what is motivating people to act. For example, Kony 2012 was a quick movement. The only consumption involved was watching the movie and spreading the word. Was the motivation differentiation or belongingness?

Belongingness, for sure. As we all know, cause marketing triggers that sense of community; of being a moving part of something bigger than ourselves. A great case study to examine this insight would be the Nike+ campaign, where they are giving away product when people build currency. Only thing is, their currency is their sweat.  

Let's see what we can do with this kind of insight.


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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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