Word of mouth continues to be the number one way people learn about goods, services, and other information. We appreciate what our friends, our inner circles, tell us. Yes, even to our detriment — cases like groupthink show that we love to be in social environments where we can readily encourage and reinforce thinking and opinions that are in line with ours. And even if the opinions differ slightly, we fight within ourselves in order to match the group.
But behavior just got even trickier.
Recent studies are now indicating that we paint our friends and the actions of our friends in a light that matches our image — our perception — of them. So naturally, we will have a positive view of them, and will accentuate the positive characteristics of their personalities.
A group of scientists got together pairs of friends and strangers. The pairs of friends wrote down what they knew about the other person, and based on that data, researchers were able to accurately predict how friends were going to evaluate their partner. In comparison the judgments from the strangers demonstrated that knowing the other person made the judging far more biased on the positive end.
Why is this important?
For a number of reasons. First, social networks, predictive modeling, and other means of targeting are shrinking the Internet. The people we interact with on a regular basis will more than likely be friends than enemies. That means, in terms of advertising and promoting, having friends paint great reviews would (and as we've seen, does) create a halo effect for those products. If brands and AdFolks can tie services and goods to the traits and judgments of our friends, marketing the product and getting attention just got "easier."
We all know that influencing gatekeepers and opinion-makers is crucial. But now we know that getting into the "friend zone," where positive characteristics affect our judgment of friends' actions, we need to prioritize gaining communal opinion.
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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