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February 7, 2022

Use this Amazing Behavioral Science Principle to Attract New Customers

According to the self-reference effect, relatable content helps potential buyers identify their needs within your product and makes your marketing more persuasive and memorable.

We’ve all been there. On the outskirts of a conversation that’s just not relevant to you. Do you listen in? Or tune out? More times than not you will dismiss it, forget about it, and look for someone else to talk with. 

So what captures your attention? Relevance. When something is relevant to yourself, you’re going to learn the information more effectively and have better recall. In behavioral science this is known as the self-reference effect - and understanding this could be a key differentiator for your marketing.

What is the Self-Reference Effect?

The self-reference effect:

People are more likely to remember, learn, and be persuaded by information that is relevant to them.

Meaning, people tend to remember information when it's encoded in relevance to the self. Also referred to as the self-reference criterion (SRC) in marketing, research shows that individuals who referenced the self or someone close to them experience disproportionately enhanced memory compared to those who didn’t.

What does this have to do with your business? Your customers want to see themselves reflected in your marketing, whether that’s by location, representation, or even personalized content recommendations. It’s easier to capture the attention of your prospect if your marketing materials are relevant. By the self-reference principle, your customers will be more willing to learn about and remember a product that’s relatable to them. 

It’s important for potential customers to see themselves in a product or at least know they’re welcome at the table.

What the Self-Reference Effect Looks Like in Practice

Your customers are unique and want to be shown organic reflections of themselves– it makes a product come alive. Showcasing reflections of your customers in your brand encourages them to get involved. When people relate to information that is relevant to them, they are more likely to remember or even purchase. Companies have found great success using the self-reference effect by adding some simple strategies to their marketing systems. 

Case Study: Dove Real Beauty, Visual Relevance

dove real beauty example

When your customers decide if they want to purchase from your brand they are likely analyzing whether or not they can see themselves inside your product. Dove took this into consideration when launching their Real Beauty campaign in 2004. Dove users and beyond flocked to Twitter expressing how great it felt to be included in a beauty campaign. Women were able to see their natural body types, skin tones, and overall physical appearance in commercials. 

Delivering content that visually represents your prospects makes your product become more than just a product–it elicits an emotional response and builds loyalty to your brand. That’s the self-reference effect in action.

Use your existing customers to speak to your prospects

While employing the self-reference technique can be seen as an exercise in trust building, the truth is that your customers will only trust your company so much from your marketing alone. You’re limited in your ability to shape and design marketing materials to be trustworthy.

Gaining trust from your audience is tricky in the modern era – increased skepticism in institutions like your business is causing shoppers to rely more upon personal networks, social platforms, and marketplaces to make buying decisions. 

This shift in behavior can broadly be described as a shift from heavy use of institutional trust (ex: I trust you because of your perceived institutional power/influence) to distributed trust (ex; I trust you because thousands of third party reviews say you are trustworthy). In many ways the economy of today is built upon distributed trust.

In short, whether or not your customers trust you is out of your hands. But as a marketer in this trust economy, you have the power to capture, distribute, and shape the broader message around your company by channeling the words of your customers. 

Your prospects will trust the words of their peer shoppers more than yours, so you ought to harness the words of your customers in your marketing to gain the trust of your prospects.

We’ve already discussed that customers will enjoy content that’s relatable, and if your prospects are a good fit, they should easily relate to –-and, importantly, trust–your existing customers.

Tactically, we’ve created a framework for this strategy called trust marketing

Coupled with the self-reference effect, incorporating trust marketing into your business’ strategy means that you display and predominantly feature the faces and words of your own customers in your ads

This makes your prospects much more likely to experience the self-reference effect; they’ll see a peer shopper like them, who chose to purchase your product and who had a great experience. 

As we know, relatability of your product increases your prospects’ recall about your brand. Your shoppers are more likely to be persuaded into buying your product if someone relatable to them is complimenting your product. 

It’s clear that your direct power to gain the trust and business of your customers is limited. But there’s an indirect way you can shape and design marketing materials to be relatable: feature the faces, voices and experiences of real customers. 

Take it to the next level with video testimonials

In customer video testimonials, the self-reference effect is hard at work.

We know social proof is persuasive, but capturing it in the form of video provides additional intangibles. Not only does video make it easier to absorb information, but seeing real customers and authentic reactions provides the prospect additional, subtle, information like “this person had the same problem I have.” 

Or, “This person seems to genuinely love this product.” Or, “their body language is friendly.” 

All of which is less likely to be communicated in a text review. 

By letting real customers share their experiences like this, your prospective customers are more likely to envision their own needs addressed by your product or service. With great cameras on mobile phones these days, it’s easier than ever to collect testimonial videos from your customers. Putting those videos to work in your online marketing can be incredibly valuable in converting visitors to customers.

So, what can your business do to harness the self-reference effect? 

  1. Get to know your customers and utilize your findings in your business strategy. If you haven't already, take some time to identify your ideal customer persona (ICP). This is the archetype of a person or business that gets the most value from your product and is financially most profitable to your business.
  2. Collect video testimonials. Let your audience see and hear authentic reactions from your customers to prove the value of your business. When you collect video reviews, organize them by the product reviewed by that customer and make sure these reviews live on that product’s landing page. Organizing (and potentially serving) by product allows prospective customers to have a shopping experience directly relevant to them. 
  3. Organize Geographically. Categorize reviews and video testimonials by geographic location. Then, use that content as geographically targeted paid search and social ads, so that prospects from a given town are getting testimonial content from individuals in that same region.
  4. Design hyper-relevant lead pages. You can organize information by products, regional preferences, or industry preferences. The point is to be thoughtful about which content is presented front and center in your marketing. Use some basic concepts of what the prospective buyer will find most relatable, giving you the best chance to capture your prospects' attention and convince them they should buy.
  5. Capture the voice of your existing audience in reviews. Get them to persuade your prospective customers for you. Collect as much testimonial content from your current customers that match the ICP you’re looking to target, and put that content front and center in your website, social, and paid social content. This way you're most likely to capture the attention of your best customers because of the self reference effect. Working ICP’s into your marketing strategy can also help build trust with your audience through trust marketing. Use video testimonials that communicate your core views to bring others in. 

People Remember What’s Relatable

To make your product memorable you need to consider your shopper. They want to know they’re getting something that will enhance their everyday lives and will accurately support them in their environment and lifestyle. Watching someone who looks and thinks like your customer is essential because it makes a product come alive. And, just for a moment, your customer is able to live vicariously through that experience.

At the end of the day, we are all a little bit selfish. And that’s okay. As businesses, we need to tailor our products to our customers in a way that resonates with them. You want to be the brand remembered at the end of the day, not the brand forgotten.

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Jake Hughes

I’m the Director of Marketing here at Widewail, as well as a husband and new dad outside the office. I'm in Vermont by way of Boston, where I grew the CarGurus YouTube channel from 0 to 100k subscribers. I love the outdoors and hate to be hot, so I’m doing just fine in the arctic Vermont we call home. Fun fact: I met my wife on the shuttle bus at Baltimore airport. Thanks for reading Widewail’s content!

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