I just watched a fascinating webinar called “6 Principles of Marketing Persuasion: How to Use Psychology to Connect with and Retain Loyal Customers,” based on a model for buying psychology by Dr. Robert Chaldini. These six principles are scarcity, reciprocity, authority, social proof, liking, and consistency. According to Chaldini, they are key motivators for buying behavior.

The principle that struck me most was “liking.” The idea behind this principle is that the more you look like someone, the more likely it is that you will be persuaded by them. This helps to support the value of targeting in a way that’s worth understanding more deeply. 

In explaining the principle, Nick Mason, founder and CEO at Turtl, which sponsored the webinar, cited a study from the 1970s. The goal of the research was to observe how the appearance of the researcher impacted the results. To do this, researchers stood on the streets of San Francisco and asked passersby for a quarter to make a phone call. In some cases, the researcher wore hippie clothes. In other cases, the researcher wore a business suit. What the study found was that people were more likely to respond to the “ask” when the researcher was dressed similarly to themselves. Hippies were more likely to give quarters when the researcher was dressed like a hippie, and businesspeople were more likely to give quarters when the researcher was dressed in a suit.

“The more we are like someone, the more they like us and feel they can build a bond,” Mason said. “This dramatically affects our ability to persuade them.”

This, Mason argued, is why it’s so important to identify and create personas in marketing.

Personas are broad categories of buyers that can be identified, not just by demographics, but by psychological make-up, motivators, lifestyle, and other factors that create a commonality. To help us see these personas as real people, they are often given names. Let’s say you are selling to moms. You might be targeting three personas:

  • Brenda: Single mom with two children, stressed at work, tight budget, worried about being a good mom, and needing time to herself. 
  • Stephanie: Married mom, two kids, executive-level job, working long hours, and concerned about work-life balance.
  • Pam: Stay-at-home mom with three kids, running a side business, and prioritizing spending maximum time with her children while they are still at home.

Each one of these “moms” might have identical demographic characteristics such as age, geographic location, and household income. Yet the priorities and motivations of each are quite different. The marketer creates communications directed at each persona that match her priorities, needs, and motivations. Once these personas and corresponding messaging are created, the marketer identifies the real women in their database that match each of these personas and mails accordingly.

Traditionally, we think of this in terms of creating relevance. The more relevant the messaging to each woman, the more likely she is to respond to it. What Chaldini’s principle of “liking” adds to the discussion is that it’s more than that. If it were just relevance, then it wouldn’t matter, say, whether the image on the mailer is a man or a woman, the same ethnicity, and living in a similar location. As long as the life circumstances are the same, the relevance itself should be the same. But “liking” suggests that these details do matter because there is a natural gravitation toward people who look like you. As buyers, we see ourselves in their eyes, and we naturally like them and relate to them, making us more open to the messaging.

Or, as Mason puts it, “Using personas to create marketing communications that look at sound like the target audience is like wearing the same clothes when you are asking for change.”  Point taken.

The more we understand buyer motivations and behavior, the more effective our marketing can be. The principle of “liking” adds to the discussion in a helpful way, reflecting another facet in the diamond that is buyer psychology.