Why Shared Experiences Matter

Why Shared Experiences Matter

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

There’s been much debate about the merits of reaching a large amount of people through mass marketing or reaching a specific segment of the population with targeted ads. In general, there are unique advantages to each approach, but one advantage of mass marketing that’s often overlooked is the customer’s perception that the ad is seen by other people. This advantage highlights the role of “shared experiences” or “shared culture” in shaping people’s perception of brands, and it can play an important role in marketing. 

A classic example comes from BMW. With BMW, it’s generally appreciated that the role of TV ads isn’t necessarily to get people to buy the car. Instead, the ads primarily help to broadly reinforce people’s perception of the brand for current brand users. The advertisement helps to establish a view of BMW, in the general population, that reinforces the existing BMW owners’ purchase decision. In other words, the advertising helps ensure that other people view BMW owners the way that they want to be seen. 

This perspective highlights the important role that different media channels play in influencing how we think other people see brands. When advertisements appear on social media feeds, people often correctly assume that they were shown the ad through targeting and that not everyone on the social media platform saw it. Alternatively, when people see advertisements on TV they are much more likely to assume that many more people additionally saw the ad, and this simple knowledge can have big psychological consequences. 

This is where “shared experiences” come in. When people perceive that other people saw the ad, they assume that the brand is popular and that other people share the same perception of the ad. In other words, they’ll develop a shared experience and perception of the brand along with many others. 

One common area where these shared experiences can have a big impact is fashion. For example, advertising may support the idea that a new clothing line is “cool” or “in style,” which encourages people to purchase the clothing without fear that they are buying something that is uncool or unpopular. Basically, they’ll assume that many other people see the ad and that many other people are likely to purchase the product. This can help alleviate doubts that they might have about their choice. It can’t be that bad if a bunch of other people are doing it, right? 

The reason that this effect makes such a big difference relates to the psychological principle called social proof. The notion of social proof was initially expressed by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Social proof refers to the powerful influence that social cues have in shaping people’s decisions and perceptions. Basically, we look at what others are doing to help us make quick decisions with limited information. 

Overall, the role of social proof and mass marketing reinforces the importance of understanding consumer psychology in marketing. Give us a call at 833-579-1905 or email us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help you turn psychological insights into great creative advertising.