Before we discuss the bandwagon effect, let’s agree that the word “bandwagon” usually gets a pretty bad rap:
- Bandwagon politics
- Bandwagon diet
- Bandwagon sports fan
In each of these cases, the use of the word “bandwagon” implies that the people following a certain cause or idea are doing so blindly, without any sort of critical thought as to why they’re doing so.
But that doesn’t mean hopping on a bandwagon is always such a bad thing – as long you have good reason hop on.
As the owner or manager of a company, you want more and more people to hop on your bandwagon. Why wouldn’t you want throngs of people to become your loyal customers?
You don’t want just anyone to buy into your product or service simply because “everyone else is doing it.”
You want to draw the right customers to your company.
Think about it:
If a bunch of people who have little to no need for your product spend their hard-earned cash on whatever it is you’re offering, they’re most likely going to end up being disappointed. If they voice this displeasure to their friends, or on a public forum, it won’t matter that they weren’t the “right” person for your product; their negative comments will still have a damaging effect on your reputation.
On the other hand, by gathering a large group of the right customers together on your metaphorical bandwagon, you ensure that any word of mouth spread about your brand is positive in nature. In turn, this can lead to:
- Increased awareness of your brand
- Increased customer loyalty
- Increased brand equity
The following article will discuss the ways in which your company can use groupthink and the bandwagon effect to its advantage, and will provide examples of how companies have successfully implemented these strategies in recent times.
Leveraging The Groupthink Phenomenon to Increase Sales and Grow Your Company
Consumers tend to adapt a bandwagon mindset in four main ways:
- Following the herd, or “keeping up with the Joneses”
- Trusting the herd
- Following their peers
- Following influential people
Before we dig into each of these areas, let’s make one thing clear:
The concept of leveraging the bandwagon effect does not equate to taking advantage of huddled masses full of unsuspecting people. On the contrary, you’ll actually end up sharpening your marketing focus on individuals who are most in need of your product or service, ensuring that those who hop on the bandwagon will stay along for the ride.
Following the Herd (Or, “Keeping Up with the Joneses”)
The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” has always had a negative connotation attached to it.
Essentially, the saying refers to the idea that people will buy into the newest fad or purchase the hottest new item simply because everyone else around them is doing so. (A more modernized version of this is “FOMO,” or “Fear Of Missing Out.”)
In the marketing and advertising industries, we’ve seen this concept manifest over and over again, to the point that it’s almost been done to death:
- Beer commercials promising good times in every bottle or can
- Ads for new 4K TVs promising you’ll be the envy of every guy in town come gameday
- Car commercials comparing the frustration a neighbor feels with his subpar vehicle to the feeling you could have with a brand new luxury sedan
Each of these examples plays on the idea that, if you buy such and such a product, your life will automatically improve (and you’ll end up happier than the “have-nots”).
But this is a blanket assumption.
How can these advertisements know that this beer or that car can make a specific person happy?
Simply put: they can’t.
These type of advertisements prey on susceptible individuals who feel like they’re missing out on something in their life, but really have no idea what that something is. They’re probably willing to take a shot in the dark and see if your product will improve their lives – but if/when it doesn’t, they’ll move on to something else.
By casting a wide “FOMO” net, you’re really just hoping enough people get caught in it to make your efforts pay off. More often than not, this won’t be the case.
But there are ways to implement a “keeping up with the Joneses” marketing campaign while focusing on prospects that have a high probability of becoming – and remaining – paying customers.
For a prime example of how to do this, look no further than e-commerce giant Amazon.
For each product department, Amazon provides customers with a number of options to help them narrow their search – getting them closer and closer to the product that’s most likely to fulfill their exact need.
The first section to take note of is the Best Sellers section. By listing the best-selling products in a specific department, Amazon is essentially saying “Everyone and their brother has one of these, so you should too!”
Though such a tactic does play on the customer’s FOMO, it does so in an objective way. Rather than claiming that a product is “just what the customer is looking for,” Amazon simply lets the customer know: “Hey, a ton of other people with your needs have bought these products.” The customer, then, is able to focus on determining which specific product in this list is right for them.
The screenshot above displays the top six best-selling books on Amazon at the time of writing this. While this list might help the avid reader who’s made it their goal to read as many best-sellers as possible, this section might not be so helpful to a customer looking for a specific type of book.
That’s where recommendations come in.
Though it may seem like magic to the run-of-the-mill consumer, these suggestions are curated through predictive analytics – a process which analyzes both an individual’s browsing and purchasing history, and that of like-minded customers, to identify other products the individual might find useful.
In the example above, Amazon tells the customer: “We know what you like. Other people who like the same things also like these things. Check them out!” In this way, Amazon targets high-probability prospects and asks them to hop on a specific bandwagon full of individuals just like them.
By providing suggestions to prospects based on what similar customers have enjoyed – rather than making suggestions based on a manufactured fear of missing out – you’ll fill your fan base with individuals who will almost certainly be more than one-and-done customers.
Trusting The Herd
In the section above, we discussed how marketers can use what they know about their current customers to target future prospects.
But sometimes, it can be beneficial for the marketer to step out of the equation and let current customers sing the company’s praises on their own.
According to WebDAM, customer testimonials are the most effective form of content marketing in terms of creating conversions. In other words: when making a purchasing decision, potential customers place high importance on current customers’ experiences with a company’s products or service.
Customer input can be either solicited or unsolicited, structured or unstructured. In this section, we’ll take a look at a few examples of each type.
Solicited and structured customer testimonials can come in the form of interviews, video clips, or case studies, and can be told by either the actual customer or through the lens of a storyteller. These pieces usually focus on a specific aspect of the product or service, the positive outcome the customer experienced due to using it, and any pleasant surprises they discovered along the way.
Because these pieces are created with the cooperation of a copywriter or interviewer who has an intimate knowledge of the company’s products and overall purpose, they can focus on a specific aspect of the company’s product or service.
However, there’s a fine line between coming off as “real” and coming off as forced. That being said, it’s important for the content creator to act simply as a medium through which satisfied customers can tell their story – rather than exaggerating the customer’s experience and giving prospects unrealistic expectations.
Marketers can also choose to remove themselves from the entire equation completely by providing customers the opportunity to post reviews and comments on the company’s website and social media pages.
Unlike structured testimonials, customer-generated reviews are just that: created by customers, for future customers.
The customer in this example is clearly looking out for others like him who are searching for inexpensive, efficient earbuds. His review is objective, informative, and jargon-free (he even refers to his words as a “layman’s evaluation”!).
Nothing in this review is forced. Panasonic didn’t ask the customer to write it, and he didn’t stand to gain anything from doing so; he just wanted to help others that find themselves in a situation he knows all too well.
And he did. Notice at the bottom of the screenshot: 7,539 people found his review helpful. Given that the review was favorable, it’s reasonable to assume that a large amount of those who found the review helpful actually purchased the product in question. That’s 7,000-plus people who hopped on a bandwagon due to a single positive review.
(On top of that, the product has been reviewed by over 40,000 customers – 68% of which gave it a 5-star rating.)
That’s…quite a bandwagon. Anyone in need of new earbuds would absolutely feel confident hitching a ride with these satisfied customers.
We’re lucky enough to live at a time in which gaining a following that spans the entire globe is well within the realm of possibility. The larger your customer base grows, the higher the potential of it growing even larger.
“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”
According to a 2014 study by Harris Interactive, the answer to that question for most young adult internet users is “maybe.”
At least, that’s the case when it comes to making purchases based on their friends’ posts on social media.
It’s one thing to see a positive review of a product or service from a fairly anonymous customer that you have no connection with. But when someone you know, like, and trust has nothing but good things to say about a company, you’re statistically much more likely to listen.
Like with customer testimonials, peer recommendations can either be facilitated by the company seeking the recommendation, or can be created organically by the customer.
As is the case in the above screenshot, companies can suggest that customers share purchases with their friends – spreading awareness of their product and leveraging word of mouth in one fell swoop.
While such a notification might not benefit every person on the customer’s friend list, it stands to reason that a good percentage of people on an individual’s friend list has similar taste and needs – and will, in fact, appreciate the content being shared.
But it’s what can happen after customers share a purchase that can be truly valuable to a company.
For example, say ten of the customer’s friends contact her after they notice her purchase, and ask for a recommendation. Assuming she has only good things to say about your product, your potential customer base has now grown by ten individuals. If they each go through with a purchase, share the purchase, and ten of their friends become interested: your company gains over 100 prospects. All because one person shared their initial purchase.
Though you don’t exactly have control about what happens after the fact, you stand to lose out on hundreds – even thousands – of potential sales if you don’t provide your satisfied customers the opportunity to share their purchase on social media.
Following Trusted Influencers
Every herd has a leader. And a brand’s bandwagon is no exception.
These influential individuals are experts in the industry, and are held in high regard by rest of the crowd. Others want to be just like them, and will follow their every word if it means having a shot at attaining the level of success these people have reached.
However, like we discussed in the section on following the herd, leveraging the opinions of well-known individuals can be done an exploitative way, or it can be done in an inclusive way. Needless to say, the latter is much more effective.
You’re surely familiar with the advertising tactic of getting big-name superstars to appear in ads and commercials for a product. While doing so can still be effective if done right, it can spell disaster for all parties involved if done wrong.
The fact of the matter is, consumers see right through celebrity endorsements that are insincere or hypocritical.
(Note: Having a celebrity appear in your commercial in the name of meta-humor is always good for a laugh, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Anyway, for a celebrity or influencer endorsement to work, the individual promoting the product or service should actually believe what they’re saying about it.
Think about it like this:
Of all the brands Michael Jordan has endorsed, which one comes to mind first?
(For the sake of argument, I’m assuming you said “Nike.”)
The basketball legend has been the spokesman for countless products, from underwear to cologne.
But Nike will always stick out not just because the company named a sneaker after him, but because we know for a fact that Jordan actually did wear Nike sneakers while playing ball.
The message is clear: if Nike is good enough for one of the absolute greatest athletes of our time, there’s no doubt the company makes quality products.
But, again, this is still the “old way” of using celebrities to market a product.
Nowadays, it’s all about using a celebrity’s social media following as leverage. This is where the bandwagon effect really takes hold.
Social media has allowed us all to catch candid glimpses of celebrities’ “real lives” in a way that simply wasn’t possible a couple de ades ago. What we’ve discovered is – *gasp* – even the most famous individuals are people, just like you and I.
(Okay, maybe celebrities can afford to actually visit #SaltBae’s restaurant, while the rest of us have to settle for watching him cook via Instagram. But anyway…)
The point is, celebrities are people, too. And, as people, they all have causes they care deeply about, and brands they are loyal to.
Though not necessarily related to marketing, consider the following: The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Twitter account usually gets anywhere from 5-50 retweets per message. But look what happens when DiCaprio himself (with a following of over 17 million people) retweets a video from the NRDC:
Did the NRDC contact DiCaprio and ask him to retweet that video? Most likely not. The famous actor, who’s well-known for being an outspoken supporter of environmental protection, likely saw the video and shared it just as you or I would with any valuable resource we happen to find while browsing the web. In turn, the video reached thousands – if not millions – more individuals than it would have had DiCaprio not taken the time to share it with his followers.
Now, there’s one other way in which marketers can leverage trusted influencers’ opinions:
This type of marketing tactic combines the intentionality of a paid endorsement with the candid aspect of unsolicited support. In this way, expert testimonials allow companies to expand their reach and spread positive information about their products or services.
Expert testimonials can come in a variety of forms, from interview quotes and product reviews on your company’s site to references and mentions on experts’ blogs.
In either case, expert testimonials can be gathered both proactively and passively.
When gathering testimonials for your own website, you might choose to reach out to customers who are well-known in their own industry to see if they’d like to offer a positive word about your product. If you know for a fact they’ve found your product valuable, you might ask them to include a link to your site in a future blog post, should the opportunity arise.
On the other hand, you might discover an influencer has left a positive review of your product on its Amazon page, or has mentioned your product on their site without even being prompted. If that’s the case, you can reach out to them and see if they wouldn’t mind you using a screenshot of such a testimonial on your own site.
Either way, having trusted influencers speak highly of your brand will expose your company to thousands of new prospects. If this bandwagon of individuals takes their leader’s word as bond, you can expect that many of them will begin following you, as well.
Though we used the word “herd” throughout this article when discussing your customer base, you may have noticed we intentionally avoided using the word “flock.”
Because your followers are not sheep. They won’t blindly follow you wherever you go, especially if you lead them astray – and you shouldn’t expect them to.
But, if you build a solid foundation of customers, and maintain a position of leadership, knowledge, and wisdom within your industry, your pack will continue to grow – and will become more and more loyal to you as you continue to provide for their needs.