We’ve seen the lists. All those words that grab attention and spark those triggers deep in our psyche that get us to buy sooner than later. You know what I’m talking about: free, limited time, guaranteed, exclusive, discount … the list goes on. But do you know the words that are most likely to close sales that have nothing to do with price?
In 2000, social psychology researchers, Nicolas Gueguen and Alexandre Pascual, conducted a study to see what words resulted in the greatest compliance for doing a simple task. They asked subjects on a city street to give money to a cause and were only able to get 10 percent of those asked to comply. When they added the phrase, “but you are free to accept or refuse,” nearly 48 percent complied, and in many cases, the amount of the gift donated was greater than before. Subsequently, they found that by using these same words to get people to take a survey, the compliance rate was also substantially higher.
Why do the simple words, “But you are free” have such a strong persuasive impact on compliance? From a psychological perspective, we humans want to always feel in control, and when someone asks for something that is ours — our time, our money — we feel they are asking us to give up control of some of our most valuable necessities. From a marketing perspective, I believe the impact goes even deeper.
A mentor of mine, Charles Graves, a brilliant public relations thought leader, told me years ago to focus marketing initiatives on the notion that consumers want to be told, not sold. And while that does relate to our need to be in control, it also goes to our instinctive need to be involved, informed and valued for our own intelligence and ability to make wise choices.
A researcher for the University of Illinois, Christopher Carpenter, conducted similar studies on the But You are Free Compliance-Gaining technique. His work involved 42 studies and 22,000 participants and also showed that using this approach at least doubled the success rate in various scenarios.
While the implications of the BYAF concept may be more clear for sales, some of the ways this impacts marketing may not be. Think about how much research consumers do before buying just about anything. GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual “Major Purchase Shopper Study” shows that more and more consumers research extensively to compare products, prices and financing options before making major purchases. The most recently study conducted in 2013 indicates that 81 percent of consumers go online before going to stores, and that number is up 20 percent from the previous year. On average, consumers spend 79 days gathering information before making their choices. This particular study focused on shopping patterns for purchases of $500 or more, covering a broad spectrum of categories including appliances, electronics, flooring, home furnishings and bedding, jewelry, power sports products and more.
Even with all this research, we still need validation that we made the right decision. We go on Facebook to see if our friends agree with our choice. We read consumer reviews on Amazon, Yelp and many more websites and so on. Even with all the decision support systems available for any purchase we make, we still need a lot of reinforcement. It’s just human nature.
When we feel we made wise choices, we transfer those good feelings to those who helped us make those decisions and to those who reinforce our choices. This is where BYAF works brilliantly for marketing. When you provide objective information and encourage customers to make their own choices, you become a partner. You’re that trusted advisor who makes them feel good about themselves and just as good about you! In fact, when you make others feel intelligent, wise and accomplished, you can trigger those hormonal releases of oxytocin and dopamine, and when that happens, you create bonds.