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Why Marketing To The Herd Isn’t A Moot Point


Written by

Paul Bryant


12 MIN

Why Marketing To The Herd Isn’t A Moot Point

A herd of cows

What if I told you the humble After Eight dinner mint is responsible for one of the biggest exploits of our human instinct to belong to a herd?

First created in 1962, the brand taught us an expert lesson in how to appeal to the mass market by selling a desire to belong to a community. In this case, an upper-class, dinner party hosting community where no mint was too thin.

You see, the delicate thinness of the After Eight mint was a big part of its appeal and perceived ‘upmarketness’. But it wasn’t just that.

The individual wrappers (added to help stop leaking mints spoil the entire pack but accidentally elevating the ‘luxury’ of the brand), the carefully designed packaging, and the early TV ads that oozed high-class status were extremely effective.

They all came together to make ordinary people feel that by buying the mints, they too were part of the elite.

And ultimately, that’s what sealed its future.

Sure, the desire to belong to the upper echelons of society may have waned over the years. And the mints themselves may no longer have the same luxurious perception of years gone by.

Yet, over 1 BILLION mints are still made every single year and shipped to 50 countries around the world.

Why? Because so many of us want the social acceptance that being a good host brings. (Ok, we’ll admit that After Eight mints are rather tasty too!).

There are layers of complexity in this but it’s essentially just a basic human instinct to belong to and be accepted by the herd.

And that instinct is something many luxury brands use to their advantage. Whether you’re buying a Rolex or a Rolls Royce, you’re buying a status symbol. An object that helps you feel you ‘belong’ with that social class and increases your perceived social acceptance.

But they’re multi-million-pound brands. What about small and medium business owners? How do you work out who your herd are and how you can market to them effectively?

Know your herd

Essentially, the herd is whatever social group your target audience feels part of. For a handful of brands with universal appeal, the herd could be the general population. For others, the herd could be much smaller and number just a handful.

Either way, the rules are the same: people want to be liked by the other people in the herd. They want to buy, think, and say similar things to other people in the herd.

Indeed, conformity is a subject that has been studied by psychologists for decades. Take this clip (below), covering an experiment by Asch in 1951, as an example.

Apple is a great example of how conformity works in the real world.

For many people, buying the latest iPhone isn’t just about upgrading their tech. It’s about being an Apple user and having an affinity with all the other Apple users out there. If they don’t own the latest device, they may feel they no longer are accepted by the group and may begin to feel left behind.

And that’s where the fear of missing out (FOMO) comes into play.

In marketing, you’ve probably heard about FOMO before. It’s often a term that’s attached to an explanation about the importance of scarcity of a product. While that’s absolutely true, few people are talking about the fact that the fear of missing out is simply another example of people wanting to be part of the herd. We’ll come back to this later.

When marketing to the herd isn’t herd marketing

At this point, we need to make something clear. There’s a world of difference between ‘herd marketing’ and ‘marketing to the herd’.

Herd marketing is when you follow what everyone else does. Your competitors start offering free shipping, so you do too. Then they put all their focus on emphasising the low-cost of their product, so you do too.

In both cases, you have no idea if your business will benefit or suffer from your decision to copy your competitors. That’s why it’s foolish to simply be a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ marketer.

Marketing to the herd is a different beast altogether. You’re not ‘copying’ anyone. Instead, you’re using techniques that appeal to that desire to fit in and follow the herd.

And this isn’t something that’s reserved for multi-million-pound advertising campaigns. Whether you’re large or small, you can embrace your visitors’ wish to be part of the herd by using a few simple techniques on your website and landing pages.

How to unlock the power of the herd on your website

We’ve discussed how brands such as After Eight and Apple have successfully used the built-in human desire to ‘belong’. But the fact is, anyone can use the same principles to help boost the conversion rate of their website.

Here are six things you can add to your website to take advantage of your visitors’ desire to belong to a herd.

Testimonials and reviews

When was the last time you read a review before buying something? Chances are, it was pretty recent. Sites like Amazon have made reading reviews one of the staples of the consumer diet. In fact, in one survey, 92% of respondents admitted they read at least one review before making a purchase decision.

Why do we love them so much? It’s not just about checking a product does what we need it to or that it meets a certain quality standard. By knowing that lots of other people have had good things to say about a product or service, our decision to buy is justified.

Celebrity endorsements

In a world of instant celebrities and social media influencers, it should come as no surprise the power an endorsement can have for a product or brand. If you’re in any doubt, just ask Snapchat who once saw £1bn wiped off their share price following a negative comment from reality TV star Kylie Jenner.

But it doesn’t have to be a massive A-lister to get your attention. Anyone who your target audience can relate to is likely to have an impact on your brand and conversions.

Industry awards

And the winner is… often the company who keeps winning industry awards. You see, there’s nothing quite like the vote of confidence an award gives a business.

It tells people the company can be trusted. It tells people the company offers something useful. It tells people that other people trust the company. And that last one appeals directly to our innermost desires to be part of something bigger.

Recent sales popups

Ever visited a website and noticed a popup that informs you how many people have recently bought the product you’re looking at? They’re called ‘recent sales popups’ and are popular on e-commerce stores and even airline and holiday websites.

Variations of recent sales popups include telling you how many items are left in stock, how many people recently viewed the item, and how long since someone last bought the item you’re looking at.

They are all forms of social proof that make you feel part of something bigger and help to alleviate any doubts you have about purchasing. If everyone else is buying it, you can’t be wrong… right?

The best ones also bring in an urgency to purchase.

Limited stock notifications

Remember when we discussed FOMO earlier? Nothing quite makes you feel the fear of missing out as like a countdown timer.

Limited time offers are commonplace, but the one we are most interested in terms of marketing to the herd is the ‘limited stock remaining notification’.

This is a marketing technique that works on multiple levels. Firstly, it creates scarcity and encourages an urgency to purchase before the product sells out. However, it also tells you the product is popular, that other people have bought it. If you don’t buy it, you’re not like everyone else, you’re not one of them, you’ve missed out.

Customer numbers

It’s almost certain that you’ve visited a website recently that’s boasted about how many customers they have. Whether they have claimed millions of people around the globe love them or thousands in their local area, this kind of social proof is very effective.

Precise numbers tend to work best as they are perceived as being less likely to have been made up. But the real point is that by talking about how many customers you have, it adds trust, credibility, and plays to the desire to belong to a herd.

Alternative ways to embrace the herd

So far, we’ve focused mostly on how to market to the herd using techniques on your own website. However, this isn’t the only way you can do it.

Social media is a goldmine when it comes to cultivating a community within your customer base. Whether it’s through your Twitter account or a dedicated Facebook group, if you can get your customers talking to each other, you can cultivate that herd mentality.

Naturally, this can take a lot of time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. A customer herd that’s engaged with your brand can lead to increased loyalty, reduced churn, and increased revenue.

Better yet, a happy herd means more of your customers helping to spread the benefits of your brand through word of mouth and positive reviews.

So, the next time someone offers you an After Eight at the end of a dinner party, smile to yourself in the knowledge they’re simply trying to follow the herd.

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