Thursday, February 18, 2010

Group Think: When it comes to what we say we like, often we're just following the herd

Gooood evening! So I'm pretty excited that one of my fellow countrymen (Peetu Piiroinen) just gave Finland its first medal of the Olympics with a silver in snowboarding! Woohoo!

Anyhow back to more important matters.  I was reading through a recent article in Wired by a guy called Clive Thompson.  He wrote an interesting piece on the idea of Group Think, and whether or not we can persuade someone to like a product by simply telling them it's popular.  According to the article "it seems clear that we're often just sheep."  As marketers, this is our primary job, we need to be able to convince a certain group of consumers why they need our product and then rely on them to tell their friends about that product in order to create this huge snowball effect.  

Thompson goes on to make the argument that "Madonna is famous because she's uniquely talented.  You could counterargue that she's just lucky: She got picked up by the right label at the right time, and enough people glommed onto her."  I found this particularly interesting because I just finished a book called Outliers, where Malcolm Gladwell talks about just this phenomenon.  Using this example Thompson gave, we could state that Madonna is an outlier due to her significantly "lucky" circumstances that happened at the "right" time.  What if the events didn't play out the way they did?  Obviously Madonna wouldn't be Madonna as we know her today.

Anyways, to test out an idea, Duncan Watts a "network theory pioneer and scientist at Yahoo and Columbia University" and Mathew Salganik created a "music downloading Web site.  They uploaded 48 songs by unknown bands and got people to log in to the site, listen to the songs, then rate and download them."  Users of the site were able to see each others rankings, were "influenced in roughly the same way self-fulfilling prophecies are supposed to work.  That meant some tunes could become hits-and others duds-partly because of social pressure."  These guys tried this out over and over again until they had 12,900 participants, and the result of their work was that "different songs were hits with different groups."

So, do you think it's possible to think something is popular when it isn't? They took the rankings of one group and the songs that they used in the experiment with them and inverted them so bottom ranked music was now at the top.  Then they gave these rankings to a fresh set of listeners.  What ended up happening is that they essentially told these new participants that the songs that were unpopular with the original group, were actually the popular songs.  What they found with this experiment was that 

"flat out lying works"

With all this said, it doesn't shine a good light on marketers.  As I mentioned earlier, we try our best to promote our product...our brand...whatever it may be but what I've noticed is that marketers spit out all kinds of material to consumers trying to get them to buy certain products. 

 How much of this stuff is actually true? Is any of it? Or is it all just a load of bs?  This article presents a "cautionary tale to marketers: If you lie about the merits of your product, you might suppress demand across your entire sector."

I would love to hear your thoughts on the idea of group think and whether or not we are able to convince people something is one thing when it actually isn't.  With that said is that really fair?

~Until Next Time~


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