When Liking Someone Influences Choice

Last week my vacuum broke. I was chatting with a friend about it and she suggested getting the same brand she has. I immediately felt a pull to purchase that brand even though I knew that I should research its reliability, price, and features before making a decision. I was responding to the influence of liking. When we like someone, we typically let her opinions and recommendations sway our decisions more than if we are neutral about or don’t like someone.

Several things contribute to liking someone including how attractive he is and whether she compliments us. Although your immediate reaction may be that there’s no way we are THAT superficial, study after study has shown that we form immediate responses based on things as trivial as this. This isn’t to say that deeper thinking can’t counteract or balance these responses, just that these responses are there, hardwired into our brains.

For nonprofits, using liking can be a great way to capture someone’s attention so that they are ready to listen to your more reasoned arguments. While finding a friend to promote your organization or issue is ideal, there are more efficient ways to use liking to your organization’s benefit. Finding a spokesperson who demonstrates one or more of the following qualities will go a long ways:[i]

  1. Physical attractiveness – If someone is attractive, we want to listen to her. Attractiveness also creates a halo effect, influencing our feelings about other traits about that person.
  2. Similarity – If someone is similar in his opinions, personality traits, dress, background, or life-style, it helps us to form a bond with that person.
  3. Compliments – When someone compliments us, we respond by developing positive feelings toward that person.
  4. Repeat exposure – Seeing someone repeatedly causes us to like her, unless that person is encountered under unpleasant conditions.
  5. Cooperation – Someone who can develop a sense of common goals can bridge rifts and strengthen liking because we feel he is on the same team with us.
  6. Association – When we can associate an organization’s issues, ideas, or spokesperson with a popular cultural focus, a celebrity, attractive people, benefits, and popular concepts such as freedom or peace, we are more likely to have positive feelings toward that idea or person.

For commercial advertisers, a likable spokesperson is often all they need since they are trying to create a spur of the moment decision. Nonprofits, on the other hand, typically are trying to create long-term attitude or behavior change. Liking can serve as the introduction to an idea that will then facilitate a more in-depth relationship to the organization or issue.

This is how the vacuum purchase worked for me. I used my friend’s suggestion as the starting point for research. I didn’t end up buying her recommended brand, but I now know a lot more about vacuums and am happy with my new purchase.

[i] Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised (New York: Harper Business, 2007).

Image source: http://www.appliancesonlineblog.com.au/vacuums-floor-care/vacuuming-your-baby-other-oddities-5-vintage-vacuum-ads/