Super Agent

Using Social Norms in Messaging

An article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review talks about using social norms in messaging to help change the behavior of customers and increase favorable outcomes for businesses. In one example provided, British tax authorities sent letters with threatening language regarding penalties to nonpaying citizens. One third of the recipients ignored them. But, when the language in the letters was changed to highlight social norms instead (“Over 93% of citizens living in your town pay their taxes on time”), payment rates increased dramatically. Why? According to the article, “People’s behavior is largely shaped by the behavior of those around them—what behavior scientists call social norms.”

How can this help you in your sales process? Instead of saying: “We can help you address the problems you’re facing”, say: “Others (specific number or percentage) who have adopted these strategies/addressed these risks/focused on these solutions have been able to tackle problems head on and achieve better outcomes.”

Here are a few key points to remember:

(1) Only highlight positive behavior. Highlighting negative behavior by pointing out a “common mistake” usually backfires.

(2) If no norms exist, publish case studies or surveys with specific metrics that you can utilize.

Making these small changes to the language in your messaging can lead to better results; however, using this technique alone is not enough. It should be only one of the powerful tools in your messaging tool kit.

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