During my undergraduate years, I paid my bills working as a security guard (a.k.a., crowd manager) around town. Much of my job involved ordering, directing and containing large crowds of people. And it was on this job that I discovered how much providing a simple reason can establish loyalty and respect with an audience.
One night, while helping out at a high school basketball game, there was a large group of kids loitering in front of the emergency exit.
“Guys, you can’t be standing in front of this exit,” I told them. “Please move somewhere else.”
They looked up at me in collective bewilderment. Without budging, they returned to their conversations.
I waited about ten minutes, then came back to find them still blocking the exit. Since I wasn’t the 350 pound, seven-foot-tall security guard that you find guarding venues around Chicago, I knew it would take a new approach. Mind over matter.
“Guys, you can’t be standing in front of this exit,” I repeated. “Please move somewhere else, because this is an emergency exit.”
And then they walked away, smiling, giving me thumbs ups and nodding in what appeared to be complete understanding.
The Power of Providing a Reason
My success could have been attributed to the fact that I repeated the statement twice. But how often does repeating things actually work with teenagers? Something deeper was at work. They listened to me the second time simply because I gave them a reason to do so. “Because this is an emergency exit.”
Ever since Bob Cialdini popularized this persuasive tool as “The Power of ‘Because,’” much has been written about it. A Google search for the term uncovers dozens of blog articles hailing “because” as the greatest persuasive tool in the English language. Copyblogger identifies the word as one of “The Two Most Important Words in Blogging.” The word “because,” they state, is just the most common transition word for marking the beginning of a reason. And I completely agree.
The original study was led by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer in 1978. In the study, a subject used three different phrases to attempt to cut in line use a Xerox machine. The following table demonstrates each phrase’s success rate:
|Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?||Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?||Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?|
|60% Agreed||94% Agreed||93% Agreed|
Clearly, the revealing element of this study was the last phrase, in which the reason given (“because I have to make copies”) carried no intrinsic or meaningful weight.
This study only involved one word, and I haven’t researched any deeper, subsequent studies regarding the effectiveness of similar words. But I would venture to guess that similar transition words — “since,” “due to,” “for,” “thus,” “hence” and “therefore” — may be equally effective.
It’s About Respect
This study is about more than simple subconscious triggers. To assume that using the word “because” (or others) leads people to mindlessly heed your command is a very, very dangerous proposition. And I have found that it is far too common. Importantly, the effectiveness of this phenomenon simply hinges on the fact that providing a reason indicates your respect for the natural rights of the individual.
Deep down, all people really want is an indication of a reason to temporarily give up their free will. It proves to them that you’re not just ordering them around. You’re not just flexing your power muscles because you’ve had a bad day. You’re not trying to demonstrate superiority. You’re showing that you actually have a reason for shouting a defense-eliciting order. You’re respecting their ability to be autonomous and independent. You’re respecting their attention.
As Chris Brogan and Julien Smith would perhaps argue, by providing a reason and thus showing respect, you are establishing a relationship of trust. And for brands and businesses, this trust is a huge deal.
A Reason to Connect
Back in May, DDB social strategist Andrew Blakeley reported how only 10 out of 46 brands provide consumers with a reason to follow them on social media:
“This morning my yoghurt told me to find it on Facebook. It didn’t tell me why, it just told me to find it. Why on Earth would I want to find a yoghurt on Facebook? It’s a yoghurt!”
From a public relations standpoint, this is a tragedy. The vision statement of Starcom Worldwide reads, “In the future, the scarcest resource in our world will be consumer attention.” Blakeley has demonstrated that most brands — even after catching people’s attention — are neglecting to give consumers a reason to maintain it.
What the “because” phenomenon teaches us about social media is that people may not need much of a reason to connect with brands. But they do need a reason.
Thus, even if your brand isn’t running a unique, massive and creative campaign, give your audience a reason to connect. Show them that you respect their ability to independently choose which brands to connect with.
“Follow us on Facebook to connect with other yogurt fans.” It’s better than nothing.
Links in this Article
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Bob Cialdini
- Google search for “the power of ‘because’”
- The Two Most Important Words In Blogging – Copyblogger – By Brian Clark
- The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction
- Google Scholar search for articles citing Ellen Langer’s study
- Trust Economies: Investigation into the New ROI of the Web – By Chris Brogan & Julien Smith
- Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity – Amazon.com – By Francis Fukuyama
- Why I Don’t Like Your Brand on Facebook – BrianSolis.com – By Andrew Blakeley
- Starcom Worldwide – Vision
- Watch on YouTube: Ben & Jerry’s – Fair Tweets