What is Herd Mentality and How to Use Herd Behaviour in Marketing
Author: Katerina Thomas
Humans, like lemmings and cows, tend to follow the herd – both in action and opinion. But whilst we can’t change people we can use the knowledge about the herd mentality to our advantage in business and marketing. Let’s find out how.
In this episode, Katerina talks about..
Part 1: Why do we join the herd
Part 2: How to use herd mentality in marketing
Part 3: What is a ‘Purple cow’ and why do you need one
Part 1. Why do we join the herd
Why we follow the ‘herd’ and how to use it in Marketing
Humans, like lemmings and cows, tend to follow the herd – both in action and opinion. But whilst we cant’s change people we can use the knowledge about the herd mentalioty to our advantage in business and marketing. Let’s find out how.
In 1935, Muzafer Sherif, a Turkish-American social psychologist conducted an interesting experiment.
He was studying conformity, so he put different subjects of the experiment in a dark room.
And, he told them to watch a little dot of light in the dark room.
He instructed his test subjects to report how far a light dot moved.
And what Sherif observed was very interesting.
His research subjects observed the dot was moving.
In reality, what they experienced was the Autokinetic Effect.
But the Autokinetic Effect is an illusion.
You would be fooled by it too.
Sherif realized that what people experienced was completely “in people’s heads”, the dot wasn’t moving..
They kind of imagined the dot was moving.
And the perception of a moving dot was influenced by suggestions.
So he did some further investigation into the autokinetic effect.
First, Sherif studied how people reacted to the autokinetic effect when they were alone in the room.
He found that individuals would usually establish a norm for the judgment.
They would decide that e.g. the light was moving between 2 to 6 inches.
And they became consistent in making this judgment.
Next, he studied the autokinetic effect and how it affected the groups of subjects.
He would put his subjects in the dark room, 2 or 3 at a time, and asked to agree on a judgment.
Now, what was interesting! Sherif noted a tendency to compromise.
People who usually made an estimate like 6 inches started to make smaller judgments like 4 inches.
Those who saw less movement, such as 2 inches, soon increased their judgments to about 4 inches. People changed their views to resemble the views of others in the group.
Sherif’s subjects were not aware of this social influence.
When Sherif asked subjects, “Were you influenced by the judgments of other persons during the experiments?” most denied it. But, when subjects were tested separately, most conformed to the group’s judgment.
For example, a subject who before settled on an estimate of 2 inches or 6 inches was more likely to say (after the group experience) the light was moving about 4 inches.
So research subjects were changed by the group experience, whether they realized it or not.
They had increased their conformity to group norms. So the test subjects compromised, even if the answer was wrong.
Sherif concluded that people had a natural desire to be part of the ‘in crowd’, a herd. And they were influenced by their peers. They adopted behaviours which were emotional, rather than rational.
Part 2. How to use herd mentality in marketing
So, why do we join the ‘herd’? Why do humans behave in such a way?
In the book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’, Rolf Dobelli writes that “…in the past, following others was an excellent survival strategy. Suppose that 50,000 years ago, you were travelling from jungle with your hunter-gatherer friends, and suddenly they all shouted and started running. What would you have done? Would you have stayed back, scratching your head, and weighing up whether what you were looking at was a lion or something that just looked like a lion but was, in fact, a harmless animal that could serve as a significant protein source? No, you would have sprinted after your friends”.
Later on, when you were safe, you could have reflected on what you saw and whether what you saw was indeed a ‘Lion’.
So in other words, the herd mentality became our survival strategy.
But what’s interesting is that scientists at the University of Leeds discovered that it takes a minority of 5 percent to influence a crowd’s direction — and that the other 95 percent follow without realizing it.
Whether you like this analogy but humans, like lemmings and cows, tend to follow the herd – both in action and opinion.
How can we use this to our advantage in business and marketing?
But let’s now take this knowledge about herd behaviour and put it to productive use.
First, you need to identify and then define your herd. Because this is how you influence future herd members. Think testimonials, case studies, and success stories. So gather information about your ‘herd’ or ‘tribe’ and display it for all to see.
Don’t have a ‘herd’, then you need to create one. Your herd is your happy customer base. If others know that the ‘herd’ is there, they’ll be more likely to follow.
Part 3. What is a ‘Purple cow’ and why do you need one
Are you following a Herd? Have you ever tried to 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, so you do too.
In 2019 researchers from the University of St Andrews published a study in the Nature Human Behavior journal.
The title of the paper is ‘Social learning strategies regulate the wisdom and madness of interactive crowds’.
So what did they find? Dr. Toyokawa, a lead researcher concluded, that people may rely more on following the herd than learning for themselves.
And this is especially true for difficult tasks and in big group settings.
We all want to make better decisions. But such conformity behaviour costs us more in personal costs.
In smaller groups and for easy tasks where others are usually right, the wise decision may be to follow the flock.
So next time you are deciding on blindly following your competitor, consider whether you are following the herd. Perhaps, as Robert Frost famously said, taking the road less travelled by.. will make all the difference.
Or as Seth Godin goes on to explain.. that to survive in the modern business world, you need to have a purple cow – a remarkable idea, product, or service, a marketing strategy that will differentiate them from competitors.
So to recap 3 points we’ve covered:
1) Humans, like lemmings and cows, tend to follow the herd – both in action and opinion. Think about how you can use this to your advantage in business and marketing.
Independent thought may reduce the risk of collective madness, so experiment with stepping out of the herd. It pays to be a black sheep.
2) Independent thought may reduce the risk of collective madness, so experiment with stepping out of the herd. It pays to be a black sheep.
3) To survive in the modern business world you need to have a purple cow. A purple cow is a remarkable idea, product, or service, a marketing strategy that will differentiate them from competitors.