Social proof sells – if everyone has it, people think it must be good.
Scarcity also sells – it’s human nature to want what’s rare.
But did you know that these two “proven” sales tactics can backfire?
Avoid Social Proof When…
If you’re selling a product that focuses on love, dating, or romance, you should avoid some forms of social proof. Let me explain.
How do people attract the opposite sex? Research suggests that males do it by way of conspicuous consumption, meaning they demonstrate their worthiness by “showing off their wealth.”
You’ve seen it before. Picture a man who buys an expensive sports car or a large house. That’s conspicuous consumption, and he does it to differentiate himself from other men.
Now think about social proof. This sales appeal persuades people to buy products because everyone else is buying them too. However, if a man is trying to differentiate himself from other men, does he want a product that everyone else has?
Of course not… and that’s why using social proof may hurt your sales.
What Works When Selling Romance?
If you’re selling romance, you should use a sales appeal that helps your market differentiate themselves from others.
What’s the best way to help people “stand out?”
Offer them a product with limited distribution. Or in other words, take advantage of the scarcity principle, “rare is good” mentality.
In contrast to social proof, scarcity works for people primed with romantic desire because a limited amount of product implies that the buyer will be one of the few who had the chance to buy it.
For example, if you’re selling a dating ebook, instead of telling people how many copies you sold, you could highlight something like “less than 1% of the men in the United States have bought this ebook.”
While scarcity works great here, it doesn’t work everywhere.
Avoid Scarcity When…
If you’re selling a product that relates to security, safety, or anything that deals with fear, you should avoid scarcity. Let me explain.
Why does fear exist? As a mode for survival right? And how do people survive when they’re scared? They crowd around others because there’s safety in numbers.
The problem is, scarcity helps people “stand-out” from others. This is the last thing people want to do when they’re stricken with fear.
Given this theory, researchers tested it. They used an appeal like “this one of a kind place has yet to be discovered by others” on an audience who was primed with fear. And what did they find? It hurt sales results.
What Works When Selling Fear-based Products?
You know what happens when people are scared – they crowd around other people. If you want to sell to these people, you must show them how other people use your product. Or in other words, you must use a social proof sales appeal.
For example, the other day, Michael Martine tweeted about WordPress Defender, an ebook that shows you how you can protect your wordpress installation from hackers. Since this product uses fear to sell, it’s a perfect opportunity to show off how many other people found safety with the purchase of this product.
The Bottom Line
If you’re selling romance, use scarcity. If you’re selling fear, use social proof.
Also, if you’d like to see the research I used to make these conclusions, check out “Fear and Loving in Las Vegas” by Cialdini et. al. It was published in the Journal of Marketing research.
Or, if you prefer to avoid the jargon, you should subscribe to my RSS feed. I will continue to explain psychological research in easy-to-understand terms and show you how it works in the real world.