Getting your brand in front of your customers is hugely important—it’s a scientifically proven phenomenon. Psychologist Robert Zajonc was the first to demonstrate, in the lab, what he coined the “familiarity principle”: when people are repeatedly exposed to a certain stimuli, they develop an “affective response” to it. In short, the more you see something, the more you like it.
Zajonc found that the familiarity principle applies to just about everything, including beverage selection, people, even random symbols. When asked to choose between two things (juice, shapes, or people), we almost always choose the one we’re most familiar with—the one that, through repeated exposure, we’ve developed a personal connection with.
Brands have been looking for ways to tap into this principle since then, through things like placing personal calls to customers, or simply sending a handwritten note. The more touchpoints with a customer, the better.
But as companies grow, however, this personal connection always seems to be one of first things to be abandoned. Not enough time. Not a high enough priority. One thing I’ve learned at Wistia is that it is very possible to scale the human side of your business. In fact, it can be especially important to do so if you want to cut through the noise and acquire customers as you grow. Here are 3 strategies for using the familiarity principle at scale.
1. Put a recognizable face to your brand
In another Zajonc study, researchers found that the more times subjects had been exposed to a face, the more they liked it. We have a strong biological instinct to recognize and process faces—in fact, babies learn to recognize faces before any other object, especially ones they see often.
Some companies leverage this by getting literal, in-person facetime with clients. They hire SDRs or account execs to meet up with potential clients or long-time customers. They become the face of the brand, and painstakingly build a long-term relationship through lots of touchpoints over the years.
In his book Building Strong Brands, University of California professor David Aaker writes that there’s an easier way to do this. Companies can get facetime with customers in scalable ways, like having a spokesperson, a celebrity representative, or a mascot. The Zajonc principles about face recognition still apply when we’re not in person. As Aaker found, seeing the Michelin man for years and years develops a strong relationship with customers, through the familiarity principle.
Since the familiarity principle strengthens with time and increased exposure, it’s a time-honored way of connecting with consumers, and one that brands are still learning to improve upon today.
A Friendly Face in the Cereal Aisle
General Mills, for one example, appears to have taken advantage of the height of their target demographic when it comes to selling cereal. When a parent and their child are wandering down the cereal aisle, they’re bombarded from both sides by images of cheesy mascots beaming down at them.
Five Thirty Eight and the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab took a closer look at the angles of these characters’ gazes. For cereals marketed to children (Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Trix) the mascots were generally found to look down—straight into the eye-line of little Bobby.
The Cornell lab found that brand trust was 16% higher and brand connection was 28% higher when the Trix rabbit made eye contact, and though it sounds strange, participants in the study also indicated that it made the cereal taste better.
The same phenomenon, in fact, has been used to make Facebook ads more effective, in pop-up holistic health experiments, and to help public speakers connect with their audiences. Eye contact cuts through the noise and suggests trust, friendliness and a sense of humanness.
2. Use video to showcase your brand’s personality
Even more potent than a face is a personality. To that effect, a picture can only communicate so much. But now, technology allows any company to show personality on a budget.
Video, for example, also gives brands that personal touch. Because of the expansiveness and depth of the medium, you can express the full range of human emotions, explain things in great clarity and generally appeal to the viewer’s humanity. And, best of all, you only need to make it once. Video allows you a hugely personal, intimate window into a brand or company, and it’s something that can be projected almost infinitely.
And it’s not just big budget companies with Superbowl-level advertising budgets that can achieve this. At Wistia, we’ve seen a lot of B2B companies get really creative and use video to infuse what otherwise might be an “untrendy company” with personality.
When Zendesk realized that the phrase “Zendesk alternative” was starting to get real traction on search engines, they decided that they wanted to get their name into that stream of results.
“We knew that people searching for Zendesk alternatives were probably familiar with our brand already, so we wanted to show them why we’re a great company to work with,” said Creative Director Matthew Latkiewicz. “We hoped that if we gave them something tongue in cheek, it would be hard for them to be mad.”
It comes back to the familiarity principle: they wanted to take advantage of its effects and promote a friendly vision of their brand without having it come off the wrong way. Thus was born “Zendesk Alternative,” a down-on-their-luck Seattle grunge rock band: “Some guy stole our name for his computer company,” the lead singer complains in the video that Zendesk filmed.
“What? What kind of company?” the narrator asks.
“They make customer support software!” he indignantly replies.
It’s a gripping, funny narrative that gives you a great sense of what the people who work at Zendesk are all about. They’re creative, imaginative, and they have musical talent! All in all, they’re awesome, and you should feel comfortable and confident working with them.
3. Use referral programs to leverage the power of social networks
But marketers can leverage the familiarity principle even further. After building powerful connections with customers, brands can further tap into their customers’ social ties with friends and family. Strong referral programs, when done right, can turn existing customers into the face and personality of your brand.
The relationship between social systems—like friends and family—and brands has been studied for a long time. There’s been a lot of research done on the phenomenon of consumer socialization, or the idea that “branded goods become imbued with meaning from the social contexts in which they are used.”
In short, the “social context” provided by friends or family is hugely important in how we understand a brand. The link is especially powerful for strong influencers, like close friends or family members, especially between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons.
Researchers have also found that not only does using the same brand of toothpaste or shaving cream happen naturally between friends and family through the familiarity principle, it actually brings people closer together. Turns out, we love sharing stuff with friends and family, even if it’s as small as the brand of jeans we buy. Not only do we register this as a touchpoint with the brand, we register it as a touchpoint, or commonality, with our friends. This kind of consumer socialization is really the ultimate extension of the familiarity principle.
AirBnB Case Study
Airbnb does a great job of tapping into consumer socialization through their strong referral program. For one, the company encourages sharing really well. They show a list of friends for you to potentially refer to, along with their profile pictures, to remind you that sharing has a social dimension.
On the other side of the referral equation, advocates have the option to share a referral message on Facebook, which all of their friends can see. Integrating with Facebook further mines the social tie element. It connects people, not just through their use of Airbnb, but online.
This extra element of social proof makes all the difference in a world drowned in advertising—especially for the millennial market. Millennials, who notoriously mistrust conventional advertising techniques, are especially good with referral, largely due to this social dimension.
Extole delved into the data from their successful referral programs and found that even though other generations refer more often, millennials send targeted and effective referrals that convert at a higher rate than other generations—their desire to share brings them closer to the brand and closer to one another. They’re better advocates because their messages to peers are much more targeted and personalized—they feel genuine.
It’s clear that the personalized aspect of marketing, whether created with video or by leveraging existing relationships, is incredibly powerful in making a connection between consumer and brand.
Stepping Up Your Game
Scaling the emotional, human side of a business is difficult. If you try to craft a genuine relationship with your customers, you’ll often find that you have a hard time quantifying what you’re doing. Attribution models are not yet a total science. You rarely have any way of knowing whether a customer converted because of a phone call or a handwritten note or a personalized email.
Tools like referral programs and video analytics can change that. With the options available on the market today, marketers can get a deep understanding of how the familiarity principle is playing into their rates of conversion—it’s all in the metrics. Video and referral provide you with the data you need to be a more successful marketer. You can easily see click-through rates in videos, and you can see where referrals succeed (unlike regular word-of-mouth). Understanding what’s working allows you to up your game in the future.
Some companies are more up-to-speed on this technique than others, and they’re already seeing the benefits. Using a scalable method of creating human connections means not only finding the touch points that create converting customers, but understanding exactly how it’s done—and having the data to prove it.