Trust builds brands
If some of my readers are into consulting, or any other type of services business, no doubt they are very well aware of the power of recommendations. A former client making a referral about you to a prospect, a powerful recommendation of your skills and achievements on LinkedIn, Klout +K’s that you collect — any of these can signal trust, an essential element for building good brands. Likewise, if you are an author, the praise given to your new book by other authors or famous people is crucial, and can boost the sales of your book.
Our brain seems to be wired to perceive endorsements, recommendations and word-of-mouth in a very special way.
In particular, before we make a decision to proceed with a high-value project, we seem to give a lot of weight to the recommendations of our trusted friends and partners.
Whether it’s a need for a strategy for your business for the next 3 years, or a new house for your family, you need to be able to trust the people who will be delivering this high-involvement, high-value service.
Celebrity endorsements – the glitz and glamor of branding
The dynamics of building trust have been studied in various fields — psychology, marketing, and diplomacy, to name a few. In relation to brand strategy, a subject that has been studied particularly well is celebrity endorsements that are used to support launches of new products, or infuse a new life into existing ones. This technique can infuse your product with an instant dose of glamor and glitz, which, in its turn, leads to higher sales of the product being endorsed.
These days, celebrity endorsements are omnipresent. Lana del Rey for H&M, George Clooney for Nespresso, or Jimmy Wales for Maurice Lacroix — it seems that all it takes is to pair up a handsome famous face next to a product in order to make it a market success.
Many companies have used the strategy of celebrity endorsements to build their brands. And I am not only talking about big brands that have enough cash to pay celebrities — even some startups have chosen celebrity endorsements as a sure way to become known and reach for the stars.
But wait a minute. Why would a person whom we don’t actually know, just because of her celebrity status, be able to grow your product sales only by saying that she uses a certain brand of smart phone, car or lipstick? Do customers really experience immediate trust towards a product, supported by a famous person — even if they don’t rationally know that much about the celebrity in question?
Forget the rational
And here’s my advice — when it comes to celebrity endorsements, forget the rational aspects of consumer behavior. Before we continue looking at the dynamics of celebrity endorsements, let’s keep this in mind: ninety-five per cent of our thoughts, emotions, and decisions, including decisions to buy a product endorsed by a celebrity, cannot be referred to as ‘rational’. According to Gerald Zaltman, a marketing professor at Harvard, and author of How Customers Think1, most of our decisions take place without our conscious awareness. So, when your customers are looking at your new ad featuring a famous model or Hollywood superstar carrying the bag that you produce, they don’t start analyzing why they find your ad appealing. Something much more powerful takes place in their subconscious minds, so let’s take a look at how this works, from the point of view of neuroscience.
Famous faces help sell shoes
In a recent study published by Journal of Economic Psychology, Dutch researcher Mirre Stallen2 looked into how products appearing next to faces of famous, vs non-famous, women, activated the brains of respondents. During the experiment, twenty-three young Dutch women were exposed to images of shoes accompanied by faces of celebrities, as well as faces of non-famous women. When the images of shoes were paired with famous faces, the areas of the brain responsible for processing emotional stimuli, were more likely to get activated than in cases when shoes were paired with faces of non-celebrities. Also, the brain activity showed that positive feelings about celebrities were easily transferred onto positive feelings towards the shoes shown to respondents. The young women who participated in the study said that “they’d be more likely to buy the shoes associated with a celebrity’s face, as long as the shoes were ones they believed the celebrities didn’t already own.”3
Persuasiveness of fame
If celebrity endorsements are not a technique that is relevant to your product, get inspired by the dynamics of this branding strategy anyway. The important point to keep in mind here is that building trust is essential to building strong brands. Find your brand ambassadors, online influencers and trusted business partners, and if you manage to get their appreciation of your work expressed in the public domain — be it your LinkedIn profile, the cover of your upcoming book, or a referral during a networking event — their ‘fame’ and status will propel your brand to success.
- Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 2003 [↩]
- Mirre Stallen et al., Celebrities and shoes on the female brain: The neural correlates of product evaluation in the context of fame, Journal of Economic Psychology 31, 2010, 802-811 [↩]
- Source: Psychology Today [↩]