Answering the question “why” is extremely important in marketing. Customers are constantly asking it, and giving them answers is very important for the sales process.
Let me explain with a story.
Recently, I was shopping at Target with my wife. She loves the store, like most women, so this was a farily usual experience. But on this visit, something different occurred.
As we were checking out, the cashier asked us if we were interested in a Target debit card. I’d never heard of it before, so I listened to learn more. As she continued talking, she mentioned that it offered a 5% discount on all purchases.
“5% on everything?” I asked, not quite sure I’d heard her right.
“Yes, 5% on everything.”
Wow, I was flabbergasted. How often do you get a discount for 5% off every purchase at a place you already frequently shop?
But then the internal wheels started turning. “I wonder, what’s in it for them? Why are they giving us 5% back? What are they getting out of this arrangement?”
After a short discussion with my wife, we decided what to do: “Thanks, but we’re going to pass.”
So what happened? Why did we pass on such an awesome deal since we already shop there?
Here’s one of the biggest reasons: Target forgot to answer “why.” They forgot to give a reason for the discount they were offering. Let’s discuss this more.
The importance of the word “because”
In Dr. Robert Cialdin’s landmark book, Influence, Cialdini tells the story of a man who was instructed to cut in line at a Xerox machine. When he didn’t provide a reason, only 60% of people agreed. In this scenario he simply stated, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine.”
In a second scenario he states, “I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I am in a rush?” After providing such a simple reason, 94% let him cut in line. That’s an impressive 34% increase.
Taking this even further, a third scenario was studied. In this situation, the man asked, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies.” As you’ll notice, an actual reason wasn’t given, but the word “because” was used which implies a reason was provided. Quite interestingly, 93% of people complied, only 1% less than when an actual reason was given. What happened? This seems like magic.
Mr. Cialdini provides this answer:
“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
Cialdini wouldn’t call these results magical
He would call them instinctual.
These responses are wired into our DNA and occur mostly on a subconscious level. In other words, they are triggers that cause an almost automatic response from humans and other animals.
To illustrate, Cialdini cites another study that illustrates an automatic response In the study, the “cheep-cheep” of turkey chicks is studied to see how it triggers an automatic mothering response from maternal turkeys.
When a stuffed polecat, a natural enemy of turkeys, is pulled by a string towards mother turkeys, the mother turkey responds by attacking furiously. However, the same stuffed polecat is gathered lovingly underneath the wings of the turkey when a small internal recorder plays the “cheep-cheep” sound of baby turkeys.
This “cheep-cheep” triggers a response that is automatic and beyond the control of the mother turkey.
What Target could have done differently
With the third Xerox example above, even though the reason wasn’t valid, it evokes a response in people that causes them to comply similar to the mother turkey.
In the story described at the beginning of this post, Target could have provided a reason why they were giving 5% off. They could have said something like, “We’re giving customers 5% back because we want to reward our most loyal customers for buying from Target.”
Even though this reason may not be 100% accurate because they are clearly getting something else out of the arrangement (interest charges), it at least gives customers a reason why. For a marketer like myself (who has read Cialdini), I would have known exactly what they were doing and would have explained to my wife on the ride home why Target used the word “because.” (She loves it when I explain marketing principles on our rides home…I think…)
But for everyone else, this would likely be extremely effective. There’s no way to know with 100% certainty without testing, but I’m confident that giving a reason why and using the word because would have made the offer much more persuasive.
The next time you’re trying to persuade customers to do something, check to see if you’re giving them a “reason why.” There’s a good chance your offer will become more persuasive if you do. When used ethically and correctly, this is a very effective marketing principle.