During one of my classes at university, I asked my students a simple question: “Have you ever been influenced to buy a product from a brand you didn’t know after seeing an ad on Instagram?”
This question was one I had asked before. It is meant to spur a discussion about the power of social media marketing as brands fight to get our attention.
One student, Stacey, immediately raised her hand. She described a situation in which she had seen an ad while scrolling through her Instagram feed. It featured an image of a woman in a “cute dress” with a caption that said, Flash Sale: Everything 20% Off Today Only. Stacey said that she didn’t recognize the website but still proceeded to click on the ad and fill her online shopping cart, which can be explained by loss aversion.
Even with the 20% discount, Stacey had managed to add an impressive $100 of merchandise to her cart. She had already gone through the steps of the purchase process and was about to complete her order when she stopped to think about what she was doing.
The impulse to take advantage of the limited-time offer caused Stacey to skip the step she would normally take when unfamiliar with a particular website, which is to research the company online.
Stacey opened another tab on her web browser and started to search for reviews of this company. To her surprise, they were nearly all negative. Consumers complained about the quality of the clothes and said that customer service was very poor. There were even reviews complaining about incredibly slow shipping despite what was promised on the site. Stacey did not move ahead with her purchase.
The main factors of source credibility are trustworthiness, attractiveness, and expertise. Let’s look at each one in detail.
Whether the source is a marketer, salesperson, celebrity, or someone else, we will only believe a scarcity message to the extent that we find that source credible. Perhaps one of the best definitions of source credibility comes from a group of marketing professors who defined it as the extent to which a “source is perceived as possessing expertise relevant to the communication topic and can be trusted to give an objective opinion on the subject.” In this definition, expertise refers to the source’s knowledge of the subject. Trustworthiness refers to the believability of the source as well as perceived honesty. If we want someone to accept our message, we need to be viewed as credible.
When an expert communicates a message, we often turn off our brains, offloading the burden of the decision-making process to the expert. This is our mental shortcut. We stop thinking for ourselves and wholeheartedly rely on the expert. This might seem hard to believe, but it was the conclusion of a neurological study.
Participants were presented with a series of financial choices. With some choices, advice from a financial expert was provided, while in others, no advice was given. When the participants viewed the choices that included expert advice, they stopped considering the options and blindly followed the expert’s advice. The expert’s advice significantly influenced the participants’ behavior.
These weren’t simple decisions, such as where to eat dinner—although sometimes that isn’t simple at all! These were financial decisions that involved a level of risk. Yet, instead of evaluating the options available, the participants trusted the expert and offloaded their emotional decision making.
When it comes to using scarcity to influence consumers, businesses must be certain that the person, brand, or retailer broadcasting the message is considered knowledgeable about the product and therefore credible in the eyes of consumers.
Imagine that you were exposed to a persuasive message about the importance of a balanced diet. You were told that the message came from a Nobel Prize-winning biologist. That message would be credible, right? It might even change your mind about your eating habits.
Now imagine that instead of the Nobel Prize winner being the source, a cook at the local fast-food chain was the source. Would the message be as persuasive? More than likely, you would be more persuaded by the message that came from the Nobel Prize-winning biologist.
If we immediately perceive a source as an expert, we are more likely to buy the product. The important word here is “perceive.” Even perceived expertise can cause sales to go up. When Bill Cosby played the role of Dr. Huxtable in the Cosby Show, he was viewed as a caring father and pediatrician. Consequently, he was viewed as an expert in children’s diets. Cosby was hired to appear in advertisements for Jell-O, which led to increased sales of the gelatin dessert.
However, the results were not nearly as good when Cosby was hired to endorse a brokerage firm—he lacked perceived expertise in financial matters. What’s interesting is that he wasn’t an expert in either children’s food or finances. The perception made the difference.
When sources are not viewed as experts—as shown in the previous examples with the Nobel Prize-winning biologist versus local fast food cook and Bill Cosby—the persuasiveness of the message fizzles out and credibility becomes a bigger factor.
Let’s say you’re in the market for a new refrigerator. You’re at the appliance store looking at the options and a salesperson approaches. She explains that most people are buying a new KitchenAid side-by-side and there is only one left.
Prior to hearing that statement, you may have had little interest in KitchenAid, but because the salesperson connected the brand to what others are buying, you now seriously consider it—especially since the quantity is low (which can be partially explained by commodity theory). The salesperson acted as the source and you subconsciously or even consciously viewed her as the expert.
One study investigated the concept of “expert power” and found that a mere one-time exposure to the combination of an expert and an object very often results in a long-lasting positive attitude toward the object. It even has a positive impact on memory.
Outside of retail, a salesperson can effectively use scarcity to show his or her expertise. For example, a real estate agent makes the claim that she purposely limits the number of clients she takes but might have an opening available. You might not accept a statement like this at face value. Instead, you will probably research the agent first.
You might conduct an online search of her name to see if she is indeed an “expert.” The information you find must bolster the real estate agent’s perceived expertise, whether that means that she posts informative content on LinkedIn or maintains a blog with helpful and authoritative content.
A source is considered attractive to the extent that it is familiar, likable, or similar to us. Attractiveness helps build brand credibility.
Experts can sometimes be other customers that fall into a category of “people like me.” They are customers that you perceive as similar to you, whether in interests, demographics, or other characteristics. Many online companies couple this mentality with scarcity messages.
Net-a-Porter, an online luxury fashion retailer, displays a banner of products other shoppers are buying and putting in their shopping carts, which provides a sense of credibility and trust. Etsy, an online marketplace for custom-made products, shows how many other shoppers have the same item as you in their shopping carts. Again, this leads to a feeling of credibility and reassurance in the product.
The “people like me” mentality can go both ways. If you research reviews of a product or company and find that other people do not have a favorable opinion, you most likely will choose not to make that purchase.
To determine credibility, most customers complete online research.
What appears in the search engine results page when someone “Googles” your name or your business name? What about your product? When was the last time you checked your search results of, well, you?
Here are a few things you can do to build brand credibility:
Remain active on social media. Google and other search engines will often index and display social media profile pages in their results. Make sure your personal information is current and optimized and that you remain active on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Monitor and encourage reviews. As mentioned before, they are an important part of the “people like me” mentality.
If you have a website, make sure you have a bio or profile page. You should have a page on your website that provides your bio so people can get to know you. The page will naturally be optimized for your name and will have a strong chance of showing up in search results. Be sure to include your name in the title tag and meta description tag.
Optimize pictures of you, your products, and your business. When you upload your picture to your website or as a profile picture for social media, use your name as the filename of the image. If possible, also include your name in the image’s “alt attribute.” If you are using WordPress or another platform, this is easy to do. The alt attribute describes what is in the image and should also be used for other images you upload.
Taking these steps will help enhance your source credibility with potential customers.
Engelmann, J. B., Capra, C. M., Noussair, C., & Berns, G. S. (2009). Expert financial advice neurobiologically “offloads” financial decision-making under risk. PLoS ONE, 4(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004957
Goldsmith, R. E., Lafferty, B. A., & Newell, S. J. (2000). The impact of corporate credibility and celebrity credibility on consumer reaction to advertisements and brands. Journal of Advertising, 29(3), 43–54. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913367.2000.10673616
Klucharev, V., Smidts, A., & Fernández, G. (2008). Brain mechanisms of persuasion: How ‘expert power’ modulates memory and attitudes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 3(4), 353–366. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsn022