Optimizing online conversion? Mimic your customer’s behavior!

Why does a sales rep always mimic my smile or my body posture?

Well, that is because mimicry is a powerful online persuasion technique”

Even presidents mimic other presidents to influence them!

Mimicry refers to the automatic imitation of other people’s behavior (see above: all the presidents are mimicking each others postures). You yawn when I yawn, you smile when I smile, you shake your foot when I shake my foot. Mimicry is a powerful persuasion technique used by the most slew sales rep’s. Sales rep’s know that mimicking customer’s mannerisms (smiling, shaking foot, fondling hair) helps them build rapport with their customer’s and make their customer’s like them. And they know that when customers likes them, they will buy from them! In this post, I’ll explain what mimicry is and I’ll give 5 concrete tips how to use mimicry for online persuasion!

What is mimicry?
Mimicry refers to the “automatic imitation” of other peoples behavior. Hence, it could be viewed as a source of social influence. To understand how mimicry works, imagine taking part in the following experiment. You are dining in a nice restaurant. The waitress is very friendly and the food is nice. When it is time to pay and tip the waitress, you tip her generously. Why not, she was nice and friendly and attentive throughout the meal. Your colleague, who coincidentally dines in the same restaurant and has been served by the same waitress, was also satisfied with the food and service. However, he gives a significantly lower tip. What happened here?

Well, the waitress was actually a research confederate who was instructed to verbally mimic your order. So she repeated your order using the exact same words as you used. And this verbal mimicry unconsciously worked in her favor: you gave her a bigger tip!

Mimicry: customer’s who like you will buy from you!

Evidence for the existence of mimicry comes from the observation of babies automatically imitating other peoples behavior (smiling, looking, turning head). Some animals are also good at imitating other animals behavior (e.g. plant-hoppers mimic being leaves in order not to be eaten). Also, our brain seems to be wired for mimicry. We have special mirror neurons which help us recognise and act upon other peoples behaviors. Finally, there is social psychological evidence for mimicry (like the research example above). For example, research has shown that we automatically mimic the shaking of a foot, or the rubbing of the face of complete strangers.

Why do we mimic?
We mimic because mimicry has clear benefits for us and it helps us reach our goals. For example, when I mimic you smiling at me during a conversation, you’ll like me more. We will also be more likely to bond together, and our conversation will be much more fluent.

Influence on consumer buying?
So, can we also influence consumers using mimicry? Yes, we can! Research has shown that when we observe other people consuming a product, we also tend to consume that product. Imagine watching a video where you see someone consuming either goldfish crackers or animal crackers. If you see that person eating goldfish crackers, you are more likely to eat goldfish crackers. If that person eats animal crackers, you’re more likely to eat animal crackers. Also, when you are mimicked (shaking of head, running your face, crossing of legs, etc.) when discussing a new beverage, you will like that beverage more, your intentions to buy that beverage increases, and you actually consume more of that beverage.

Mimicry: a new powerful online persuasion technique?
In short, we don’t know yet. The research on mimicry and consumer behavior is scarce. To the best of my knowledge, there is no scientific research that demonstrates mimicry effects in an online persuasion setting (although see this example on youths imitating online smoking behavior of their peers). Also, I am not yet aware of any AB-test result using mimicry as online persuasion technique. On the other hand, mimicry is a form of social influence and the conditions under which mimicry should work are thus present online, most notably on social networking sites.

For example, youtube might be a platform were mimicry could be used for online persuasion. Make a video where you show that actual consumers buy or consume your product. Also, use Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram (or similar services) to show pictures of actual consumers buy or better yet consume your product. Perhaps even more powerful, see your friends and family use certain products. Another use of mimicry might be in online  customer service centre. When online customer service centre use webcams to communicate with customers, they should try to mimic the customer’s speech and behavior (e.g. repeating words, mimic their smile, mimic head movements, etc. ). Also, recently chatbot passed the Turing test (which means that the chatbot made 30% of it’s users think they were interacting with a human being). How did “he” do that? By mimicking the users speech and behavior! Using mimicry in customer care settings, I would suspect this leads to greater customer satisfaction and more favorable brand attitudes, and perhaps even increase future buying intentions. These and more applications of mimicry should be tested on various metrics relevant to your business.

Five Online Persuasion Tips:

  1. Google AdWords: mimic a user’s search query (e.g.  {keyword:default text} ) in your Adwords display banners, in the content of your landing page, throughout your homepage (when relevant), and in your app. This verbal mimicry should lead to more liking, and thus more CTR, and ultimately more conversion.
  2. Facebook/Instragram: post pictures on your Facebook or Instagram page showing actual consumers buying or consuming your product. Compare this to standard product pictures on metrics such as product/brand attitudes, buying intentions, conversion rates.
  3. Youtube: post videos of actual people shopping for your product. Post a video on your site were you show actual consumers buying or consuming your product. Compare this video with a standard product/brand video, on metrics such as product/brand attitudes, buying intentions, conversion rates.
  4. Online customers care centre: when you use webcams to facilitate customer care interactions. Instruct customer care personal to mimic their customer’s behavior (speech, smile, head movements) and test on metrics such as satisfaction with dealing with complaint, brand attitude, and future buying behavior.
  5. Mimicking actual consumer dialogues using (or predicting) consumer linguistics. Find out (for example on social networking sites) what words people use when they talk about your product or brand. See of they use particular words or expressions. Then, use these words to mimic how your customers talk about your product.

So, what do you think? Is mimicry a useful online persuasion technique? Do you know of any AB-test on mimicry? I would love to hear you thoughts on the effects of mimicry as an online persuasion technique!

If you want to find out how this or other online persuasion techniques can be applied to your website, feel free to contact me.