What is the Barnum effect and how you can use it to increase your sales

Here is an experiment for you.

Tell me if anything from this list is applicable to you:

  1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  2. You tend to be critical of yourself.
  3. You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage yet.
  4. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
  5. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.

So what describes you the best?

I am sure you can relate to a lot of points in the list.

This is called the Barnum (or Forer) effect. This cognitive bias occurs when we accept certain positive information as true even when the information is so vague as to be worthless and believe it applies to us personally more so than to other people, despite the fact that the description is actually filled with generic information that applies to everyone.

The best example of this bias in action is horoscopes. 

This is a brilliant experiment that illustrates this effect in action – I really recommend you to watch this video (8 minutes long) 

Why are we so seemingly naive with these things? Well, we all seek approval and confirmation of our self worth, and thus we are gullible when someone tries to understand and encourage us. 

So how does this apply to marketing and sales?

Brands use this effect very often to give you a feeling of tailoring the products and services specifically for you.

Netflix and Spotify create “For you” lists in which they offer the suggestions of music and movies based on your preferences. Sort of – because it is never the case with me: every time I try to watch a movie from those lists I get frustrated because they are not at all what I normally watch. 

Some brands use it in their advertising copy. The iconic L’Oreal tagline “Because you are worth it” shows us how the right phrase can make the right impact. 

A lot of businesses use this effect in their landing pages where they define their target audience.

And the principle is simple: when we read such descriptions and recognise ourselves in them, we feel familiarity, a connection, a bond, as if a company really knows us, understands us, hears us and finally can help us to solve our problems. And who does not want that?

How to use this effect?

The most ecological and authentic way is to really research your customers, through reviews, social media, or through the data that you already have. And to personalise your services or products based on those findings.

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