Mpho (a friend) has just bought two bottles of expensive whiskey. He rarely drinks whiskey, but the sales assistant was so nice, not fake or pushy, just really likeable, so he bought two bottles. Did he buy the expensive whiskey because he wanted to or because the sales lady liked him, really really liked him.
This reminds me of when I was at university, there was this beautiful lady who worked at Pie City restaurant. She had that flattering smile that I would buy lunch there all the time thinking that she liked me, that she really really liked me. Only when my university friends and I realised that she smiled like that to any customer, male or female, we were disappointed because we felt that somehow that smile was only reserved to us individually. We always had lunch at Pie City because we thought the sales lady secretly liked us individually. The liking bias was at play.
Ike Moila is considered one of the most successful car salesman in the country. His tip for success: ‘There’s nothing more effective in selling anything than getting the customer to believe, really believe, that you like him and care about him.’ Moila doesn’t just talk the talk: his secret weapon is sending a card to his customers each month. Just one sentence salutes them: ‘I like you.’
The liking bias is strikingly simple to understand and yet we continually fall prey to it. It means this: the more we like someone, the more inclined we are to buy from or help that person. Still, the question remains: what does ‘likeable’ even mean? According to research, we see people as pleasant if:
A) They are outwardly attractive
B) They are similar to us in terms of origin, personality or interests
C) They liked us.
Consequently, advertising is full of attractive people. Ugly people seem unfriendly and don’t even make it into the background (see A). In addition to engaging super-attractive types, advertising also employs ‘people like you and me (see B), those who are similar in appearance, accent or background. In short, the more similar the better.Finally, its not unusual for advertisers to pay us compliments: how many times have you bought something ‘because you are worth it?’ Here factor C comes into play; we find people appealing if they like us. Compliments work wonders, even if they ring hollow as a drum.
So called multilevel marketing (selling through personal networks) works solely because of the liking bias. Though there are excellent plastic containers in the supermarket for a quarter of the price, Tupperware generates an annual turnover of billion Rands. Why? The friends who hold the Tupperware parties meet the (B) and (C) conditions.
Aid and charity agencies employ the liking bias to great effect. Their campaigns use beaming children or women almost exclusively. Never will you see a stone-faced, wounded guerrilla fighter staring at you from SPCA billboards, even though the guerrilla also needs your support.
The most popular/rated soepie in Africa is renowned for having a cast of beautiful and look-able actors. When a certain less beautiful actor makes it as one of the leading actors, it sets tongues wagging in disbelief, some viewers even claiming that the standards of the soepie are declining. Even when the storyline is dodge with this beautiful cast, people still like and watch it. The liking bias is at play.
TV news networks are now employing supermodels as their news-anchors with the hope that viewers will forgive the technical glitches and lack of professional journalism that comes with the news presentation. The liking bias is at play.
Politicians, too, are maestros of the liking bias. Depending on the make-up and interests of an audience, they emphasise different topics, how often have we seen a politician who try to act and behave like people they are trying to attract to vote for her, they even try to look like them by wearing similar clothes as them. They even say things like they grew up poor or underprivileged so that the people can relate to them, some even try to dance like them. They emphasise different topics, such as residential area, social background or economic issues. And they flatter us: Each potential voter is made to feel like an indispensable member of the team: ‘Your vote counts!’ Of course your vote counts, but only by the tiniest of fractions, bordering on the irrelevant.
People do business with people they like
A friend who deals in oil and oil pumps told me how he once closed an eight-figure deal for a pipeline in Russia. ‘Bribery’ I inquired. He shook his head. ‘We were chatting, and suddenly we got on to a topic of Formula 1 motorsport-racing. It turned out that both us, the buyer and me, were die-hard McLaren fans. From that moment on, he like me; I was a friend. So the deal was sealed. Amiability works better than bribery.’
So, if you are a saleperson, make buyers think you like them, even if this means outright flattery. And if you are a customer, always judge a product independent of who is selling it. Banish the salespeople from your mind, or rather, pretend you don’t like them.