Peer Reassurance vs. Peer Pressure

Peer Reassurance vs. Peer Pressure

Caveat:  What I’m about to say will probably seem like a “no duh” to anyone who’s worked on political campaigns.  And I’m about to break a cardinal rule and use myself as a focus group of one.

I get asked a lot about the power of peer influence — does knowing your neighbors are doing something influence you to do it?  My stock answer is always that we have tried many times in our research to get people to admit that they are susceptible to peer pressure and we can’t quite get there (after all, our Moms would be horrified if we actually admitted that, yes, if my friends jumped off a bridge I would, too).  And then I reference how OPower has proven out in the utility space that, indeed, peer pressure works.

But the other day I had a personal experience that got me thinking about another nuance to the whole peer influence thing:  peer reassurance.  In other words, feeling better about a decision that’s been made upon seeing that everyone else has done it, too.

Here’s the story:  We’re in the middle of a Mayoral race here in Knoxville, TN.  During the primary phase (which ended Tuesday) there were three viable candidates running.  A couple of them had raised a lot of money and had billboards all over town.  The third had run for mayor eight years ago, I had studied her platform then and thought it was OK.  This time around, though, I was time starved.  With an eight month old at home and a tough work schedule, I just hadn’t had time to read all their platforms.  As the end of early voting loomed, I knew I’d just vote for the candidate I’d studied eight years ago, because I wasn’t going to get to do any additional research.  And I felt guilty about it. I was just one more uninformed voter, casting my ballot based on gut instinct.  Yuck.

But then a funny thing happened.  After I cast my uninformed vote, I began to notice that My Candidate had yard signs all over the place. It seemed every street I drove down was chock full of yards with her signs.  (I’m sure they were there before, but somehow I hadn’t noticed them).  As I saw these signs in my neighbor’s yards, I began to feel better about my decision.  It’s not that I know these people, or that I could rationalize, “Oh, Joe and I share the same political mindset and he supports this candidate, so that’s good enough for me.”  It was more, “Hmmm…the other guys have bought a lot of advertising, but My Candidate actually talked to people and won them over enough to convince them to put signs in their yards.”

So my guilt evaporated, and I began to really feel good about my decision and invested in My Candidate — I now really wanted her to win.  Which she did — she narrowly missed capturing enough votes to just take the whole thing…and she’s the front runner for the formal election now.

The point of all this is this:  don’t forget about the after-the-fact influence piece.  We’re seeing in our research that 80% of Americans are trying green products…but many aren’t sticking with it.  They’re not forming habits. loyalties and long-term buying behaviors. But if they saw that everyone around them was buying the same products, perhaps they’d feel reassured enough to buy again.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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