What Whispering In A Library Teaches Us About Persuasion

What Whispering In A Library Teaches Us About Persuasion

Do you whisper when you walk in a library? Most of us do. Why? Because it’s a social norm. Social norms are behaviors ingrained in our society that we follow and expect others to follow. Taken a step further, it can be used as a powerful persuasion strategy.

Whispering in a library is  common across the United States. I’m not sure about other countries but I’m taking a leap and guessing it’s the norm elsewhere too. Believe it or not, it reveals something about us that you may not want to admit. You care about what other people think of you… more than you suspect.

When we violate acceptable library behavior, we invite evil stares from other visitors and a reprimand from the local librarian. The reverse holds true too. If you’re in a library and the person sitting next to you is carrying on a loud phone conversation you get annoyed.

WTF, doesn’t this person know you’re not supposed to talk loud in a library?”

You may never stop to think about this but social norms guide a significant chunk of your daily behavior. Whispering in a library is one example. When we’re at a urinal in a public bathroom, we men always look straight ahead and avoid eye contact with others. Even the simple act of offering someone a drink when they walk in your home is a social norm considered as common courtesy..

This isn’t news to you, but here’s where it gets interesting:

Social norms not only apply to our society but a wide variety of groups like local communities, ethnic and religious groups and even markets. Ah, you see where I am going, right?

Your target market has their own social norms. The more you drill down into a market, the more powerful your message becomes when you tap into these social norms. It shows you are part of that group. It shows you are one of them.

Here are some examples:

Instead of targeting investment advisers, target investment advisers in NYC over the age of 55 with more than 25 million under management. You might find that a lot of them play golf, go out to a specific bar every Thursday night or have a favorite show they talk about.

Instead of targeting engineering consultants, target engineering consultants in Los Angeles that deal with government agencies. They could have their own social norms for greeting bureaucrats when they’re trying to win a contract.  They might go to church every Sunday or they might be hardcore anti-religion and have their own lingo to describe it.

If you dig down deep enough you will  find social norms that are unique to any group. Use their lingo. Follow their customs. Talk about what they talk about. The more you show you are “one of them” and understand them,  the better chance you have at winning their trust.

Don’t force it if it’s not there. You can’t always drill deep enough into a market. Not every strategy fits in every situation, but if you can target your message deep enough, learn and take advantage of their social norms. It’s worth the effort.



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