Abstract crowd of social media account iconsCrowds have wisdom, so the theory goes. But new research suggests that wisdom is mostly focused on survival. It turns out than when we are in a crowded situation our brains are primed for information on safety. That makes logical sense of course and you can see the evolutionary advantage in such a situation.

However, a new study from the University of Kansas shows that this focus of our mental attitude also changes our reception to marketing messages. In a crowded retail situation it turned out, for example, that people were more receptive to a message that a toothpaste prevented cavities than a toothpaste that made teeth whiter.  Generally, a series of tests showed that people were more conservative in crowded settings and much less risk-taking.

For traditional, bricks-and-mortar retailers this is important. It means that sales could be increased by using advertising and promotions that are focused on safety or preventative notions. Anything that suggests some kind of risk should be avoided.

Online, it is also important. The kind of marketing message you might use on a sales page, read by just one individual at a time, can promote more risk-taking than when you promote the same product or service in a social media site, where people are in a more crowded situation.

The researchers are so confident in their findings they believe they can be transferred to a number of situations, including what kind of message a politician gives in a crowded rally compared with talking to you on the doorstep.

It all suggests that our messaging in business needs to be much more subtle than is often the case. Companies usually have a series of messages they want to get across, but this research suggests we need to take  into account the size of the audience when selecting such messages.


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