Invisible Influence: Understanding How Context Affects Customers


If you have always assumed that there was more to customers than data points and surveys, you would be absolutely right. There is a strong (although we don't talk about it a lot) social influence to what we buy, where we buy it, and how much of something we buy. "Invisible Influence" is the book that sneaks a peek at this world and provides some recommendations on how businesses can understand it.

Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior Book Review

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“Ninety-nine point nine percent of all decisions are shaped by others.”
– – Jonah Berger, Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior

If you were to ask a marketer why a consumer purchased from their business, they would point to some version of a consumer buying model with stages for awareness that narrowed down to a decision. Invisible Influence argues that this model ignores other more subtle influences on our purchasing behavior Invisible Influence argues that customers are influenced by something far more influential, the unconscious triggers caused by the people you see every day.

What is Invisible Influence About?

As consumers, we have accepted and grown comfortable with the idea that we are in charge of what we buy. If I want a Twix or a $40 million home, the argument for a rational consumer goes, I made the decision on my own. I may have been influenced by a commercial or a friend’s suggestions, but ultimately the decision to buy was up to me.

Let’s use the candy bar as an example to understand this. Under the rational view of purchase, our ability to buy a candy bar is determined by economics (our budget and store availability), our biology (how hungry we are), and our culture. What the book brings to the mix is the focus on context. The amount of Twix candy bars we buy depends not only on us but who and what is around us. If we are at work, we might get one candy bar when we would really two if we were home.

Why would this be important to a business owner? The answer is context. Understanding the context is crucial to align with your customers. Context is the reason a person would pay $4 for a Starbucks coffee when a McDonald’s coffee is immensely cheaper. Context is the reason why a search engine ranking on Google or the Top 100 charts depends on quality, but also popularity. Context is the reason that a company would pay celebrities to wear a $500,000 dress while paying another celebrity not to wear it.

As the book Small Data points out, it’s the “tiny clues” within our environment that serve to signal what we can or should do. Businesses that take the time to understand and implement these “signals” in their customer’s lives have a greater chance of staying in their customer’s lives.

Dr. Jonah Berger is an author, marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and expert on social transmission and marketing strategy.

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What Was Best About Invisible Influence?

The strongest feature of Invisible Influence is the ability to see consumers from a new perspective rather than just a potential lead with data points. It is part of growing wave of books that is urging marketers to shift their excessive focus from technology to their customer’s psychology. This gets particularly interesting in the unique perspective the author has on the contentious but paradoxical relationship between counterfeiting and branding.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

The weakest feature of Invisible Influence is the lack of a coherent framework for understanding and utilizing the insights provided in the book. The book does an excellent job of bringing the reader’s attention back to the consumer but fails to provide a framework so that readers can consistently use the perspective to directly and efficiently engage with that consumer.

Why Read Invisible Influence?

Invisible Influence is a book about shifting perspective from the old way of marketing (disruptive, customer funnels) to the new way (facilitative, psychology) of marketing that can be seen in books like Beyond Advertising. This book’s contribution to that wave is the refined focus on the social aspect.

In short, this book will help readers understand what questions to ask when considering the social implications that drive their marketing (word-of-mouth marketing, network marketing, etc.)

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Charles Franklin Charles Franklin is a Book Reviewer for Small Business Trends. He has a background as a professional reviewer, and is also a content provider and customer relations professional.

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