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The Chameleon Effect: Harnessing the Power of Social Influence

May 4, 2021

Yawning is contagious, and it turns out so is looking at a smartphone. 

A new study shows that more than 50% of people will pick up their phone within 30 seconds of someone else in their vicinity looking at theirs. Most of the time, the behavior is “automatic and subconscious.” 

We have discovered that humans mimic a wide variety of behaviors in each other; foot shaking, vocal accent, and playing with a pen. 

Interestingly, the person’s state of mind plays a huge role in the chameleon effect. Researchers determined that people who were in a positive state of mind were far more likely to mimic someone else subconsciously. 

You can use this effect in marketing your product or service; here is how.

Why is the chameleon effect significant in marketing?

We are social creatures. In the end, that is what the chameleon effect tells us, when your community behaves a certain way, your chances of repeating that behavior significantly increases. This is why Seth Godin’s idea of Tribes is so powerful. “People like me do things like this” drives a lot of subconscious action in a group of people. 

Once you are aware of this effect, you can harness its power in your marketing by building a community of followers, creating a culture of positivity, and modeling the use and outcomes of your product or service. 

We all like to feel like we belong, and we want to belong to something that enriches our lives and our world.  

How do you use the chameleon effect to elevate your brand?

Armed with the knowledge that humans subconsciously mimic each other, you can tailor your marketing efforts to use the chameleon effect. For example, when choosing images for your website, select photos with people actively using your product and enjoying themselves. 

But don’t forget, the person’s state of mind plays a role. There is a time and place to use adverse outcomes in your marketing, i.e., if you don’t do this, you will experience this negative consequence, but don’t try to pair this with the chameleon effect. It will probably fall flat. 

Show, don’t tell, how your product or service improves outcomes for your customers. Tell a story. Create a culture that is desirable and contagious. Use photography and video to create outcome indicators – if you use our product or service, you will experience this positive benefit. 

Take into account how you can influence the behavior of others actively and passively and turn it into a marketing weapon – not a weapon to hurt, but to bring value into your customer’s lives. 

Be aware of yourself too.

Heightened awareness of ourselves is always a good thing. Start to look for times you are passively influenced by those around you. 

Sometimes the influence is benign; other times, it can lead to dangerous behavior like smoking. One study found that peer smoking versus active peer pressure was a more significant indicator of the number of cigarettes smoked in young adults. 

Let that sink in; being actively pressured by peers had less impact on total smoking than simply being near those who were smoking at all! Empathetic people are more likely to mimic others. If you are naturally empathetic, one of your superpowers is also your kryptonite. 

That is why you must know and master yourself. When you can take control of your underlying behaviors, you can intentionally grow up. In other words, real growth requires clear-minded intentionality. 

Once you know the passive ways others may influence you, you can turn that into actively mirroring them. Even if the result is the same, awareness of what is occurring gives you control in your interactions. Just promise to use your power for good and not evil. 

How will you recognize and use the chameleon effect in your life and business?

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