Actionable Optimisation

Actionable Optimisation #57: Leveraging the Barnum effect

 September 28, 2021

By  Customers Who Click

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What does marketing and horoscope reading have in common?

The Barnum effect.

Horoscopes, in the nutshell, are a bunch of vague statements camouflaged as advice for a particular star sign - and all the others at the same time…

They’re general, and yet, readers feel as though your horoscope speaks directly to them.

But what has it got to do with marketing and ecommerce optimisation?

Validation and personal connection.

Customers love to be treated extra, almost as though they’re your only customer - which is excellent news for you because you can leverage it using the Barnum effect to increase your conversion rates and inspire loyalty.

The Barnum Effect (also called the Forer Effect) happens when a person believes that generic information applies to them only - even though it easily applies to other people.

One way it’s used in DTC today is when customers get to “build” their product, whether that's customising a pair of sneakers or building their own subscription box.

The product feels explicitly designed for the customer - and they feel more confident about the purchase because they ‘built’ themselves. 

Butternut Box does it well, and so does Doe Lashes (see above).

Butternut Box asks specific questions about the customer’s dog such as their age, breed, or their current eating habits to find out more about the dog, but also to instill confidence in the owner that the meal is tailored to the dog’s nutritional needs.

But that’s not the only way to leverage the Barnum effect - think product recommendations.

A simple email that says something along the lines of “because you bought this we think you’ll like this too” will make the recommendation list will feel personal and as though it was created just for them.

Your recommendations do have to be relevant to the shopping experience, though.

The whole point of the Barnum effect is to have the customer connect with the messaging on a personal level, and it just won’t happen if you’re recommending products that don’t help them achieve their goals or relieve their pain.

So how can you build product recommendations? As always, by speaking and listening to your customers: on-site behaviour, purchase history, and website quizzes or surveys. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing your questions:

  • Think about the questions you as a consumer need answered in order to generate the recommendation. 

  • Think about the questions the customer wants to answer to generate that recommendation and remember - if the customer can't see the reason for the question, they're more likely to drop off.

  • Try not to make the survey too long (although, in certain circumstances such as health or high price point, more questions to personalise the experience are important to the customer).

  • Also, bear in mind that some customers could only be getting a one-off gift so basing your recommendations on the 1st purchase may not be enough. 

And remember: product recommendations shouldn’t be about what you want your customers to buy (like when you’re trying to push out old stock).

It’s about enriching their shopping experience by providing additional value based on the customer’s preferences and needs.

Customers Who Click


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