Using herd behaviour in marketing is about leveraging our in-built desire to mimic the behaviour of others.

We like to think of ourselves as individuals, in control of our own decisions and destiny, but in fact we’re genetically programmed to follow the herd, something that aided our survival in more primitive times when presumably we would see others running from sabre tooth cats and promptly do the same.

Reinforce desired behaviours by showing ‘people like you’ do it too

The pressure to conform socially and fit in with those around us may be more subtle now but still impacts on the decisions we make every day. When we think that a lot of people are doing, buying or following something, we’re more likely to do, buy or follow it ourselves.

Online retailers like and Amazon use this to influence and reassure customers they’re making a good choice that’s shared by others, nudging them closer to checkout. A B&B that has been ‘booked 47 times in the past month’ signals that others like us have been confident enough in this offering, easing any doubts. ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ shortcuts us to products that like-minded people have bought, showing us products that we are likely to enjoy whilst increasing basket spend for Amazon – is that a win win?

Create contagious visual cues

Ever stood in the queue at a coffee shop and longed for a shiny Apple to go with your flat white? Apple laptops are conspicuously present on the tables of trendy urban haunts, and this is due to the company’s adeptness in creating visual cues that are aimed not at the user but those surrounding them.

Mark Earls, author of Herd, said of Apple’s genius: “There’s a wonderful white logo that’s backlit that I never get to see when I’m using my laptop – it’s for you, not for me.” Earls believes the brand played a savvy move with its choice of earphone colour when it launched its MP3 player, “white iPod ear pieces. Normally the iPod itself is hidden, but these were very different at the time, and that’s why they spent most of their marketing budget drawing attention to how cool these things were, so every time you see someone on the train, the bus or the plane with them, that’s that.”

Top tips

  • Safety in numbers – use sales figures to reinforce the popularity of product.
  • In Trustpilot we trust – reviews can have the same effect, but quantity is as important as quality – check out how Simba leverage this little trick.
  • Bake your marketing into your offering – as well as helping products be more bizarre this approach also works for making them more contagious – look at those white earphones not as a design feat but a marketing one.
  • Highlight popular offerings to your customers – at Nike’s new flagship store in New York the first floor is dedicated to the biggest online sellers, presenting shoppers with the hottest items.

This is an excerpt from our latest free report: Applying Behavioural Economics in Marketing

For a short time only we are also offering a free one-hour training workshop to inspire, surprise and expand the minds of your brand and marketing teams on some of marketing’s hottest topics.

By Greg Copeland

Behavioural Strategist