We are bombarded on a daily basis by marketing messages that tell us what to like, buy and even how to think. As intrusive as it can be, it is likely to continue to escalate. Clearly good marketing influences our attitudes and buying behavior. It makes sense that the more personalized and specific the marketing, the more powerful the message. However, one study seems to point to the idea that there is a definite line between being influenced towards a certain brand and being told what we like…and we don’t respond well to the latter.
Identity marketing works. This is when companies create messaging that is targeted to how you view yourself. Are you brainy? An athlete? Just super-cool? You can probably think of a brand right now that you identify with. But here’s the rub; according to the researchers above, any messaging that comes across as too directive can actually make us resist to the extent that we won’t buy a product, even when it fits our needs. So in other words, it’s okay for a brand to market itself to smart people. You as a member of the smart person tribe are likely to identify with it. However, explicitly linking their brand to YOU as a smart person might make you push back. Because our identity is so personal and central, we are protective of it and want the freedom to choose.
In applying this to the social engineering world, the important point here is to realize that influence is a subtle art. Push too hard and you may find resistance that’s difficult to overcome. People like to feel like they’re making choices, especially when these choices get to the heart of who they are. As a social engineer, the key is to create an environment in which your target feels as if they are choosing to help you.