Electrolux had an amazing idea. Instead of buying a new washing machine outright, they would give you a free machine and then use smart technology to charge by usage.
When they floated the idea to their customers they had amazing feedback. The customers were concerned about the environment and savvy about money, so thought the machines were great.
Yet when Electrolux finally offered the machines to customers there was almost 0 uptake. Suddenly the same customers didn’t wanted to be associated with renting appliances.
The company had underestimated the extraordinary power of one of the most important aspects of our identity — our social identity.
We change our behavior depending on the groups we identify with at any given moment. The customers had a “market research respondent” identity with the researchers that thought the machines were great and a “middle class consumer” identity at home that thought they were awful.
Understanding how people make decisions as parts of their different social groups is key to online marketing and advertising, and is crucial in creating a fantastic Facebook ad campaign.
Why Social Identity Is The Driver of Attention On Facebook?
Facebook is not just a social platform, it is the social platform. Facebook is the most social product ever invented, allowing you to interact and socialize online with billions of people.
The platform is entirely about your identity in different social contexts and social identity is baked directly into the network. You show you’re a member of dozens of different groups on Facebook through your friends, interests, and background.
Though you’re an individual you are also part of many, many groups. These groups revolve around your family, your friends, your work, your hobbies and your habits. They might be massive groups (man, woman, father, mother), or super-niche groups (competitive skee ball player), but at any one time you’re probably a member of dozens and dozens of groups, big and small.
All these groups combine to create your social identity.
When people are skimming Facebook they are looking for people with similar social identities to connect with. Any advertising that is presented has to appeal to their social self and the groups that they identify with. Therefore, there’s no better place for advertiser’s to discover what really matters to their customers and to target ads directly to them.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that tapping into consumer’s social identity has an incredible effect on how effective an ad is. The researchers found that “A key determinant of how much consumers remember from an ad is the connection between the ad content and the consumer’s own self-concept.”
What this means is that a consumer will remember an ad better if it has something to do with one of their social identities. If a customer views one of your ads while thinking about their group memberships they unconsciously connect the ad to this group. Then, when they think about their groups later, they will remember the ad as well.
3 Ways Social Identity Can Increase Your Ad Effectiveness
1. Incorporate Social Identity Into Your Buyer Personas
You’ve all heard of buyer personas, but if you are just looking at their demographics and goals you’re not going far enough. You have to break down your buyer personas, creating real people with real social identities.
When you create a buyer persona you’re creating a semi-fictional person who has all of the traits and attitudes of your core customers.
Take these nicely illustrated examples from MailChimp:
MailChimp has identified their core customers and created these buyer personas. For Mario, he identifies primarily as a studio consultant, but also as a manager, a marketer, and a problem solver. Eliza is a PR manager, but also social, educated, and busy.
But these guys are more than that. Mario appreciates nice tailoring, but in a relaxed manner. Eliza is into awesome tattoos and dying her hair. You should be creating not just personas, but real people with full identities.
Mario and Eliza are cooler versions of the people you are marketing to, but they have the same view on the world. The further you dig down into who these people are and how they identify themselves they better you will be able to target ads directly to them.
If you’re advertising to these people, the better you tap into each of the groups they identify with, the more like they’ll click through to your product.
For instance, both Mario and Eliza would love this ad from Fast Company:
It appeals to the advanced and smart identities of both of them, as well as Mario’s creativity and Eliza’s aspiration. What’s more, you could easily see both of them in the audience at such an event. The are part of the social group that attends Innovation festivals and will want to see thought leaders talk. Therefore this ad will speak directly to them.
The more you target the key social identities your customers have with ads designed specifically for them, the more you’ll drastically increase your chances of conversion.
2. Use Social Identity To Make Your Ads More Memorable
When you’re reading Facebook, one of the group identities that is strongest will be your ‘friend’ identity. After all, that’s what Facebook is about — connecting with your friends. Facebook continues to use this identity to build its brand and make itself an intergral part of your friendships. The recent ‘On This Day’ feature uses nostalgia as a way for you to interact even more with friends through Facebook.
Zipcar uses the friend identity in its ad to place the company along side the idea of friendship. As the 2011 study showed, later on as you think of your friends, you’ll also think of Zipcar, and ideally sign up with them to go and meet your friends IRL:
People viewing this ad will already be primed to think about their identity as a friend, and about all their friends, so this ad from Zipcar does a great job of incorporating social identity to make you remember and think about the ad.
3. Use Out-Group Ads to Boost Social Identity
The great thing about using social identity in advertising is that it works both ways. You can use inclusiveness in one group to boost social identity (the in-group), but you can also use a person’s social identity the other way round, establishing the customer as outside of a group (out-group) they don’t want to be in and be even more effective.
For example, you’re either a dog person or a cat person. If you’re advertising to a dog person, you can talk about dogs (their in-group) and how their awesome, or you can talk about cats (their out-group) and how they are terrible.
Either way, they’ll click through.
Out-groups are particularly effective for raising awareness of an issue. To continue the dog motif, here the Soi Dog Foundation is setting itself apart from animal cruelty, and wants you to set yourself apart from it as well:
In this case, both Soi Dog and it’s supporters are members of an out-group. This works because identifying who you are against reinforces your own identity just as much as who you are with. Soi Dog wants to show its against cruelty, and if you are as well, then you should sign up to support the charity.
The Downside of Many Identities
Social identity can change almost in an instant.
What’s more, at any given time only one of these groups will dominate. Which one will depend one where you are and what you’re doing. With the Electrolux example, when the customers were with the marketers they had one identity, and when at home they had another. Your customers identity will change throughout the day and week depending on whether they are at work, at home, in the gym ,with friends, etc.
An ad that worked for their business persona during the day might not work for their home persona in the evening. An ad that they would definitely click on when out with friends, they might scroll right past when checking their feed at the gym.
Even if you get your buyer persona right, catching someone at the wrong time with the wrong identity can mean that your ad still gets ignored.
That is why it’s so important to test multiple ads, and optimize text, images and targeting to get the right ads in front of the right person at the right time. UpOut SF get this right with their ads. These ads target the same person, but when they are exhibiting different social identities. One when they are looking for something to do with friends:
And one for when they are thinking about dating:
One person, two identities.
This is the biggest challenge of Facebook advertising, but get it right and you have a way to make your ads sing exactly the right note to the right people at the right time, and completely inspire your customers.