This natural tendency is the secret to big sales

When people go shopping, whether it be for groceries or a new car, they want to feel good about their purchase. Whether that be because of a discount, certain special features on said product, or perhaps because of how exclusive or expensive the item is, nobody wants to walk out of a store feeling like they’ve been taken advantage of or made a fool. On the contrary, as consumers, we want to feel special.

Pulling on that string a bit further, it’s also quite natural for people to brag about purchases they feel particularly good about. It’s something most of us do without even thinking about it; how many times have you mentioned to a friend, co-worker, or relative that you picked up some great clothes at the mall last weekend, or got an incredible deal on the latest smartphone? These are just examples, of course, but it’s a natural human tendency to feel somewhat arrogant about the purchases we make.

Now, a new study from Michigan State University has concluded that marketers and companies should utilize consumers’ natural predilection toward arrogance while sculpting promotions and advertising campaigns. Essentially, when a consumer feels particularly great about a recent purchase, that person is very likely to tell others about their experience. This in turn results in “word of mouth” advertising for that product.

“Arrogance is when you broadcast your superiority to others, whereas consumer arrogance is broadcasting your superiority to others via consumption,” says lead study author Ayalla Ruvio, professor of marketing at MSU, in a university release. “Whether it’s, ‘I got a better deal on a product than you,’ or, ‘Look at my new car,’ it’s all about showing others how great a consumer you are, better than them.”

It’s no secret that brands and businesses of all sizes devote a large portion of their budgets on marketing and advertising campaigns. But, the study’s authors assert that no form of advertising is as valuable as organic (or even sponsored) word of mouth.

“It is predicted that in 10 years, the conventional world of marketing will disappear and will rely only on word-of-mouth marketing — especially for those of the younger generation who do not trust marketing messages from companies and rely on influencers, recommendations and other forms of word-of-mouth communication,” Ruvio explains. “This is why the social phenomenon of consumer arrogance is critically important to understand.”

To start, the research team wanted to assess just how much consumer arrogance influences word of mouth opinions. Ultimately, across five separate experiments, consumer arrogance was indeed shown to be the main factor behind word of mouth communications.

“We found that if you can trigger people’s sense of consumer arrogance, they’re more likely to engage in word-of-mouth communication,” Ruvio notes.

However, the team at MSU also made it a point to emphasize that consumer arrogance isn’t always an asset for marketers and brands.

“While most consumers prefer to engage in positive word-of-mouth communication and talk about their consumption triumphs, we found that consumer arrogance fuels both positive and negative word-of-mouth communication,” Ruvio comments.

Thanks to social media, everyone these days has a voice, and that means consumers aren’t afraid to speak out with positive and negative opinions. Consumer arrogance is an asset when products and companies can make people feel special and taken care of, but when things go awry that arrogance can also lead to public complaints and negative word of mouth.

Social media has given rise to a “bragging culture,” as the researchers call it, that is primarily driven by consumer arrogance. Popular accounts and influencers do nothing all day but show off what they’re wearing, doing, or achieving. Regardless of how one feels about social media and the mindset it promotes, marketers would be wise to take note of this major shift in how most people discover new brands or products.

“Our research emphasizes the uniqueness of consumer arrogance as a social phenomenon that drives word-of-mouth communication,” Ruvio concludes. “The findings provide marketing managers with a strategic mechanism to add to their arsenal of managerial options for how to engage in the marketplace, particularly on social media.”

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.