Informational influence is a concept rooted in social psychology, particularly within the framework of social influence. It refers to the process by which individuals adjust their behavior, attitudes, or beliefs in response to others.
So it is an active change in beliefs or behavior that occurs when that individual accepts information from others as evidence about reality.
It's distinct from normative influence, where change occurs due to the desire to conform to the norms of others i.e., a group.
This change aspect makes it interesting for marketing and sales because change is ultimately what marketing and sales seeks.
But let’s start by gaining a thorough understanding before we dive into the applications and strategies of informational influence in marketing and sales.
Defining Informational Influence
Informational Influence refers to changes in beliefs, attitudes, or behavior that result from accepting information provided by others as a reflection of reality.
This form of influence is predominant in situations where a person is uncertain about the correct way to think or behave and thus, looks to others who are presumed to have more knowledge or expertise.
This definition leaves us with 3 key characteristics that define informational influence:
- Uncertainty and Ambiguity. The influence often occurs in situations where the individual does not have a clear idea about what is correct or appropriate. This uncertainty prompts them to seek information from others.
- Credibility of the Source. The effectiveness of informational influence largely depends on the perceived credibility and expertise of the information source. People are more likely to be influenced by those whom they consider knowledgeable or authoritative in a particular domain.
- Desire for Accuracy: Unlike normative influence, which is driven by social acceptance, informational influence stems from a genuine desire to be correct in one's understanding or actions.
The social animals we humans are it is obvious that the social context of how we receive information and learn has a significant impact. The institution with the 200-year history and nobles laureates teaching that your parents already went to, aka university? Students often rely on the information provided by educators or textbooks, presuming them to be accurate and reliable sources.
But of course, over time, societal beliefs and norms can change due to the accumulation of new information, often disseminated by thought leaders, through educational platforms and of course the media at large. Media is where culture is made. And so this is where cultural shifts will happen.
Today this seems to largely be social media and news. People often adjust their opinions based on the information they receive from news outlets or social media platforms, especially when they consider these sources to be reliable. Similar to the mere exposure effect when you get exposed to information often enough you start believing it to be credible.
Beyond that and the learning and education from earlier, you might experience informational influence everyday in organizational settings yourself as well: As employees you may look to your managers or more experienced colleagues for guidance in uncertain situations, assuming they have better information or understanding.
And then there is consumer behavior. A consumer unsure about the quality of a new product might rely on expert reviews or peer recommendations to make a decision.
Informational Influence in Marketing
Informational influence in marketing involves shaping consumer perceptions and decisions through credible and authoritative information. This is especially potent in situations where consumers face uncertainty or lack knowledge.
It hinges on trust and expertise. When a brand or a marketer is seen as an expert, their messages are more likely to be accepted as truthful and persuasive.
Therefore, you find informational influence applied in product launches when you are making use of expert endorsements or data-driven campaigns to establish credibility for new products.
Brand positioning is another area inherent to informational influence. You are gaining influence by positioning the brand as a thought leader through insightful and authoritative content.
Strategies of Informational Influence in Marketing
So how can I use the power of informational influence in marketing strategically?
Content Marketing. By providing valuable and informative content, like blogs, whitepapers, or webinars, to educate consumers. This is the entire idea of the inbound strategy.
Influencer Partnerships. Collaborating with industry experts or influencers who possess credibility and can sway public opinion. But you have to be strategically whether you want someone for their likeness or for their expertise.
Social Proof. Showcasing customer testimonials, reviews, or case studies to provide real-life proof of a product's effectiveness. Especially if they are tailored to your ideal customer profile.
In marketing, informational influence is often broad and targets a wider audience, while in sales, it is usually more personalized and direct.
Informational Influence in Sales
Marketing aims to create awareness and establish credibility broadly, whereas sales focus on converting that credibility into a specific purchasing action.
In sales, informational influence is about using specific, relevant information to guide a potential buyer towards a purchase decision.
This involves understanding the customer's needs and presenting information that addresses those needs directly, often in a personalized manner.
Consultative sales is the concept of informational influence applied to sales. You are acting as a trusted advisor who provides valuable information, rather than just pushing for a sale.
As well as the sales approach of solution selling where you are focusing on how a product can solve a specific problem or improve the prospect’s situation.
Strategies of Informational Influence in Sales
How can I strategically make use of informational influence in my sales?
Personalize your communication. Tailoring the information to meet the unique needs or pain points of each customer will ensure your prospects get the information they need and not suffer information overload with irrelevant information.
In demonstrations and presentations, it is pretty straightforward as well. Use relevant case studies to showcase the value and only the KPIs and the data relevant in regard to your prospect’s utility.
Be as sales professional that exhibits not just deep product knowledge and industry insights, but also know your explicit customer. True expertise is knowing your customer so intimately to be their trusted advisor. If you have gained their trust, keep it. You know you’ve reached that level if you are willing to advise them to choose another solution if yours is not the right fit.
Marketing relies more on one-to-many communications (like content distribution), whereas sales involve one-on-one interactions.
While informational influence can lead to more informed decisions, there's a risk of misinformation, especially in the digital age where information can spread rapidly regardless of its accuracy. Additionally, even credible sources can be biased or have agendas, which might skew the information they provide. Not every piece of content is labeled as an ad, endorsement or provided on a clearly distinguishable company website, marketing blog, or industry event.
Informational influence is a fundamental aspect of human social interaction, playing a crucial role in shaping beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Its effectiveness and impact depend on factors like source credibility, the desire for accurate information, and the context in which the information is presented. Understanding this concept is crucial in marketing and sales, as it underpins much of how individuals gather information and make decisions in a social context.