Word of mouth trumps facts

I recently met with the CEO of a large shoe retailer who said something that resonated with me. To paraphrase, he said, “If I show content that has Kanye West in a pair of our sneakers, along with a link to buy the sneakers, that’s going to be much more successful than an ad explaining why that sneaker is great.” He was referring to the rise of sneaker culture and how stars can have a big impact.

But the flip side is that people believe what they perceive to be “authentic.” We are living in a society where perceived authenticity holds greater weight over right or wrong. Although Google is only a voice command away, we are increasingly less likely to check the veracity of someone who we believe is telling the truth.

Moreover, we are likely to continue believing our friends even after hearing a contradictory truth from someone we don’t know.

With commodity goods like shoes, much of that seems fine: there’s little functional difference between them except the intangible, subjective “feature” of brand that exists only in people’s heads.

On the other end where there are more factual differences between products – let’s say things like bluetooth headphones, cars, computers, and dishwashers – wading through all the comparing fact claims is exhausting and getting a trusted friend to recommend something is valuable. Or, there’s sites like The Wirecutter for people who like to read.

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