Remarkable! What Invisible Influence Controls Your Behavior?

by Colin Shaw on August 31, 2017

Why did you buy the shirt you are wearing today? What about the car you drive, how did you choose it? Why did you go with the financial advisor you did?

If “because I felt like it” wasn’t the answer to each of these questions, you are missing the biggest reason that you did these things at all —and the reason you do almost anything for that matter.

It isn’t your fault you got it wrong, however. We don’t always realize the things that influence us. We just subconsciously perceive influential bits of information (and because the intake occurs in the subconscious, are unaware of them) and act.

People buy emotionally and then justify it rationally, but we don’t always know we do. Moreover, after the fact, we do not remember the emotion that drove our decision, but we do remember our rationalization. Therefore, we think we made the decision rationally even though we didn’t. Upon reflection, we then believe most of our decisions are rational, when in reality, rationality usually has less to do with it than we think.

The Power of Influence

Once you accept that we don’t always know the reason why we do what we do as customers, you have the key to unlocking the customer brain and the ability to see how your customers make decisions. We call this Experience Psychology and understanding and leveraging it is the future of Customer Experience.

Influence is a significant part of Experience Psychology. The people we like and admire influence our actions, particularly as it pertains to what they will think of us. From our mums to our mates at school to our coworkers, what others think of the choices we make has a considerable effect on the actions we take. Brands know this, so they enlist the help of people we want to be more like to sell us shoes, cars, airlines, and in one surprising instance, male adult diapers:

We are all aware of this tactic. We even read stories about how this actor or that athlete got a multi-million-dollar deal to hawk that airline or breakfast cereal. Although, I don’t recall ever reading about how much Fox broadcaster and former NFL player Tony Siragusa got for encouraging me to “guard my manhood” with a diaper.

Influence Attracts and Repulses

But influence works in other ways, too. On NPR’s podcast Hidden Brain, host Shankar Vedantam spoke with Jonah Berger, a researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape BehaviorBerger shared in the podcast that we do not notice how people we don’t like that are associated with a product repel us from a brand. It is one of many invisible influences that shape our decisions. He gave the example of how the stars of the reality show “Jersey Shore” were paid not to wear certain brands while shooting. One of the stars, Snooki, received a Gucci handbag in the mail from one of Gucci’s competitors, ostensibly to sully the Gucci brand!

It sounds funny, but Berger compares it to how a magnet works. Magnets have a north and a south pole. When you put two magnets together, and you put a north pole on one magnet next to a south pole of the other, it attracts. But if you put the two north poles together, they repel. Influence works the same way; it can attract us and repel us depending on how we feel about who is doing the influencing. We just don’t always know it’s happening. However, he also said we could see influences on others far better than we can look at how we are affected in our decision-making.

The fact is, Berger’s invisible influences are just one example of all the ways outside forces persuade us to act one way or another as customers. There is another famous example where a wine store played music associated with a particular country and the vintages related to that country sold more than the other wines. Another example is how presenting options in a small, medium and large size will predictably get people that don’t want to think much about it to choose the medium option.

Influence is also why when you tell a household that their neighbors are more energy efficient than they are, that home will reduce its energy consumption. Do they reduce power consumption to save the polar bears? To save money? To be socially responsible? Nope, nope, and nope. Researchers said the study showed that people did this to be more like the neighbors. We know this is true because the study tested other messages that didn’t work to the same extent the “keeping up with the green Joneses” did.

When it comes to why we do what we do, we are the worst possible people to ask. What we think caused us to behave a certain way is rarely the actual cause. Invisible influences are always infiltrating our brain and driving our behavior, sometimes attracting you to a purchase and sometimes repelling you away. Understanding why it happens and how to influence the purchase in your favor is crucial.

Does this strike a chord with you? What have you questioned doing or buying and not really appreciated the true reason?

To read more about this concept and the six others that are essential to moving your Customer Experience to the next level, read The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives to moving your Customer Experience to the next level. My latest book, co-authored with Professor Ryan Hamilton of Emory University, describes where Behavioral Economics meets Customer Experience in an easy to understand and practical way.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy these:

Are You a Liar? If You Do THIS, You Are!

Uncover the Specific Emotions You’re Evoking

Act Now to Turn Customer Pain Points into Pleasurable Profits

Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of five bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX


“Episode 55: Snooki and the Handbag.” 13 December 2016. Web. 18 July 2017. <>.

Gaine, Chris. “The 10 Strangest Athlete Endorsements.” 24 September 2016. Web. 19 July 2017. <>.

Colin ShawRemarkable! What Invisible Influence Controls Your Behavior?