My father, who is in his seventies, commented to me that he chose the website he uses to book hotels because it only allows people who stayed at the hotel to give a review. This is an excellent example of convergence, which describes the way our behavior as consumers is influenced by the behavior of others. Understanding the factors which drive purchasing decisions can turn marketers into Jedi Knights – using this “force” to bolster their performance.

Usually when we talk about convergence, we mean technology – the convergence of mobile, tablet and PC. So what is behavioral convergence, and how do we identify and use it? As covered in their book Switch, researchers Dan and Chip Heath at Stanford University conducted an experiment into messaging and hotel towels in an attempt to quantify the power of convergence. They wanted to test the effects of different message cards promoting towel recycling. For the control, the participating hotel used their default messaging, which focused on the environmental costs of not reusing towels when possible. The scientists then added an additional message, along the lines of “The majority of guests at the hotel re-use their towels at least once during their stay.” The second message, which stressed group norms over environmental costs, was the winner by a wide margin. In fact, towel reuse rose by 26%.

There are four distinct behavioral patterns which converge to produce such an effect:

  • The drive to be led
  • Peer support
  • The requirement for knowledge
  • Pre-programmed responses to a challenge

If you examine humans as a species of animal you can draw some conclusions about why we react to societal pressure in the way that we do. Humans are pack animals, with our associates serving a similar function as a herd. Except for a few Type A personalities, we look to delegate leadership and draw comfort from relinquishing responsibility. As part of a herd, we look at those around us for signals for what is good for us and where there is danger. Having said that, our sentience requires that we look beyond our nature and justify our preference for homogenous behavior through seeking knowledge which will justify this decision. However, we have one main flaw that other animals do not have – ego. When faced with a direct challenge to our self-image, it is difficult for most of us to turn away. The subject of convergence has fascinated me as a marketing professional, and has guided my methodology in terms of working with the public. In this series, I want to share some of my thoughts on why understanding the driving force behind comparison sites, social media and social gaming helped me form marketing strategies.