"The mark of a good con is in the details," says Steve Martin, playing Jonas Nightengale, whose God is the con in the movie Leap of Faith (1992). Spying on pre-service conversations with hidden cameras and microphones, Nightengale "tricks the hicks" by later parroting back the surreptitiously gathered facts through "divine inspiration."
Jonas was on to something because findings of a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that customers are heavily influenced by specific data, even when it's meaningless.
"We find that even when buyers can directly experience the underlying attributes and the specifications carry little or no additional information, they are still heavily influenced by the specifications," write the authors. "This research yields practical implications for how marketers can use specifications to influence consumer choice."
Using a mix of products ranging from towels to cell phones and digital cameras to seasame oil, participants in five related studies consistently selected the products which carried the most specifications.
What's more believable? "Customers tell us we do great work and invite us back again and again."
Or, "In a survey of 374 customers, 94% said they were completely satisfied and would call us again. Maybe that's why our average customer has been loyal to us for 3.7 years."
No contest, right? So, how specific are you ads? You don't have to be perfect. In fact, it's better if you're not. Amazon discovered sales actually increased for titles when they allowed negative reviews on the site. Say, "we're proud of our 100% customer satisfaction," and customers will say, "which 100%?"
Remember those toothpaste ads that said, "nine out of ten dentists recommend…" Ever wonder about that tenth dentist? Nope. You believed the nine because of the 10th one.
Don't be afraid to be specific. Be afraid to generalize. "Facts are stuborn things," said John Adams once upon a time. Well, customers are even more stubborn. Eventually, even Jonas Nightengale realized there was no beating the specifics of being real.