Science Proves Us Right (Again)

Last month, we reprinted one of our “golden oldie” Briefs articles titled “Marketing Lessons from High School Cheerleaders.” The theme of the article, not surprisingly, was the value of playing hard-to-get. Now I want to present two separate scientific studies reaffirming the value of that lesson. So this week, we’ll walk through those studies and suggest some ways you can put them to work for your practice. (And hey, if you’re looking for the love of your life, they might come in handy there, too!)

The first study came from 2014. Researchers recruited 61 single men from a Hong Kong university to a speed-dating event. Half were told they were assigned a woman to date; half were presented with a group of profiles including a “ringer,” selected because she was clearly more attractive than the rest. In both cases, the woman was a part of the experiment. Half the time, she acted interested in the men. The other half of the time, she acted passive and disinterested (i.e., played hard-to-get).

What happened? The men were more interested in the woman when she played hard-to-get – but only when they chose her out of the group of profiles. It made no difference when she was assigned to the man. The researchers conducting the study explained that was because their choice made them feel committed to her.

The second study came from researchers at the University of Virginia and Harvard University. (Oooooh, Harvard!) A group of 47 undergraduate women was told their Facebook profiles had been seen by four men at other universities. The women, in turn, were shown profiles of four men. One group of women was told they were seeing profiles of men who had rated them highly; one group was told they were seeing profiles of men who had rated them average; and a final group wasn’t told how they were rated. Of course, the men’s profiles were made up by the researchers, and no one had actually rated the women’s profiles.

Naturally, the women were more impressed when they thought the men had rated them highly. But they were most impressed when they didn’t know how they were rated at all! This suggests that a little uncertainty over whether someone likes you can be attractive.

How can we translate this into marketing our business? Three thoughts:

  1. If prospects clearly want to do business with you, don’t play hard-to-get unless you’re looking for additional advantage, such as a higher fee. Remember the line from Jerry Maguire where Renee Zellweger’s character Dorrie tells Tom Cruise’s character Jerry, “You had me at hello”? Sometimes you don’t need to overplay your hand.

  2. If prospects are on the fence, pushing them away may actually make them want you more. If you see that your efforts to pull them towards you aren’t succeeding, consider pushing them away and see what happens. If they weren’t going to hire you in the first place, you’ll have nothing to lose.

  3. If you’re feeling especially confident, consider reframing the entire interaction away from one where they perceive you trying to “sell” them. Consider using TaxCoach’s New Client Application to flip the prospect’s perception away from one where they see you selling them to one where they have to sell you. You’ll find it in the Marketing Templates section of TaxCoach, under “Prospecting for New Clients” (#4 under “All Year Long”).

It’s human nature to want what we can’t have. (You’ve probably wanted at least three things you can’t have already today.) Try positioning yourself as something not all your prospects can have, and I’ll bet you turn more of them into actual clients.