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Photograph of the feet of people standing in a line

Visible demand

Imagine you are in a busy street and you realise everyone is looking upwards. What do you do? It would take a particularly resistant, willful person not to also look up because we find it instinctive to follow the gaze of others.

Humans have very large and distinctive sclera, the white areas in our eyes that surround our pupils, a feature that allows us to establish from quite a distance where the gaze of another person is directed. It’s a nod to our social and collaborative nature and a factor in our excellent ability to judge other people’s intentions from their body language. If many other people in the street are looking upwards then there must be something there worth looking at.

Human behaviour leads us to hunt for clues that the things we are choosing to invest our time, resources and effort in are the right things. As complex, social beings, we take a lot of our cues from the actions of others. The rule of thumb goes... “if other people like it, it can’t be bad. If lots of other people like it, it must be good.”

Therefore, if you can prove to potential customers that many other people choose your products and services, you will raise their appeal.

British people are excellent at waiting in line. If you are British, you will probably at some time have been in a queue without knowing what it was even for - and you know you daren’t leave your spot to ask or you’ll get bumped to the back of the line. We melt into a puddle of anxiety if we think for a second we might be in the wrong queue, prompting one of those rare occasions where it’s considered perfectly acceptable to talk to a total stranger, just to make sure you’re in the right place.

With queuing, the rule of thumb goes... “if other people want to do it enough to queue for it, then it must be good.”

Studies of queuing behaviour show that people are prepared to stay longer in a slow-moving queue as the number of people behind them also grows. If we are the last in a line and no one else stands behind us, we are more likely to abandon a slow-moving queue18. The more people who are behind us, the more we see it as a reinforcement of our decision to stay in line, and the greater the penalty of abandoning our place and having to go back to the start again.

Review sites like TripAdvisor and Google Maps lever the mechanism of social behaviour to give us an idea of what hotels, restaurants, attractions, and destinations other people are enjoying. Amazon has a “4-star store” in New York City - an actual bricks-and-mortar store that only sells items with an average customer rating of four stars or above.

Hotel comparison sites tell you how many people just booked the hotel you are looking at and how full the town or city is for the dates you have given. Airlines frequently tell you when remaining places are scarce... “only 2 seats left on your chosen date” - a sign you need to hurry and book or be left behind!

These are all systems that make demand visible.

How can you use social cues to raise the desirability of what you offer?

  • If you have a large customer base, find a way to let potential customers know how many other people choose you (within data protection law, of course!)

  • Keep customers informed of their place on your waiting lists and how long it will take to get to the front. Consider how you can let them know if many people are behind them on the list.

  • Share more customer testimonials so that people know others enjoyed your products and service too.

  • Embrace sites that allow public customer reviews and comments and encourage your customers to leave reviews.

  • Tell customers when demand is high, when your products and services are close to selling out and when you are at capacity (but be honest).

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