Gone are the days when the humble list was simply a way to plan your day or track necessary shopping items; today, media publications across the globe use lists as an easily digestible way to serve information to readers.
Dubbed the “listicle”, there are two key reasons this way of serving up information can be transferred easily into the world of marketing, according to Kent Grayson, associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, who shared his thoughts on a recent episode of Northwestern University’s Kellogg Insights podcast.
Firstly, Grayson says the success of lists is hinged on the desire for humans to find heuristics to “narrow down” the immense data presented to us in life in order to make decisions with ease — a role that lists make inherently easier.
Customers also develop these heuristics about companies, and Grayson found one of the most trusted ways for consumers to understand how marketers connect with them is through a list — specifically a ranked list, such as “the top 10 best dinners in Melbourne”.
Secondly, the reason these lists resonate so well is due to the checkable nature of them.
“Checkability, people believe, is a policing mechanism that keeps the marketer from lying,” Grayson said.
For businesses considering producing their own lists, psychology professor David Rapp told the podcast shorter lists are best, as consumers are more likely to believe the content in a short list over a long one.
“There’s a series of studies that shows when you ask people to make longer lists, they tend not to think that information is as true as if they made shorter lists,” he says.
If your business or product has the opportunity to be featured in lists produced by others, Rapp says the more lists you appear in, the more likely it is that people will remember that information.
“What we see a lot, in social media, in our lab, is, as you present information more often, people think it’s more true. So if you start to see lists with the same items in them, “Top Movies of 2017″ based on reviewers’ comments, based on Rotten Tomatoes, you start to see the same movies,” he said.
“You might start to think, ‘those really are better movies’, because you’ve seen them repeated and the degree to which they’re repeated makes it easier to remember them in memory and then you think it’s true. Because if you can recall it easily, then you believe it’s right.”
However, if your business or product lands itself in at number 18 in a top 20 list, Grayson warns it’s best to refer to it as a “top 20” product, rather than shortening it to “top 18” due to how consumers perceive the ranking.
“If you’re 18, it’s worse to say that you’re in the top 18 because consumers will be like, ‘well they’re not even using the rules right and because of that I think they are probably 18’,” he says.
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