Praising conformity


The American culture is in love with nonconformity: Cowboys, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from ‘There will be blood’, Jesse Ventura, Ron Paul, Eliot Spitzer – the list is endless. The Milgram experiment illustrated the distrust towards authority:

“The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

The eroding trust in authorities (Enron, Catholic church, Presidency, etc.) fed the hunger for long wolves. People that do what they need to do because they feel like it. Moral superiority belongs to the loners that create their own rules.

Not so, says David Berreby, author of “Us and Them: Understanding your Tribal Mind”.

In a NY Times piece, he explains that the psychologists Hodges and Geyser took a second look at the Milgram and Asch experiments and came to new conclusions:

“This means that the subjects in the most famous “people are sheep” experiments were not sheep at all – they were human beings who largely stuck to their guns, but now and then went along with the group. Why? Because in getting along with other people, most decent people know, as Hodges and Geyser put it, the “importance of cooperations, tact and social solidarity in situations that are tense or difficult.”

(…) Milgram’s “subjects were not simply obeying a leader, but responding to someone whose credentials and good faith they thought they could trust.” Without that kind of trust society would fall apart tomorrow, because most of what we know about the world comes to us from other people.”

David’s writing reminded me of Mark Earls’ “Herd” book, blog and overall thesis that it is our innate nature as “herd” animals that causes mass movements, not the influence of a handful of individuals.

The traditional church of marketing was built around the belief that humans are lone wolves that want to stand out from the crowd. The problem is that people have a tribal desire to follow the herd and be part of a group. Sure, there are instances when they want to stand out and be considered as lone wolves. But, the rest of the time, the same people want to be part of a group and just fit in.

To leverage the full power of Conversational Marketing, businesses have to change how they think about human/tribal behavior. The advent of Social Networks and Web 2.0 has shown us that humans want to stand out by fitting in. Social Media campaigns have to feed this primal human desire and help people to belong.

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