The Chameleon Effect: How It Can Improve (Or Ruin) Your Marketing

Coined by Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh in the ‘Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’, the Chameleon Effect has a profound impact on your every move in the digital marketing world.

If your email marketing, landing pages, and conversion oriented pages aren’t performing how you’d like, this could be the cause.

What Is the Chameleon Effect?

Essentially, the Chameleon Effect describes how we naturally imitate those around us through casual, non-intensive observation. Simply seeing someone do something increases our likelihood of doing the same behavior.

If you see someone scratch their nose, yawn, or look up at the sky you naturally become more disposed to engage in the same behavior.

Similarly, if you look at most social media profiles, email sends, landing pages, etc you’ll see that there are strong similarities between all industries.

It’s the Chameleon Effect at work.

Whether aware of it or not, when we jump on the internet we leave ourselves open to the influence of other marketer’s activities.

With so much noise in the online world, it’s easy to start emulating other marketers whose strategies may not necessarily produce the results we desire.

The process can be subtle at first.

One slight change to our online email pitch, for example, could come from a prior marketing eblast we received weeks before.

Gradually, however, the Chameleon Effect can continue to influence the strategies and campaigns we execute.

If we are not careful, it’s easy to get swallowed by the wave of what everyone else is doing, losing touch with the essence of direct response.

Fortunately, by becoming aware of the Chameleon Effect, we can leverage it to our advantage. This can be accomplished with a few simple techniques.

Make Result-Focused Case Studies A Part of Your Daily Diet

With the ample amount of case studies published each day online, reading one each day will fill your mind with informative, inspirational, successful marketing campaigns.

Read them. Study them. Devour them.

Each day go through a new one and dust off an older one you’ve read month’s earlier. You’ll find yourself absorbing fresh insights and perspectives you missed the first time around.


Create a Swipe File Toolbox

When you have a new email subject line to write, what better way to ensure success than by flipping through hundreds of successful, sales-pulling subject lines?

A swipe file, or collection of successful ads, allows you to quickly brainstorm possible ideas for your campaign.

Most successful direct response marketers – both online and offline – have their own swipe file, often with decades of successful ads to pull from.

For social media, you could compile the headlines, tweets, Facebook posts, and images that gathered the most shares.

For sales-focused ad campaigns you could collect banner ads and landing pages.

Services like AdBeat , WhatRunsWhere , and Who’s Mailing What streamline the ad collection process, allowing you to gather insight into the ad campaigns your competitors are running.


Take Things Apart and Build Them Back Again

Legendary copywriter Gary Halbert advised copy cubs to rewrite, by hand, successful sales letters. While I don’t know how scientifically valid this recommendation is, taking successful ad campaigns apart surely gives you more insight than just a casual viewing.

What emotions does the ad trigger? How are features introduced in the campaign? What benefits are anchored to these features? Are stories and metaphors used to elicit understanding?

In music composition and writing classes, students are taught to take apart the structure and form of masterpieces down to the most minute details.

By taking the same approach to online ad campaigns, you gain the same benefit – improved ability.

Surround Yourself With Winners

When bombarded with hundreds of emails per day, thousands of status updates, and banner ads everywhere, it’s easy to be influenced by the many ineffective sales pitches we’re exposed to.

The Chameleon Effect will always have its influence on what we do as marketers. Nevertheless, by paying extra careful – and purposeful – attention to successful ad campaigns, we make ourselves more likely to mirror what works, not just what we’re unavoidably exposed to.