The Authority Bias has a universal impact on how we make decisions, from what food we eat to what we buy.

In an experiment conducted in New York City, pedestrians were approached by a researcher (cleverly disguised as a fellow pedestrian) who asked them to help a fellow citizen pay a parking ticket. Surprisingly, some of them did! In fact, 33% of people decided to cover the cost of the stranger’s ticket. Not bad. They tried the same tactic when the researcher was dressed as a milkman, and a few more people ended up giving the money.

Where this gets interesting is when the same researcher donned the costume of a police officer. When he began to ask pedestrians to cover the cost of the stranger’s ticket, a whopping 89% agreed to cover the cost of the ticket. That is a huge difference, all due to the difference in the physical appearance of the researcher.

In the world of psychology, this is known as Authority Bias. When we are presented with an authoritative figure, we treat them with more respect and are more likely to follow their recommendations, or in the case of this experiment, agree to their request.

A few years ago, a pair of guys decided to put this mental bias to the test by wearing high-visibility vests in an effort to get free entry into a movie theater, a zoo, a museum, a celebrity chef’s kitchen, and Disney theme park. Want to know whether they were successful? See for yourself:

Everyone in the world is subject to the Authority Bias. Depending on what country or culture you live in, authority will take a different form. It could be a company, a priest, a police officer, or just a person in a high-visibility jacket.

So what does this have to do with marketing?

The Obligatory Disclaimer:

Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that using mental biases as a way to cheat others or get away with something is not the ethical application of this principle. There are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it. This post is investigating the ethical and practical applications of the Authority Bias in your marketing.

Using Authority Effectively

Social proof can be used most effectively through the use of testimonials, certifications, awards, and endorsements. When you place these elements on your landing page, sales page, or checkout page, you can expect your conversion rate on that page to rise, often quite significantly.

In fact, when we started working with Dry Farm Wines, we found that by adding a simple set of testimonials their checkout process, sales conversions rose by over 26%. That is a huge improvement in sales just by adding one small tweak to a page!

Results like this aren’t typical, but they also aren’t beyond your reach. They’re not typical mostly because companies often overlook the massive potential of incorporating cognitive biases into their funnels. Think about where you are asking prospects, leads, or even customers to engage with you through a lead magnet or sales page – and consider what forms of authority you are presenting to them at the time of the call to action.

Authoritative Elements You Can Add To Your Funnel Pages Right Now

As mentioned above, there are four main authority-based elements you can add to your landing pages, sales pages, and checkout pages. Each of them can be used in different ways to account for different sources of authority.

Authority Bias Element #1: Endorsements

Endorsements are statements from highly-authoritative figures or companies which express support for your product or service. Endorsements can be found in advertisements, on the back of your favorite books, and on websites of established companies.

Authority bias in book endorsements
This is the back cover of Purple Cow by Seth Godin. You can see two authority bias driven endorsements from Business Life and Ink

An endorsement is specifically requested to a person or company which holds influence over the requesting company’s (or person’s) target market. It’s important to know who to reach out to for an endorsement since the recognition of the endorser is essential to trigger Authority Bias. You wouldn’t want to see Apple endorsing the newest pair of Nike’s, for example. The industries just don’t overlap. So think about what companies you can reach out to which would add credibility to your brand and offer.

Authority Bias Element #2: Certifications

A certification is a stamp of approval from some kind of certifying organization in your industry. For example, in the marketing world, you can receive certifications from Meclabs and Digital Marketer to show prospective clients that you have been tested to understand marketing fundamentals.

Authority bias on Vivid Labs website
We proudly display certifications that Team Vivid has received on our home page for visitors to see. Authority Bias is being used here to show that we’ve done our homework.

If you haven’t received a certification in your industry yet, do some research on what options you have available to you. There are likely many organizations that can stand by your product after you have attended a training or taken an examination to certify that you are the real deal.

Authority Bias Element #3: Awards

If you have received any awards in your industry, it’s important to show them off! In most industries, there are organizations dedicated to giving awards to best in class products, media, and services, from movies to apps. Take a look around the internet at your competitors to see what awards they may have received and be sure to submit your company into the next round of applications.

Authority bias in film
This is a great example of a short film displaying the awards it has received. Here we have A New View Of The Moon, which has received multiple awards from Authority Bias triggering companies from National Geographic to Mountainfilm.

Authority Bias Element #4: Testimonials

Adding testimonials from past customers is a great way to add authority to your page. Technically speaking, testimonials also fall under the category of social proof due to the fact that they utilize our mutual respect for our peers (and social cues) to determine whether something is a legitimate offer.

Authority bias in the Dry Farm Wines checkout page
Here is an example of a testimonial block that Team Vivid added to the Dry Farm Wines checkout page. This update to their purchase experience contributed to an increase of over 26% in their checkout conversions.

If you don’t yet have testimonials, you can start collecting them through a Typeform or Paperform request, or by simply emailing your existing customers asking for feedback to be used in your marketing efforts. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many people are willing to share positive feedback about their experience working with you!

The Difference Between Authority Bias And Social Proof

Although they are similar, Authority Bias is technically derived from a different psychological trigger than social proof. Let’s quickly examine the difference.

Social Proof is a sort of peer-to-peer endorsement. It occurs when someone we consider similar to ourselves says something in support of a product we’re considering buying, or even a free download we’re considering registering for.

Authority, on the other hand, occurs when an organization or person that we consider as more authoritative than us in a certain field releases a statement supporting a brand we are engaging with.

The difference is technical but important to understand. While Authority Bias and Social Proof use the same social cues influencing our decisions, they are coming from two different levels of our social hierarchy: a source superior in knowledge, expertise, or reputation (Authority Bias) or a source equal to us (Social Proof).

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