The Jones Effect is a powerful psychological motivator. While brands should not manipulate it, understanding it can help you figure out what people really want.
‘The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict.’ – Mark Twain
Although not the originator of the phrase ‘The Jones Effect’, Mark Twain has a point: people follow people – they follow their habits, likes, dislikes, and opinions.
To understand a little more about the concept of The Jones Effect, it is helpful to look at where the phrase actually comes from.
It started with a 1913 comic strip entitled Keeping Up With The Joneses, which follows a socially conscious family, the McGinises, fretting about their socially superior neighbours, the Joneses.
The Jones Effect refers to the need we have to keep up with our peers, and get closer to those we perceive as our superiors.
One thing to note in the original comic strip series is that the eponymous Joneses never appear.
It seems the writer knew something about human desire: the Joneses are not your neighbours, nor any one group of people – they are everybody, everywhere.
And never has that been more true than today, with the constant exposure to the world’s perfectly curated and filtered social media feeds, which always makes you feel just one step behind.
Jonesing for the Joneses
For business purposes, it is helpful to think about why we want what others have.
It is about who has what.
Firstly, the who. The person in possession of the product has to have some sort of social value – they could be a peer, or an imagined superior. The point is that they cannot be ‘below’ the desirer, or, more precisely, they cannot be someone to whom the desirer thinks themselves somehow superior.
It’s like the uncool dad – he’s not ‘below’ anyone per se – but no one wants to wear the same shoes as him.
There is a collective who to note as well. The Jones Effect is more powerful when there are more people presented as The Joneses; we are more likely to desire not just what our neighbour has, but what the neighbourhood has.
The increased visibility of people and products, and the easy validation that the internet offers mean that this dynamic of The Jones Effect is becoming ever more important.
This is particularly interesting for those working in social media and influencer marketing, as TJE is what makes these tactics so effective.
Influencer marketing, in particular, has been shown to drive interest and purchases by framing products as desirable by utilising ‘social superiors’ who attract 6-and-7-figure audiences of followers, eager to share vicariously in their glamorous lives.
Secondly, the what. This is a little more tricky. It would be easy to assume that the product has to be something the desirer needs, or wants in and of itself (a difficult distinction to make when everyone has something). But take a look at this cartoon from the original Keeping Up With The Joneses:
The product is far less important than the person who has it – that is the point of The Jones Effect.
The Jones Effect and market research: give the people what they want
This is not about making your customer feel jealous or inferior. Understanding The Jones Effect simply offers us a way into understanding what people really want.
It is all about how you pose the question.
Ask people what they want, and they will draw a blank: there’s simply too much stuff, too much clutter and choice for people to focus.
Ask people what they wish they had, relative to their peers, and they have a trigger. The question has focus.
You’re offering the consumers direction, and, as a result, the answers you receive will not only be more truthful, but more precise. The hypothetical element is largely removed as people recall real examples of products they’ve seen or heard about.
That information is valuable, and it gives you and your company direction, too; there’s so much noise about ‘the next best thing’ that we seem to forget: consumers already have a wish-list waiting to be sold to them.
Give the people what they want.
What to understand more about how to ask the right questions? Check out our Complete Guide to Survey Creation.