Monday, December 19, 2011

Comparing Yourself To Others. A Cool Tool

Conventional wisdom in this day of the internet is that it is other people — specifically, a peer group, rather than experts — that most influence an individual’s feelings or actions. That means, for example, that you are more likely to be influenced in the way you play your game by a more talented tennis player friend of yours than by Roger Federer. So looking at those around us, particularly our friends and neighbors, is a way to acquire information.

But what makes us feel better? Watching a tennis player friend who is better or worse at the game than you are, even though the better player can help you improve your game? It depends upon who the person is. If it is your neighbor, according to a recent study, you would rather play better than he or she does.

A 2005 study cited in an article in the July 2, 2011 issue of The New York Times, noted that most of us feel better if we make, say, $100,000 if the majority of our neighbors make $75,000 than if we earn $150,000 when most of our friends bring in $200,000. The article notes that John Stuart Mill said: “Men do not desire to be rich, but to be richer than other men.”

Why is this important from a public relations standpoint? Because it relates to the environment in which we introduce our products and services and people’s needs to compare themselves with others within their peer groups.

For a retirement services company, according to the same article, for example, this could be very important, as its clients need to measure the amount of money they have put away compared to the norm. According to a vice president of ING Retirement, performing this kind of analysis gets people thinking about their situation, something they usually try to avoid. When they see the facts, a large percentage of them opt to take some positive action.

According to noted Harvard professor, David Laibson, “Comparisons to large groups of peers are often useful. It’s never the final word on what I should do, but it does give me food for thought.”

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