Research reveals that flattery creates a positive view of the flatterer even when the person being praised realizes the insincerity of the comments. The project focused on the effects of a marketer attempting to sell to a prospect, but the results are applicable to competitive intelligence primary research.
Is “sincere flattery” an oxymoron? Yes, it is, but I have always tried to find something positive to say to a potential source to start a conversation from secondary research or a previous interview. I think of it as a compliment, not flattery, and it does work.
This research demonstrates that the compliment can be bogus, the source can realize that it is bogus, and he/she will still be affected by it. The person will have conflicting emotions: positive from the flattery and negative from the realization. Overall, the positive appears to out weight the negative to create a bias toward later purchase of the flatterer’s product.
Why does flattery work? The researchers believe its power lies in people’s high need for self-esteem. They also found that flattery did not work well after the target’s self-esteem was bolstered in positive and sincere ways, suggesting limits to the use of flattery.
The research was performed by Elaine Chan, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), and Jaideep Sengupta, a Professor in Marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. A summary of this project was published on 2/1/2010.