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By Lan Jiang, PhD, Joandrea Hoegg, PhD (Canada), Darren W. Dahl, PhD (Canada), Amitava Chattopadhyay, PhD (France)


As any well-seasoned agent knows, creating a connection with the client is essential. Connections can be made in a variety of ways and usually hinge on some common value or shared demographic. The intent of our research was to explore the effects of incidental similarities, or chance similarities, such as a shared name, birthday or birthplace, on the buyer-seller relationship. Our findings revealed that these types of connections enhance the client's favorable attitude and increase their intention to purchase.

Defining Incidental Similarity

Incidental similarities refer to the trivial aspects of our lives that we share with another person. Examples of incidental similarities include a shared birthday or a common hometown. These "coincidences" aid in meeting a person's need to belong and may appear trivial on the surface, however, within the context of a buyer-seller relationship, can be building blocks for success. In the context of real estate, being aware of this phenomenon can assist agents as they strive to make those vital connections with the client.

How Common are Incidental Similarities?

While it often seems uncanny when you meet someone who shares an incidental similarity with you, the truth is these chance similarities are not as rare as they sound. For example, the chance for at least two people to have the same birthday is greater than 50% in a group as small as 23 people (McKinney 1996). Often times, these incidental similarities may go unnoticed, if the agent does not investigate such questions. Develop a set of casual questions to ask the client when making introductions. This way you can easily identify any incidental similarities from the onset of the relationship and thus benefit from the positive effects.

Effect of Incidental Similarities on Buyer-Seller Relationship

Research has shown that the existence of incidental similarities attributes to such positive outcomes as increased liking, persuasion and cooperation between individuals (e.g., Burger et al. 2004; Miller, Downs and Prentice 1998). Furthermore, our research shows that within the context of a sales relationship, buyers' favorable attitudes and intentions to purchase both increase when a incidental similarity exists. These two positive outcomes show that incidental similarities have both an immediate and a long term benefit to be gained. For the immediate sale, agents will benefit from an increased willingness to purchase. Agents will also gain long-term rewards as client's increased favorable attitude will increase future activities.

Social Connectedness

An important element to our study was the idea of social connectedness, or what is known as the emotional expanse connecting the self and others (Lee and Robbins 1995). This connectedness is the foundation that paves the way for the positive results arising from incidental similarities. Social connectedness involves the need to form and maintain strong, stable interpersonal relationships (Baumeister and Leary 1995). The need to belong is universal because it is a need that all humans share. Incidental similarity is one way to fulfill our need to belong because it closes the emotional distance between two people.

Consider How to Find Incidental Similarities with Clients

Many businesses have begun to capitalize on the positive effect of incidental similarities by providing personal information about their agents or employees on their homepages. For example in another industry, we find many fitness clubs providing full bios of their fitness trainers, citing information to potential customers that does not necessarily speak to their credibility as a professional, but instead opens the door for customers to make connections. As a real-estate agent, consider how you might market yourself to those clients who may share some common ground. A client may be more inclined to work with you if he or she knows that you share a similarity.

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About The Authors

Lan Jiang
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Lundquist School of Business, University of Oregon

Dr. Jiang conducts research related to consumer psychology and behavior. Her primary research interests are in the areas of buyer/seller interaction, interpersonal influences, and customer equity. For her dissertation research, she analyzes customers' mixed emotions towards receiving a preferential treatment from marketers. She is also interested in consumer-brand relationship, anthropomorphism, and context effects. Dr. Jiang's research has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research and covered by various press. She received her PhD from the University of British Columbia.

JoAndrea Hoegg
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia

JoAndrea Hoegg (PhD, University of Florida) is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include sensory perception, social influence, and product design. Her work is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Darren W. Dahl
Fred H. Siller Professor in Applied Marketing Research, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia

Darren Dahl is the Fred H. Siller Professor in Applied Marketing Research at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia. His current research interests are in the areas of new product design and development, creativity, consumer product adoption, the role of social influence in consumer behaviour, and understanding the role of self-conscious emotions in consumption. Darren has published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, Management Science, and Journal of Consumer Psychology. He currently serves as an associate editor at the Journal of Consumer Research and is an editorial board member of the Journal of Marketing Research and the International Journal of Research in Marketing. Darren received his PhD from the University of British Columbia.

Amitava Chattopadhyay
The L'Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing, INSEAD

Amitava Chattopadhyay is an expert on branding. His research has appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing, Marketing Science, Management Science, International Journal of Research in Marketing, and Long Range Planning. He is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Research in Marketing and is on the editorial review boards of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and Long Range Planning. For his research, he has been the recipient of the Robert Ferber Award and a finalist for the O'Dell Award.

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