February 27th, 2017 by Oren Smilansky

Businesses seeking support through crowdfunding websites would be well advised to re-examine the profile pictures they post alongside their online marketing materials, according to a study featured in the Journal of Customer Research.

A U.S.-based team of academic researchers drew a correlation between the intensity of the smiles company representatives flashed in their headshots and customer perceptions of overall competence, warmth, and trustworthiness with monetary investments.

We found that broad smiles lead people to be perceived as warmer but less competent,” one of the researchers involved–Jessica Li, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Kansas School of Business–told the KU Daily in late January. “We ask how that can influence consumer behavior and in what situations might marketers want to smile more broadly.”

The team conducted a content analysis experiment on Kickstarter.com, a common crowd-funding website where up-and-coming companies solicit donations from people who would like to see their products and services reach a broader constituency. While past studies in the fields of marketing and psychology have confirmed that smiles tend to elicit positive associations, the experiment revealed that there can be a trade off in the actions they feel compelled to take.

The study looked at more than 300 project creator photos whose smiles were classified as broad (166) and slight (158). Broad smiles were effective in promoting ads for low risk products or services, and creating awareness on social media sites. However, in situations where the risk was deemed higher–such as with investments in growing startups, or legal representation professionals–the slight smiles performed better with relation to the bottom line.

“Project creators with a slight smile are perceived as more competent,” Li told the University of Kansas. “People wanted to donate more to their project because they believe this competent person is able to deliver the product.”

Indeed, page creators who displayed slight smiles were able to secure 50 percent more in total dollars pledged. The average contribution from each donor was also 30 percent larger in this constituency.

Those startups seeking venture capital might want to take heed. The findings could also prove useful to marketers, as they become increasingly concerned with tying their efforts to commerce motions.

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