Here’s an article that may appeal to those men of you with face decorations. I’ve always known this to be true but now we have science on our side! Also, is there anyone less trustworthy than the “beautician” at the Macy’s makeup station? No, there isn’t.
Why Salesmen Should Consider Growing Beards
A researcher looked at how consumers react to facial hair on men, and makeup on women
By Heidi Mitchell July 28, 2022
If a salesman wants to convince people to buy what he’s selling, it helps if he has a beard.
In a paper published in August 2021 in the Journal of Business Research, consumer-behavior psychologist Sarah Mittal discovered that facial hair on a salesperson increased people’s perceptions of expertise and trust—which means they were more likely to purchase an item or service.
When we first meet a salesperson, we don’t know much about them except how they look, Dr. Mittal says, “so we immediately use visual cues to assess whether we think they know what they are doing…and if we should trust them.”
She likes to think of it as a “vibe check,” asking yourself reflexively, “Does my gut say to trust this person, that they know what they are talking about, or are there red flags?”
A hairy situation
Dr. Mittal, who was a marketing lecturer at Texas State University when the study was conducted from 2018 to 2020, looked into beards because of her husband. The co-owner of a building-controls automation company in Central Texas, Brennan Mittal had a boyish face—and thought clients didn’t take him seriously when he was clean shaven.
“He was going through phases, growing out his beard, then shaving it,” recalls Dr. Mittal, now a director of behavioral science at Ipsos, a marketing-research firm. “I said I’d do some reading on the subject to help him out, but didn’t find any research directly looking at facial hair in the sales profession context.”
For the first study, Dr. Mittal recruited 127 participants on Amazon.com Inc.’s MTurk crowdsourcing platform, who were asked to imagine they were shopping for a tablet or laptop. When they clicked through to the next page, a randomly selected image of a “salesman”—using a model with the pseudonym Mike—appeared with one of four types of facial hair. In one shot he was clean-shaven, and in the others he had a standard mustache, handlebar mustache or full beard.
When participants rated their perceptions of Mike as a salesman, the bearded version always scored highest: 10.6% higher for expertise when compared with the clean-shaven version and 11.6% higher for trustworthiness.
In a similar study, she had Mr. Mittal (called “Mike” in the test) shave his beard using standard razor lengths. The versions with facial hair scored 5.65 on a scale of one to seven for expertise and knowledge, compared with 5.12 for the clean-shaven image.
Dr. Mittal found that there was no notable difference in people’s reaction to a clean-shaven face and one with 5 o’clock shadow, nor between faces with different lengths of beard.
In these and other studies, she switched up the ethnicity of the male model, among other factors, but the results were the same.
“People use beards as a subliminal cue of knowledge when there is no other information provided,” Dr. Mittal says. “The fact that the beard drives such a statistically significant effect with even that limited information shows that facial hair provides a lot of bang for your buck.”
The women’s side
To examine the issue of looks from the female side, she later conducted a study testing different levels of makeup on women salespeople—starting with no makeup, then adding more to achieve a “natural” look, followed by a “professional” face and a “glamorous/extreme” style.
The study found that “while there may be some subjectivity here, the general idea is that as you increase makeup use from none to natural, the scores are essentially the same in terms of trustworthiness,” says the researcher. “But even the professional makeup shows a decrease in trustworthiness,” which gets worse as the saleswoman reaches the glamorous/extreme level.
That suggests that while women may feel pressure to look overly made up, that may actually backfire in a sales position, Dr. Mittal says. She believes that this is because, when a salesperson has an obviously full face of makeup, “people imply you are ‘putting on’ a front or a face, and therefore are not being genuine and are less trustworthy as a salesperson.”
All of her research has led to at least one tangible result: her husband’s grooming. “Ever since I published the research, Brennan has kept his beard,” Dr. Mittal says. “I haven’t seen his bare face since.”
Ms. Mitchell is a writer in Chicago. She can be reached at email@example.com.