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What a great hack. I love how small things like this can really influence consumer behaviour.

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The Six Weapons of Influence

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I just finished a book that does a fantastic job of describing many of the ways we are influenced every day to act irrationally. I’ve had on my reading list for a very long time, and I’m stunned at how clearly I can see it’s lessons in my day-to-day life. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini explains the concepts well, and then supplies some strong examples and case studies that help flush out the concepts further.

There are six “weapons of influence”:

Reciprocity
When someone does something nice for you – even if you didn’t request it, or accept it – you feel compelled to return the favour in kind.

Commitment and Consistency
Once you’ve made a public commitment to an idea or goal, you feel compelled to honour that idea, and extensions of that idea.

Social Proof
Simply, you will do things that you see other people doing.

Authority
You will tend to obey those that you perceive as an authority figure, even if you are asked to perform objectionable acts.

Liking
You are more easily influenced by people you like.

Scarcity
You value things more highly if you believe that they are scarce.

Cialdini does a great job of flushing out these concepts in a compelling and relevant way. This book is a must-read for marketers.

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The Mother of All Hot Wheels Tracks

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Here’s how you make a viral video. One thing I’ve noticed about viral videos, is that they’re earnest. They’re not overproduced. And they rarely give you the sense that the creators really thought that they should make this in order to go viral.

I also really liked the last 45 seconds or so. After watching the video, they make a plea for a small donation to their favourite charity. Having watched the video, don’t you feel like you owe them?

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Marketing with Lies

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I talk about lies in marketing often—probably because I find them so offensive. It’s a little bit like hating garbage, though: It’s not hard to find these things offensive.

I received this voicemail the other day. It is (for lack of a better word) a scam. I’ve been building websites and involved in search engine listings since 1996; I know how search engines work. The things said in this voicemail range from misleading to outright false. It sounds pretty convincing, however, and if I didn’t know better, I could probably be convinced to part with some money for this snake oil.

This reminds me of the Domain Registry of Canada, a similar operation that relies on misleading marketing and half-truths for its business model. I won’t get into its operation here, but if you Google “Domain Registry of Canada scam,” you’ll turn up plenty of write-ups.

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Sometimes, People Will Believe Anything

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This picture—which is a hoax—has been making the rounds on Twitter lately. Brandchannel has a great write-up on this situation. Aside from the content itself being ridiculous (At the very least, why would McDonald’s alienate a large segment of the audience like that?), the phone number shown at the bottom is for the KFC headquarters.

What I find interesting about this is why people take it seriously. The main reason is that we tend to suspend disbelief when we see things like this online. We assume that someone, somewhere, has taken the time to verify this. We assume that because it exists, it must be true.

The other reason this works is that it looks legitimate:

  • The typeface looks correct.
  • Everything is lined up properly (with nothing centre-aligned).
  • The language sounds like it came out of a head office.

In fact, the only visual clues that suggest that this isn’t legit are the masking tape sloppily tacking the sign up and the odd margins (especially on the right side of the sign).

I’ve found that you don’t have to be a designer or a marketer to be pretty savvy about what looks like legitimate communication. People are very good at sensing when things just don’t look right, at least at a very low level. This is why the email scams are appearing more and more “legitimate” nowadays. It is also why it’s so important for your collateral to be designed to reflect your brand’s promise: your audience can sense when your materials don’t reflect your message.

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A short parable about illogical influence

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Below is my favourite short story about systems that encourage us to act irrationally. This actually happened, so it is completely true.

It was 2006, I think. The economy, especially in Edmonton, was booming. I was at a party as my wife’s guest, so I didn’t know a lot of people. The host had invited a few friends from her work in the accounting department of a large and well-known local business.

As is typical whenever people from work get together outside of work, they eventually started talking about work. These people hated their jobs. I listened to them complain about their horrible work environment for twenty minutes.

Then I interjected, “Things can’t be too bad there, if you all still work there.”

They paused for a moment, and one of the women turned to me and said: “You don’t understand how bad it is. It’s so bad that our job causes miscarriages. Okay? There have been like three miscarriages this year alone!” And off they went again, talking about how their employer kills unborn babies.

“So why don’t you leave?” I asked. “Everyone in this city—every employer—is dying to get people to work for them. Why don’t you just walk across the street and work there?”

They all shook their heads. “No, I couldn’t do that,” explained the woman. “You see, I took a continuing education course a few months ago, and [my employer] paid for it. If I left, I would have to pay them back for the course. It’s in my contract.”

“How much was the course?” I inquired.

“About $500,” she replied.

So, this woman was willing to work at a job that she hated, in an environment so stressful that it causes miscarriages, because she might have to pay back $500.

Setting aside the likelihood that the workplace is truly that bad (it only matters that employees perceive it to be horrible), it’s astounding that people would forgo legitimate employment alternatives because of that amount of money. It reminds me of indentured servitude—but for what is really a small sum, or at least an amount that could be overcome relatively easily, considering the ultimate prize of having a comfortable work environment.

Such notions seem to short-circuit all reasonable thought. They’re like optical illusions that work on a much grander scale; they create blind spots in our thinking.

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