The Best of Psychology-Based Marketing

Marketers, like everyone else, sometimes need to reflect on where they’ve been in order to really see the valuable lessons they’ve learned and what they’ve accomplished. Here are four lessons in psychology-based marketing, which also happens to be the name of this column.

Elementary teacher email marketingMarketers, like everyone else, sometimes need to reflect on where they’ve been in order to really see the valuable lessons they’ve learned and what they’ve accomplished. Here are four lessons in psychology-based marketing, which also happens to be the name of this column.

The four blog posts that are top-of-mind for me are:

  • ‘This Will Never Happen to You’ — the concepts of denial that marketers to navigate through. To jog memories, here’s the first paragraph: “Car accidents, failed businesses or marriages, and lackluster marketing campaigns happen to ‘everyone but me.’ Or so we like to think — or, rather, are programmed to think.”
  • Remember that Donald Trump post? ‘Donald Trump Is Getting It Right by Doing It All Wrong.’ This is about the value of establishing “like values” with your followers.
  • ‘The Purpose-Driven Brand.’ This post is about how CSR attracts consumers far beyond your pricing and promotion strategies.
  • ‘The 4 Most Powerful Words for Closing Sales’ — aren’t the words most marketers would summon to mind. They’re “but you are free.” Here’s more about what that means: “Why do the simple words, ‘But you are free’ have such a strong persuasive impact on compliance? From a psychological perspective, we humans want to always feel in control, and when someone asks for something that is ours — our time, our money — we feel they are asking us to give up control of some of our most valuable necessities. From a marketing perspective, I believe the impact goes even deeper.”

Dysrationalia and Other Consumer Disorders

It’s true. Most consumers suffer from a bad case of dysrationalia which, according to Keith Stanovich, emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, is the “inability to think and behave rationally, despite having adequate intelligence.” He should know, he coined the term.

It’s true. Most consumers suffer from a bad case of dysrationalia which, according to Keith Stanovich, emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, is the “inability to think and behave rationally, despite having adequate intelligence.” He should know, he coined the term.

Yep. I’m guilty, as well. And assuming you have adequate intelligence, you are, too. I came out when I bought a Suburban a couple of years ago. The slightly used car sat on the dealer’s lot for about four months when other Suburbans that were older and had more miles were selling within days of showing up on the lot. The only noticeable difference, other than the year and miles, were price. The older models that sold almost immediately were priced higher! For four months, I toyed with testing the car that wouldn’t sell, but my rational mind decided it would be a waste of time because, after all, it was priced nearly $6,500 below Kelley Blue Book value. Clearly, something had to be wrong with it.

WAKE UP!!! How did my rational mind know that there was something wrong with the lower-priced, newer car with fewer miles, unless my irrational mind was telling it so? And why does my irrational mind have more influence over my actions than my rational mind?

Upon discovering I, too, suffered from dysrationalia, I bought the car. And two years later, we have discovered absolutely nothing wrong with the car, other than the time my husband didn’t put the brake on and it rolled into a neighbor’s garage.

This same type of decision-making thought process and resulting behavior takes place daily among consumers of all ages, in all cultures, in all parts of the world. It’s human nature. For the most part, consumers never become aware that they are driven by irrational thinking and therefore, it never changes. So the reality is that we marketers have to address it, instead.

A great example of dysrationalia is found in the book of another one of my favorite psychologists, Daniel Kahnemann. In “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow,” he asks the question, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

Your first thought, if you’re like the majority of students at MIT, Harvard, Princeton and other prestigious schools, was 10 cents. Admit it. That’s the smart person’s answer. But it’s wrong. Do the math. If you do the simple math associated with this question, it’s 5 cents, because if you add 10 cents to the cost of the bat, which would be $1.10 if the bat is $1 more than the ball, you get $1.20. Wrong.

So why do most intelligent people get it wrong intuitively? Because we rely on our first thoughts to guide us, because in most of life’s circumstances, we don’t want to bother to really work out solutions and just want to go with our “gut.” Just like my “gut” told me the car was a lemon because it was priced below value, many consumers convince themselves to make poor choices daily.

Think back on the last time you went grocery shopping. Did you really stop to look at the shelf notes telling you the price per ounce of various items so you could see which brand and which price offered the best value for the money? And did you take the time to compare the price per ounce of the generic brands vs. the advertised brands? If so, get a life! Of course we don’t spend hours comparing price per value for every purchase we make. We rely on our “rational” thinking to do that for us quickly, and that “rational” thinking tells us that bigger boxes give us more value, and generic brands costs less. Pay attention next time you shop and you’ll realize it just isn’t always so, even at those big box warehouse stores.

Not only do you make irrational shopping choices daily, but so do your customers. To compensate, we marketers must present our messages in a way that fits our consumers’ irrational decision processes. As Dan Ariely pointed out in his book, “Predictably Irrational,” there are many ways we can do this. For one, when giving customers three options to choose from, put the one you want them to purchase in the middle. Consumers are not gong to do the math to see which offer provides the best price for the money, but instead are going to make a quick “gut” choice and purchase the one in the middle, because our intuitive mind tells us the first option is too basic, and the third option is likely extravagant or superfluous. So the middle option is most practical and therefore intelligent.

Another way we can appeal to irrational thinking is through price. Most of us will never buy the highest priced option, as it seems irresponsible. But we will buy something less expensive and feel good about it — even if it, too, was overpriced. Many studies show that if a salesperson shows us a clearly overpriced item, say a Lady Date Pearlmaster Rolex watch for $38,000, we will say “no, thanks.” But when they immediately afterward show us the Cartier Santos Demoiselle watch for roughly $15,000, it’s suddenly a bargain we have to have. Really? $15,000 for a watch is a bargain? My conscious mind tells me that it isn’t intelligent for anyone, regardless of income. (Yes, call me cheap.) The difference was our “rational” mind suddenly kicked into “irrational” thinking due to pre-set reference points created by someone trying to sell us something, and $15,000 is less than half of $38,000, so that is a practical and intelligent decision. For some.

So how do you, as a brand, create sales outside of marketing campaigns through psychologically driven pricing strategies, and how do you as a marketer position your products to sell precisely the items you want to sell most? Offering sales and promotional pricing can often backfire, as you saw in my car purchasing example.

Appealing to how our mind thinks, processes information, and calculates solutions — rational or not — is the key to “winning customers and influencing behavior” for life. Integrating other psychological drivers, such as authority and reward, will keep those same customers coming back for more.

Some key takeaways:

  • Never assume your target consumer is really going to read all the details of your message. Make it clear and actionable with a scan of the eyeballs.
  • Price according to what is reasonable and credible for the generation and mindset of customers you are targeting. Not too low and not too high.
  • Don’t make your customers think. Simply create a promotion that is simple and appeals to key psychological drivers: social proof, our need for rewards and authority.
  • Immediately recognize your customers with a “Thank You” (there are no excuses with automated emails today) and reward them at least with a gesture of appreciation for their business.
  • Finally, spend some time studying shopping patterns of your most valuable customers to identify rational and irrational behavioral trends. Plan future promotions accordingly and enjoy a strong ROI!

I Dare You: Create a Brand Challenge!

Challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don’t do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.

When I popped into my local independent bookstore this week, I saw a slip of paper promoting The 2015 Reading Challenge. Intrigued, I read through a list of eclectic reading prompts, wondering if they’d be of any interest to me because I already am a highly self-motivated bookworm, and always have been. The only prompt I need is to not read 24/7! But I kept an open mind and read through prompts like the following:

  • Read a book from your childhood
  • Read a book in a genre you don’t typically read
  • Read a book you’ve been meaning to read
  • Read a book published this year
  • Read a book you should have read in high school

I changed my mind after reading the list and realized that challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don’t do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.

These reading prompts made me think of how I gently provoke my clients when I am in the midst of leading brand tune-ups. “Look up! Look around! Look sideways!” I encourage. “What has changed in your marketplace? With your customers? With your product line? Your promotional offers? Your marketing communications? With your competitors? With YOU?” I ask. We grapple with these challenges together, always wanting to examine and understand status quo before dreaming big.

In that creative and open spirit, why not, as a brand leader, create your own Brand Challenge? Make a list of all sorts of prompts that may both ignite new brand behavior and reexamine old behavior. Review with your team and then just jump into it! Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Call a customer and have a meaningful conversation about their brand experience and insights.
  • Clean out your brand closet … what do you need to let go of?
  • Take a BrandAbout field trip and visit five brands not at all related to yours. See what you learn.
  • Take a BrandAbout field trip and visit five brands very much related to yours. See what you learn.
  • Make a branding TO DON’T LIST.
  • Figure out your brand verb.
  • Take a customer service person out to lunch and LISTEN to their experiences.
  • Simplify one process.
  • Spend a day in another department.
  • Find something interesting that your brand did 5 years ago, 10 years ago.
  • Eliminate one thing that does not enhance your brand.
  • Get a reverse mentor in some area.
  • Send a thank you to someone internally.
  • Send a thank you to a customer.

That’s it. I dare you!

Smart Data – Not Big Data

As a concerned data professional, I am already plotting an exit strategy from this Big Data hype. Because like any bubble, it will surely burst. That inevitable doomsday could be a couple of years away, but I can feel it coming. At the risk of sounding too much like Yoda the Jedi Grand Master, all hypes lead to over-investments, all over-investments lead to disappointments, and all disappointments lead to blames. Yes, in a few years, lots of blames will go around, and lots of heads will roll.

As a concerned data professional, I am already plotting an exit strategy from this Big Data hype. Because like any bubble, it will surely burst. That inevitable doomsday could be a couple of years away, but I can feel it coming. At the risk of sounding too much like Yoda the Jedi Grand Master, all hypes lead to over-investments, all over-investments lead to disappointments, and all disappointments lead to blames. Yes, in a few years, lots of blames will go around, and lots of heads will roll.

So, why would I stay on the troubled side? Well, because, for now, this Big Data thing is creating lots of opportunities, too. I am writing this on my way back from Seoul, Korea, where I presented this Big Data idea nine times in just two short weeks, trotting from large venues to small gatherings. Just a few years back, I used to have a hard time explaining what I do for living. Now, I just have to say “Hey, I do this Big Data thing,” and the doors start to open. In my experience, this is the best “Open Sesame” moment for all data specialists. But it will last only if we play it right.

Nonetheless, I also know that I will somehow continue to make living setting data strategies, fixing bad data, designing databases and leading analytical activities, even after the hype cools down. Just with a different title, under a different banner. I’ve seen buzzwords come and go, and this data business has been carried on by the people who cut through each hype (and gargantuan amount of BS along with it) and create real revenue-generating opportunities. At the end of the day (I apologize for using this cliché), it is all about the bottom line, whether it comes from a revenue increase or cost reduction. It is never about the buzzwords that may have created the business opportunities in the first place; it has always been more about the substance that turned those opportunities into money-making machines. And substance needs no fancy title or buzzwords attached to it.

Have you heard Google or Amazon calling themselves a “Big Data” companies? They are the ones with sick amounts of data, but they also know that it is not about the sheer amount of data, but it is all about the user experience. “Wannabes” who are not able to understand the core values often hang onto buzzwords and hypes. As if Big Data, Cloud Computing or coding language du jour will come and save the day. But they are just words.

Even the name “Big Data” is all wrong, as it implies that bigger is always better. The 3 Vs of Big Data—volume, velocity and variety—are also misleading. That could be a meaningful distinction for existing data players, but for decision-makers, it gives a notion that size and speed are the ultimate quest. But for the users, small is better. They don’t have time to analyze big sets of data. They need small answers in fun size packages. Plus, why is big and fast new? Since the invention of modern computers, has there been any year when the processing speed did not get faster and storage capacity did not get bigger?

Lest we forget, it is the software industry that came up with this Big Data thing. It was created as a marketing tagline. We should have read it as, “Yes, we can now process really large amounts of data, too,” not as, “Big Data will make all your dreams come true.” If you are in the business of selling toolsets, of course, that is how you present your product. If guitar companies keep emphasizing how hard it is to be a decent guitar player, would that help their businesses? It is a lot more effective to say, “Hey, this is the same guitar that your guitar hero plays!” But you don’t become Jeff Beck just because you bought a white Fender Stratocaster with a rosewood neck. The real hard work begins “after” you purchase a decent guitar. However, this obvious connection is often lost in the data business. Toolsets never provide solutions on their own. They may make your life easier, but you’d still have to formulate the question in a logical fashion, and still have to make decisions based on provided data. And harnessing meanings out of mounds of data requires training of your mind, much like the way musicians practice incessantly.

So, before business people even consider venturing into this Big Data hype, they should ask themselves “Why data?” What are burning questions that you are trying to solve with the data? If you can’t answer this simple question, then don’t jump into it. Forget about it. Don’t get into it just because everyone else seems to be getting into it. Yeah, it’s a big party, but why are you going there? Besides, if you formulate the question properly, often you will find that you don’t need Big Data all the time. If fact, Big Data can be a terrible detour if your question can be answered by “small” data. But that happens all the time, because people approach their business questions through the processes set by the toolsets. Big Data should be about the business, not about the IT or data.

Smart Data, Not Big Data
So, how do we get over this hype? All too often, perception rules, and a replacement word becomes necessary to summarize the essence of the concept for the general public. In my opinion, “Big Data” should have been “Smart Data.” Piles of unorganized dumb data aren’t worth a damn thing. Imagine a warehouse full of boxes with no labels, collecting dust since 1943. Would you be impressed with the sheer size of the warehouse? Great, the ark that Indiana Jones procured (or did he?) may be stored in there somewhere. But if no one knows where it is—or even if it can be located, if no one knows what to do with it—who cares?

Then, how do data get smarter? Smart data are bite-sized answers to questions. A thousand variables could have been considered to provide the weather forecast that calls for a “70 percent chance of scattered showers in the afternoon,” but that one line that we hear is the smart piece of data. Not the list of all the variables that went into the formula that created that answer. Emphasizing the raw data would be like giving paints and brushes to a person who wants a picture on the wall. As in, “Hey, here are all the ingredients, so why don’t you paint the picture and hang it on the wall?” Unfortunately, that is how the Big Data movement looks now. And too often, even the ingredients aren’t all that great.

I visit many companies only to find that the databases in question are just messy piles of unorganized and unstructured data. And please do not assume that such disarrays are good for my business. I’d rather spend my time harnessing meanings out of data and creating values, not taking care of someone else’s mess all the time. Really smart data are small, concise, clean and organized. Big Data should only be seen in “Behind the Scenes” types of documentaries for manias, not for everyday decision-makers.

I have been already saying that Big Data must get smaller for some time (refer to “Big Data Must Get Smaller“) and I would repeat it until it becomes a movement on its own. The Big Data movement must be about:

  1. Cutting down the noise
  2. Providing the answers

There is too much noise in the data, and cutting it out is the first step toward making the data smaller and smarter. The trouble is that the definition of “noise” is not static. Rock music that I grew up with was certainly a noise to my parents’ generation. In turn, some music that my kids listen to is pure noise to me. Likewise, “product color,” which is essential for a database designed for an inventory management system, may or may not be noise if the goal is to sell more apparel items. In such cases, more important variables could be style, brand, price range, target gender, etc., but color could be just peripheral information at best, or even noise (as in, “Uh, she isn’t going to buy just red shoes all the time?”). How do we then determine the differences? First, set the clear goals (as in, “Why are we playing with the data to begin with?”), define the goals using logical expressions, and let mathematics take care of it. Now you can drop the noise with conviction (even if it may look important to human minds).

If we continue with that mathematical path, we would reach the second part, which is “providing answers to the question.” And the smart answers are in the forms of yes/no, probability figures or some type of scores. Like in the weather forecast example, the question would be “chance of rain on a certain day” and the answer would be “70 percent.” Statistical modeling is not easy or simple, but it is the essential part of making the data smarter, as models are the most effective way to summarize complex and abundant data into compact forms (refer to “Why Model?”).

Most people do not have degrees in mathematics or statistics, but they all know what to do with a piece of information such as “70 percent chance of rain” on the day of a company outing. Some may complain that it is not a definite yes/no answer, but all would agree that providing information in this form is more humane than dumping all the raw data onto users. Sales folks are not necessarily mathematicians, but they would certainly appreciate scores attached to each lead, as in “more or less likely to close.” No, that is not a definite answer, but now sales people can start calling the leads in the order of relative importance to them.

So, all the Big Data players and data scientists must try to “humanize” the data, instead of bragging about the size of the data, making things more complex, and providing irrelevant pieces of raw data to users. Make things simpler, not more complex. Some may think that complexity is their job security, but I strongly disagree. That is a sure way to bring down this Big Data movement to the ground. We are already living in a complex world, and we certainly do not need more complications around us (more on “How to be a good data scientist” in a future article).

It’s About the Users, Too
On the flip side, the decision-makers must change their attitude about the data, as well.

1. Define the goals first: The main theme of this series has been that the Big Data movement is about the business, not IT or data. But I’ve seen too many business folks who would so willingly take a hands-off approach to data. They just fund the database; do not define clear business goals to developers; and hope to God that someday, somehow, some genius will show up and clear up the mess for them. Guess what? That cavalry is never coming if you are not even praying properly. If you do not know what problems you want to solve with data, don’t even get started; you will get to nowhere really slowly, bleeding lots of money and time along the way.

2. Take the data seriously: You don’t have to be a scientist to have a scientific mind. It is not ideal if someone blindly subscribes anything computers spew out (there are lots of inaccurate information in databases; refer to “Not All Databases Are Created Equal.”). But too many people do not take data seriously and continue to follow their gut feelings. Even if your customer profile coming out of a serious analysis does not match with your preconceived notions, do not blindly reject it; instead, treat it as a newly found gold mine. Gut feelings are even more overrated than Big Data.

3. Be logical: Illogical questions do not lead anywhere. There is no toolset that reads minds—at least not yet. Even if we get to have such amazing computers—as seen on “Star Trek” or in other science fiction movies—you would still have to ask questions in a logical fashion for them to be effective. I am not asking decision-makers to learn how to code (or be like Mr. Spock or his loyal follower, Dr. Sheldon Cooper), but to have some basic understanding of logical expressions and try to learn how analysts communicate with computers. This is not data geek vs. non-geek world anymore; we all have to be a little geekier. Knowing Boolean expressions may not be as cool as being able to throw a curve ball, but it is necessary to survive in the age of information overload.

4. Shoot for small successes: Start with a small proof of concept before fully investing in large data initiatives. Even with a small project, one gets to touch all necessary steps to finish the job. Understanding the flow of information is as important as each specific step, as most breakdowns occur in between steps, due to lack of proper connections. There was Gemini program before Apollo missions. Learn how to dock spaceships in space before plotting the chart to the moon. Often, over-investments are committed when the discussion is led by IT. Outsource even major components in the beginning, as the initial goal should be mastering the flow of things.

5. Be buyer-centric: No customer is bound by the channel of the marketer’s choice, and yet, may businesses act exactly that way. No one is an online person just because she did not refuse your email promotions yet (refer to “The Future of Online is Offline“). No buyer is just one dimensional. So get out of brand-, division-, product- or channel-centric mindsets. Even well-designed, buyer-centric marketing databases become ineffective if users are trapped in their channel- or division-centric attitudes, as in “These email promotions must flow!” or “I own this product line!” The more data we collect, the more chances marketers will gain to impress their customers and prospects. Do not waste those opportunities by imposing your own myopic views on them. Big Data movement is not there to fortify marketers’ bad habits. Thanks to the size of the data and speed of machines, we are now capable of disappointing a lot of people really fast.

What Did This Hype Change?
So, what did this Big Data hype change? First off, it changed people’s attitudes about the data. Some are no longer afraid of large amounts of information being thrown at them, and some actually started using them in their decision-making processes. Many realized that we are surrounded by numbers everywhere, not just in marketing, but also in politics, media, national security, health care and the criminal justice system.

Conversely, some people became more afraid—often with good reasons. But even more often, people react based on pure fear that their personal information is being actively exploited without their consent. While data geeks are rejoicing in the age of open source and cloud computing, many more are looking at this hype with deep suspicions, and they boldly reject storing any personal data in those obscure “clouds.” There are some people who don’t even sign up for EZ Pass and voluntarily stay on the long lane to pay tolls in the old, but untraceable way.

Nevertheless, not all is lost in this hype. The data got really big, and types of data that were previously unavailable, such as mobile and social data, became available to many marketers. Focus groups are now the size of Twitter followers of the company or a subject matter. The collection rate of POS (point of service) data has been increasingly steady, and some data players became virtuosi in using such fresh and abundant data to impress their customers (though some crossed that “creepy” line inadvertently). Different types of data are being used together now, and such merging activities will compound the predictive power even further. Analysts are dealing with less missing data, though no dataset would ever be totally complete. Developers in open source environments are now able to move really fast with new toolsets that would just run on any device. Simply, things that our forefathers of direct marketing used to take six months to complete can be done in few hours, and in the near future, maybe within a few seconds.

And that may be a good thing and a bad thing. If we do this right, without creating too many angry consumers and without burning holes in our budgets, we are currently in a position to achieve great many things in terms of predicting the future and making everyone’s lives a little more convenient. If we screw it up badly, we will end up creating lots of angry customers by abusing sensitive data and, at the same time, wasting a whole lot of investors’ money. Then this Big Data thing will go down in history as a great money-eating hype.

We should never do things just because we can; data is a powerful tool that can hurt real people. Do not even get into it if you don’t have a clear goal in terms of what to do with the data; it is not some piece of furniture that you buy just because your neighbor bought it. Living with data is a lifestyle change, and it requires a long-term commitment; it is not some fad that you try once and give up. It is a continuous loop where people’s responses to marketer’s data-based activities create even more data to be analyzed. And that is the only way it keeps getting better.

There Is No Big Data
And all that has nothing to do with “Big.” If done right, small data can do plenty. And in fact, most companies’ transaction data for the past few years would easily fit in an iPhone. It is about what to do with the data, and that goal must be set from a business point of view. This is not just a new playground for data geeks, who may care more for new hip technologies that sound cool in their little circle.

I recently went to Brazil to speak at a data conference called QIBRAS, and I was pleasantly surprised that the main theme of it was the quality of the data, not the size of the data. Well, at least somewhere in the world, people are approaching this whole thing without the “Big” hype. And if you look around, you will not find any successful data players calling this thing “Big Data.” They just deal with small and large data as part of their businesses. There is no buzzword, fanfare or a big banner there. Because when something is just part of your everyday business, you don’t even care what you call it. You just do. And to those masters of data, there is no Big Data. If Google all of a sudden starts calling itself a Big Data company, it would be so uncool, as that word would seriously limit it. Think about that.

5 Tips to Sell Media Multitaskers

How many gadgets do you juggle simultaneously? Assuming you’re like most people, you’re on your laptop/tablet, smartphone and other media devices checking email, texts and social media at the same time. And so are your prospects. Their mind (and your mind) is multitasking a lot. But here’s scary news: You could be shrinking important structures in your brain. So are your prospective customers. And this is going to impact…

How many gadgets do you juggle simultaneously? Assuming you’re like most people, you’re on your laptop/tablet, smartphone and other media devices checking email, texts and social media at the same time. And so are your prospects. Their mind (and your mind) is multitasking a lot. But here’s scary news: You could be shrinking important structures in your brain. So are your prospective customers. And this is going to impact your selling success whether you like it or not.

Intuition tells us that it’s tough to media multitask, that is, attempt to watch TV and be on your computer and/or your smartphone checking email, texts and social media all at the same time. If you’ve done it, you know you’re not completely present with any one of these. Rather, your focus diverts from one media to the other with the end result of losing out on the whole story of any one thing.

New research by two neuroscientists has found that people who use multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray matter density in an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control. With these new findings, there is increasing concern about how simultaneous multiple media consumption is altering our cognition, social-emotional well-being, and brain structure.

Media multitasking is also associated with emotional problems, like anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive problems, like poor attention. Gray matter is also central to muscle control, sensory input, decision making and self-control.

And there’s more: we’re losing gray matter which affects “executive function” in the brain. “Executive functions” include judgment, analysis, organizing, problem solving, planning and creativity. With those “executive functions,” the mind can more deeply groove new memories into long-term knowledge.

So while there is reason for you, on an individual level, to be concerned about this development, as a direct marketer, you have additional challenges selling your prospective customers.

Since there is little you can do to change the course of how your prospects will media multitask, you have to take steps to adjust your marketing approach. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Command Undivided Attention.
    If you want your prospective customer’s undivided attention, one way to get it is through activating fear in the brain’s amygdala—the emotional hot button-that reacts in flight or fight mode.
  2. Encourage Thinking.
    Once you have undivided attention, take quick advantage of it by encouraging your prospect to pause and think.
  3. Be the Problem Solver.
    Your prospect wants easy and quick solutions, especially in this media multitasking world. Become their virtual problem solver.
  4. Organize Yourself First So You Can Organize Them.
    When attention is split apart, you must do the heavy lifting of organizing your message and quickly delivering it with clarity. Confusion kills interest.
  5. Relieve Anxiety.
    Since loss of gray matter creates anxiety, be the salvation in your prospect’s life to relieve it. Be credible. Solve problems. Be your prospect’s hero.

Let’s face it: there is nothing you can do to prevent your prospective customers from media multitasking. And you can’t save them from the risk of losing all-important brain gray matter. But you can be smarter and better positioned to sell with an awareness of how to present your messaging in a complex multimedia and multitasking world.

5 Copy Approaches to Influence Gut Reaction

Call it a gut reaction, but oftentimes our prospects and customers make decisions and respond based on intuition, a hunch, or professional judgment. In direct response, we want quick action. We know if the prospect drifts away from our message we’ll lose them, usually forever. So while the logic and quantification of your sales story may be overwhelmingly in your favor, it can be intuition that turns the prospect away because

 

Call it a gut reaction, but oftentimes our prospects and customers make decisions and respond based on intuition, a hunch or professional judgment. In direct response, we want quick action. We know if the prospect drifts away from our message, we’ll lose them, usually forever. So while the logic and quantification of your sales story may be overwhelmingly in your favor, it can be intuition that turns the prospect away because of something that felt too good to be true, leaves room for skepticism, or an unintended nuance in copy that you overlooked and loses the sale for you.

Even if all the arguments you’ve made in your content are authentically and credibly in your favor, a person’s gut decision often prevails.

And here’s what is frustrating: Studies suggest that often a person’s gut reaction is wrong because it’s subject to bias. Your prospect might overestimate his or her ability to assemble a product, for example. Or may think it takes too much time to read your information, learning materials or book. Perhaps when your prospect has made a mistake related to what you’re selling, he or she doesn’t understand why, or is hesitant to ask for help or feedback. And she or he forgets. That is, customers forget the last time they made a poor decision based on their gut instead of listening to logic.

How do you overcome gut emotion and reaction? You have to help your prospective customers or donors through the decision making process. Do it with these ideas:

  1. Lead your prospect to a sense of revelation. That happens when the obvious in your conscious mind finally learns something that your subconscious mind already knew. Ask yourself: When are you most creative (what you might consider right brain thinking)? For most people, it’s when we are exercising, walking, jogging, listening to music, in the shower, or in an unfamiliar environment. Some of my best ideas have struck me while on vacation, when my mind is suspended from the consciousness of day-to-day responsibilities. Lead your prospect to an awakening.
  2. Give ’em chills. A reaction inside the mind often is accompanied by a physical sensation. It could be chills or goosebumps. For some people, it may be an unusual feeling in the stomach or throat. You can create these physical sensations when copy is accompanied by strong visuals that paint a picture. Music is another way to stimulate a physical reaction. While you can’t pipe in music to printed material, you can use music in video or on your website.
  3. Past experience recall. Your brain’s hippocampus stores long-term memory. Long-term memories are with you for your entire life, unless something comes along to pave new grooves and create a new memory. You aren’t likely to replace past long-term memories, but you do have the opportunity to create another memory that neutralizes a bad memory, or enhance a good memory. Creating new memory is harder to do than drawing on a past memory. When you can, allow your content to take your prospect to a positive place, or hit a negative memory head-on with something so strong you can overcome the negativity.
  4. Challenge the perceptual rules made up in the mind. For some people, changing an ingrained rule is impossible, even if it’s wrong. If when a person can’t articulate why the rule exists, you may be able to use an overwhelming amount of empirical data or statistics from credible third party sources to turn around a rules-based individual. But don’t count on it.
  5. Recognize Patterns and Cross-Index. Help your prospect see something familiar to engage intuitive skills. The more material about your product or service that you can provide to cross-index in the mind, the higher likelihood your prospect’s intuition will kick in on a positive note for you.

You won’t always be able to prevail over intuition or gut reaction, but when you anticipate that probability in your copy, you can turnaround a potential lost sale.

3 Copywriting Paths to Train the Brain

How the mind learns is vital for every marketer and copywriter to understand. Today we take a deeper dive into three approaches that sync together copywriting with brain function. Use these, and you can transform how your prospects absorb your copywriting and content messaging. These three pathways play on our brain’s hardwiring, mirroring neurons and

How the mind learns is vital for every marketer and copywriter to understand. Today we take a deeper dive into three approaches that sync together copywriting with brain function. Use these, and you can transform how your prospects absorb your copywriting and content messaging. These three pathways play on our brain’s hardwiring, mirroring neurons and chunking.

1. Repetition Hardwires New Learning
It’s difficult for people to learn a new behavior. That’s how we’re hardwired. To create new grooves in the mind and solidify new learning, use repetition. If you’ve written or evaluated a direct mail package, most likely you’ll observe repetition within a letter or across various components, such as a brochure, lift note, buck slip or order form. How many times have you heard feedback about copy along the lines of, “it keeps saying the same thing over and over.” When you repeat a thought (you might call it a golden thread), you shift the conscious absorption of information to the unconscious. Soon the brain is imprinted with new learning. Repetition can hardwire the brain for new learning.

2. Create a Metaphorical Mirror
One of the best ways to learn is by hearing a story or watching others. When we watch a video of a demonstration, our brain is activated in the same region as the person we’re watching. It’s the same with hearing a story. It’s a mirror neuron. Our basic survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others. We do it by feeling, not by thinking.

3. Chunking
It’s said the way to digest overwhelming data is to break it into chunks. That’s why, for example, this column is three approaches to leverage how the mind works through training. You can do it, too, in your messaging. Numbers, bullets, whatever structure you can use to chunk information for your prospects and customers will help them absorb it faster and more accurately.

Leveraging these three processes, and using them in copywriting, can train the brain and transform how you convey your message, and convert prospects into paying customers.

Use Market Research to Tie Brand Awareness and Purchase Intent to Sales

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc.  But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement.

Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc. But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it.

And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

That’s where market research can help.

Consider the following word equations in light of how awareness contributes to sales for the top direct marketing companies:

Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + need = purchase intent
Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + immediate need = purchase

So it follows that if we can monitor awareness and reputation over time and index it to sales, then we can quantify the effects of those elements on sales revenue.

Start by surveying your prospects blindly—either through mail, email or search ads using relevant keywords. Offer an incentive that’s consistent with your product offering, e.g., “Save $$$ on cell phone accessories.” Ask respondents the following questions to determine the levels of unaided and aided awareness:

  • Which brands first come to mind when thinking of “category X”? (unaided awareness)
  • Which of the following brands (list) have you ever heard of? (aided awareness)

Get a better picture of the respondents’ product usage by asking:

  • Which brand(s) within category X do you “regularly” purchase?
  • Which brand is your favorite?
  • Which brand did you last purchase?
  • How often do you purchase this type of product?
    (Light, medium, heavy user?)
  • What percentage of “category X” purchases that you’ve made (within a certain timeframe) were “brand A”? (your share of customer)

For those who have used your brand, quantify purchase intent with the following question:

  • The next time you need this product, how likely are you to purchase “brand A”?

Next, index awareness levels to sales to sales revenues. Be sure account for category sales within the same time period. Your actual sales may have gone down, but the entire category may have gone down as well, and you may in fact have gotten more than your previous share of the category sales.

As you track these metrics over time, you will be able to quantify what a point of unaided awareness is worth in sales revenue. It’s one tool that will help you understand the effect that your communications have on sales beyond the responses that you can count directly.

3 Ways to Use the Spell of FOMO in Copywriting

FOMO: The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56 percent of social media users, and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used

FOMO: The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56 percent of social media users, and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls, and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used, you can write copy and create messaging to leverage this basic human fear.

The term FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. The acronym may be new, but classically trained direct mail copywriters have recognized the power of the fear of missing out for generations. We can use it in our copy to effectively sell because of how our brains are wired.

With mobile technology today, it is genuinely possible to become addicted to social networks because of the fear of missing out. It’s now effortless to compare and evaluate our own lives against that of our friends.

A survey last year of social media users by MyLife.com and reported by Mashable suggests:

  • 51 percent visit or log on to social networking sites more frequently now than two years earlier.
  • The average person manages 3.1 email addresses (up from 2.6 a year earlier).
  • 27 percent check their social networks as soon as they wake up.
  • 42 percent have multiple social networking accounts (61 percent for those age 18 to 34).
  • 56 percent are afraid of missing something such as an event, news or an important status update if they don’t keep an eye on social networks.

These stats suggest you’re more likely than not to be in the spell of FOMO.

But the reality is this: We’re all wired to have basic fear. And without taking inappropriate advantage of your prospective customers, there are ways you can appeal to this part of the brain—the amygdala—with messaging to make your sales programs more effective. Here are three uses with FOMO in mind as you write copy and create message positioning:

  • First to Know: If you fear missing out, you must surely want to be the first to know of an important development, new product or news. And, when you’re first to know, you’re most eager to tell others you’re first to know, and pass it along (to your benefit).
  • Inside Story: People like to have the inside scoop combined with effective storytelling. Combine the concepts of revealing your inside story with a unique selling proposition, or positioning, and the sum is greater than its parts.
  • Limited Time: When there is a limited time a product is available, it intensifies desire to acquire it now. The challenge today, however, is that it’s easy for customers to check out competition and discover that limited time appeal has its limits.

These uses also create urgency in your copy. Writing copy and messaging based on this intense human primal fear will drive higher response. There can be no question that the spell of FOMO is real and a part of your customer’s minds.

Copywriting: Stir Emotion, Calm the Mind

Stimulate. Calm. In the direct marketing world, these are two related, but contrasting messaging and copywriting concepts that every marketer and copywriter should master. Why? Because a sure-fire way to get attention from prospective customers is by stimulating emotion. But you don’t want to stimulate emotion and drop the ball there

Stimulate. Calm.

In the direct marketing world, these are two related, but contrasting messaging and copywriting concepts that every marketer and copywriter should master. Why? Because a sure-fire way to get attention from prospective customers is by stimulating emotion. But you don’t want to stimulate emotion and drop the ball there. You must then immediately calm the mind so your prospect’s fears are relieved, allowing them to become engaged with your message, so they will pause long enough for you to introduce them to your solution.

In my most recent column, “Leveraging Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Copywriting,” I described how fear paralyzes thinking because it’s an instinctive response from the amygdala, our lizard brain.

But because fear is so overwhelming as a natural response, it shuts off the thinking part of the brain. So while, as a copywriter, you want to stimulate emotion by tapping into fear, uncertainty and doubt, you need to quickly calm the mind so decision-making is unblocked. And you can do that by dangling a carrot in front of your audience to moderate their mood.

Search the Web for “how do you calm the mind” and you’ll get thousands of websites with meditation advice. While you don’t want to steer prospects to meditate—at least in the stereotypical way you think of meditation—you do want your prospect to be calmed enough to focus on your message.

To more fully grasp the connection between stimulating emotion and the need to calm the mind, it may be helpful to take a deeper dive into how our brains respond to stimuli. Your brain is filled with neurotransmitters, and knowing the signals they transmit will help you better understand how the brain functions. For marketers, it’s important that you know how to use these signals to strengthen your messaging.

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brains and bodies. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.

There are two kinds of neurotransmitters: inhibitory and excitatory. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain. Inhibitory neurotransmitters calm the brain and help create balance.

So as a direct marketer, after stimulating emotion you must quickly balance the mood. When you over-stimulate, the inhibitory neurotransmitters can be depleted and instead of focusing on your solution, you leave your prospect focusing on their fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Those inhibitory neurotransmitters—those brain chemicals—include:

  • Serotonin, which is necessary for a stable mood and to balance any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter firing in the brain.
  • Gaba helps to calm and relax us, by balancing stimulation over-firing.
  • Dopamine is a special neurotransmitter because it is considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory. It’s very complex. When it spikes, it can motivate and give a person pleasure. When elevated or low, it can cause focus issues such as not remembering what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it (obviously, not something marketers want to happen when reading our copy).

With a cocktail of brain chemicals swirling around in your prospect’s mind, here are a few ways you can calm your prospect’s mind after stimulating their emotion:

  1. Announce a new discovery
  2. Introduce a solution
  3. Assure with a promise
  4. Promise a reward
  5. Brighten the mood of the message to evoke pleasant memory
  6. Introduce new learning

Stimulate. Calm. With these two initial steps, you’ve grabbed attention and have moderated mood so your prospect desires to hear and read more about you.