Archive of ‘persuasion’ category

Non-verbal communication as social proof

I recently attended the Exact Target’s Connections 2011 event, a user conference on interactive marketing. One of the takeaways from their education sessions came from the speakers – although they weren’t speaking at all.
Social proof is a tried and true tool of persuasion. We know that consumers are much more likely to listen to what their peers think than to be swayed by messages coming from brands. That is the reason why customer testimonials and product reviews are so effective for websites looking to make a sale of some kind.
Besides the overt types of social proof we see online, there are plenty of ways to convey how you feel about a company in a more subtle way. It’s been said that over half of communication is delivered non-verbally through body language. That’s unfortunate for some of the speakers I witnessed trying to present at the show.
Many of the sessions I was in featured a panel, with each speaker taking a turn at the podium while the others waited. Take a look at the view from the audience.

The poor speaker (who is out of the frame here) is trying to make a point that he thinks is important while sharing the floor with these guys.
They even work for the same company! They are basically telling the room full of people listening “don’t bother tuning in at this point, there’s nothing exciting here. You might as well check your phone for new email.”
This wasn’t the only session either. I wish I would have snapped a picture of the first class of the day when the panel was still waking up. They were literally yawning on stage, totally undercutting the presenter.
The panels weren’t all this way. Contrast the scene above with this one taken a little later in the day. (Sorry for the phone picture but it’s hard to snap a photo when the speakers are actually alert.)
These panelists are actually giving their speaker some eye contact and following along. Much more respectful and helpful to the audience too.
Just an observation that little signals can communicate a lot to the audience, either online or offline. And a note to self – next time I’m speaking on a panel I’ll have to remember to buy some coffees for the group on stage!

Ramp Up Anticipation For a Better Unboxing

We talked a while back about how the moment the customer opens their shipment is the climax of the customer experience and the ultimate single make or break point for brand delivery. By that time, the results are beyond our control as marketers. Once the product leaves the warehouse, the die is cast.
Before we get to that point though, we do have chances to influence the final impression. It’s our job to tip the scales in our favor as much as we can. To do that, we must build anticipation for the solution that our customer is waiting for until they can’t wait to tear open the package when it finally does arrive.
The only real caution here is to avoid setting expectations beyond what your product or service can deliver. The product has to come first and I’m assuming that we’ve already got something that does its job. And it’s always wise to save a few surprises for the very end. In the meantime though, there are plenty of ways to whet the appetite.

  • Make estimated delivery updates available at each phase of completion
  • Offer a photo or PDF of your customer’s custom product before it’s boxed up and email it
  • Display happy testimonials on your order confirmation emails
  • Send an email with tips and suggestions on how to use their product in the days before it arrives
  • Mail a handwritten thank you note on the purchase date or email a short comment that is unique to them

I’m sure you can think up many others. These are not cheap marketing tricks though. Anticipation is part of the customer experience. And it’s an opportunity for us to increase customer satisfaction because people want it.
The process surrounding a product is part of the product. Once you’ve created a pleasant expectation in your customer’s mind, they’re very likely to have a positive ultimate experience (unless you completely botch the job.) Think of how good a bakery smells in the morning. Once you’ve got idea of a warm, tasty bagel in your mind, and spend 5 minutes waiting to get a fresh one, chances are you’re going to be happy when you get it.
Most of the time the reason behind this dynamic of persuasion is cognitive dissonance – people don’t want to disagree with themselves. When you buy shoes online, you’re placing your trust in that shoe retailer. You’ve paid your money and, in a sense, placed a bet that you’ve picked out the right company. You want your decision to be affirmed as a good one and will tend to lean toward that conclusion when the shoes arrive.
One of the old sales tricks that salespeople employ is to get the prospect saying yes, even if it’s not directly related to a sale. Once they start saying yes to the small things, they’ll be more likely to keep saying yes. In our case, they’ve already said yes to the big question; they’ve made a purchase. We’re trying to keep the momentum going past the sale and into the product unboxing.
By maintaining contact with customer pre-delivery, you’re making that pull toward a happy conclusion a little stronger. In various ways, you’re telling them ‘you made a good decision, you’re going to be happy when your product arrives, you are a smart shopper…’
Once the customers internalize those messages, they’ll start repeating them to themselves and others, expanding your branding statements even further.What are some ways that you can create positive anticipation that can add to your customer’s experience?
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Carfax is Running a Negative Campaign and Doing It Effectively

Carfax instills fear and manipulates consumers into doing its will. If Carfax were a political candidate, watchdog groups would be crying ‘smear campaign’ for its advertisements.Thankfully, the presidential candidate hype machine and the inevitable campaign commentary won’t start in earnest until the February so I’ll call it what it is: strong arming. And successful at that.

Carfax’s target market in this case is used car dealerships. They could have run ads in industry publications extolling the virtues of carrying Carfax reports and the benefits to conversion rates (and they may for all I know.) Rather than take the kind and gentle approach though, they are bullying customers with TV ads.

Instead of entering into a debate with dealers, they reach out to the dealers’ customers and play to the oldest and most political motivator around. They use fear. They describe all of the awful things that could be lurking in a car’s history and how a Carfax report can protect consumers from dealers. Then the muscle comes in when they tell you what to do about it. Just ask your used car dealer for a Carfax report. “Show me the Carfax” is their simple call to action and it really puts their dealer customers in a bind. After all, any reputable dealership with nothing to hide would surely offer prospective customers a vehicle history report, free of charge. Right?
The unspoken implication is that if you don’t ask them to ‘show me the Carfax,’ they’re going to take advantage of you. By raising the expectations of consumers, Carfax is putting the squeeze on dealers and having the dirty work done for them by concerned car shoppers.

This is the kind of half truth tactic that makes political campaigns so unbearable. In this case, there’s no denying that it works. Just don’t expect a lot of a lot of ‘across the aisle’ collaboration from dealers if an alternative service becomes available.

So bad it’s good, so good it’s bad: when campaigns turn on you

The performance of a Marketing campaign is difficult to predict. There are just too many variables: vehicles used, frequency, the mindset of the recipients, unforeseeable marital scandal by celebrity pitchman, etc.
It’s no wonder that sometimes we get completely unexpected results.

The Cult Status Effect – Execution that is so bad, it becomes a meme of sorts, spreading the word much further than if it were merely mediocre. A lot like winning the lottery, these rarely happen on purpose. It worked for The Snuggie, The Doyle and Devoe Real Estate Team and the Montgomery Flea Market but pursue this strategy at your own risk. Most bad commercials or ads simply die out quickly and anonymously. Or worse, you could become…

…The Punchline – The worst kind of viral ad. This type of message gets remembered and passed on for all the wrong reasons. What seemed like a good idea on paper becomes the bane of your existence. Bad campaigns are notoriously hard to live down once they’ve picked up steam online.

Too Much of a Good Thing – Like mom said, Halloween candy is wonderful but too much will give you a stomach ache. Growing up in Minneapolis, we visited family in Chicago on a regular basis. In Chicago, I remember hearing the catchy jingle for Empire Carpet – “5-8-8; 2-3-hundred… em-PIRE!” and thinking that it was a fun ad.
Now Empire commercials are aired in the Twin Cities and I hear their ads every single day on TV and on the radio. My nostalgia-hazed memories of Empire have been replaced with an intense loathing for the cursed song. (I realize that Advertising 101 says that repetition is good and even annoying ads work if they’re memorable. There is a line though and Empire has crossed it.)
If the Empire ads are not familiar, think Presidential campaign ads or football TV commercials for men’s prescription medication. You get the idea.

Extenuating Circumstances – Some things are simply out of a marketer’s control. No matter how good an ad campaign is, it can be sabotaged. A classic example in the news today is Toyota. Their recent ad campaigns have been eye-catching and effective. (Even their Prius campaign, which is a little creepy, delivers their message well.) But all of that is undermined by safety concerns resulting from massive recalls.

It’s good to remember that while we do our best to influence our marketplaces, persuasion is an unpredictable field that sometimes yields strange results.

Domino’s Pizza Turnaround: The Missing Ingredient

By now you’ve probably seen Domino’s Pizza’s commercial where they admit that their pizza was terrible. They’ve grabbed a lot of attention with this bold tactic and I give them credit for daring to be so transparent.

For all the things they’ve done well here, the story still seems less than genuine to me. They forgot one thing: the scapegoat.
They show chefs and executives reading all the negative feedback, swallowing hard and going back at it with a new enthusiasm. After a big group clap, they unveil the new pizza recipe that tastes way better than before. Does anyone else see the problem here?
The people delivering the new pizza are the same people that made the old pizza. Why should we trust them to do any better this time?
Domino’s almost got it right. But if you’re going to admit your product stinks, heads have to roll. We need to know that the problem has been identified and eliminated. There has to be a ‘new management’ moment that makes us feel like things are truly different.
Ending the ‘pizza makeover’ that way might not have been as uplifting but it would be more believable.

Unsolicited Advice for the Professional Service Industry

The recent explosion of information and tools available through the internet has changed things in a variety of industries. One industry that is slow to be transformed? The professional services: painters, landscapers, movers, appliance repair, etc.
Whenever I look for someone to help me with one of those tasks, I’m amazed at how stuck in the past these vendors are. That makes it a real opportunity for someone willing to get with the times.

The experience of hiring a contractor is a little unsettling. When looking for a furnace repairman for example, you’ve got to find someone qualified for the job even though you don’t know much about furnaces. What questions do you ask? What is a reasonable price? Am I inviting a weirdo into my house?

Ultimately, the issue comes down to trust. Trust is everything to contractors.

Getting people to trust you is tricky. It’s hard to put customers at ease, especially if they have just shelled out a bunch of money.
Most vendors don’t help the matter at all with their behavior. I’ve found that even simple acts that build trust like calling someone back when you say you will or showing up on time are missed by your average painter or handyman. Here’s where technology can help.
The internet can be a great equalizer. Small operations can use design templates to create a good looking website that will be miles ahead of the crappy designs that typify contractor sites. Using basic SEO practices, a 2-man lawn mowing service can rank for relevant keywords, boosting their credibility. (Because these jobs are performed by local contractors, ranking for local terms is very doable.) Blogging is a great opportunity to demonstrate expertise and build trust too.

Tech savvy companies could really stand out if thought about using new services creatively. Why not use Google Voice to ring multiple phones from the same 800 number and manage voicemail quote requests online? Or allow customers to see a live schedule for estimates on a website and book their own time? Or offer GPS tracking of service trucks so customers can know when to expect their service person to arrive?

The amazing thing is that the tools to do these things aren’t prohibitively expensive or hard to use. They’re cheap or even free.
And for these types of jobs, each additional sign up is huge. A typical painting job might be worth $2,500 and keep a crew busy for the better part of a week.

So why don’t more professionals take advantage of the free tools available? I’m not sure. I think it has to do with the fact that often times the same person fixing your plumbing is the one handling lead generation. They are focused on their trade and don’t want to think about the business side more than they have to. Marketing is something to get out of the way so you can get on with your work.
If that’s right, technology can’t help after all. The effort needs to come first.

For a company willing to try new things though, today’s tools present an opportunity for extremely efficient marketing which costs very little money. The industry will change eventually so this opportunity is only available for a limited time.

I remember that / I love that

Oh yeah! Thinking about something or someone that hasn’t crossed your mind in years is a pleasant experience. I remember that! It’s kind of like scratching an old itch, an echo of the feeling you get when an answer is stuck on the tip of your tongue but then, there it is… Got it!

Sometimes that nice moment of realization is translated to the memory itself. “I remember that!” becomes “I love that!” I’m reminded of this phenomenon every time I run out and buy a song I was recently reintroduced to only to realize later that I didn’t especially like it in the first place. That’s why I’ll accept a Facebook friend request from someone I wasn’t even high school friends with. (Although I have gotten over that one in time – I ignore most friend requests lately.)

The transfer factor is multiplied when an old item is presently unavailable or if it achieves cult status. “New York Seltzer Water was the BEST!” or “I LOVED Married with Children and watched it every night!”
Just don’t let it get too mainstream. “Nah, I didn’t really get into Transformers much – I was more of a GoBot man.”

Our memories are unreliable and surprisingly pliable by present forces. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and the smart marketer will remember that. So will the smart consumer.

Logical Marketing: An Oxymoron

I’m a pretty logical thinker. I like to systematically break down a problem into its base parts until I understand all of the variables. I love figs. When I need make a decision (especially when spending money) I’m obsessive about research, listing pros and cons and triple checking my work. The problem is that people don’t really make decisions based on logic, myself included.
The truth is, we’re much more primal and impulsive than we like to think. If it were possible to be completely honest about why I do the things I do or buy the things I do, I wouldn’t find a list of benefits or features. I’d find emotion, needs, justification.
The truth is, even logical arguments aren’t logical if you look closely enough. I’m reading Godel Escher Bach right now (a real mind bender!) and it shows that there is no completely self evident statement. You can always question the assumptions of an argument into statements and then question the assumptions of those statements, on and on indefinitely. Eventually you need to just accept that a concept ‘feels right.’ In other words, you need to take a leap of faith.
So despite my love for data points and even though it makes me feel better to have all the background on an issue, it still comes down to feelings. My takeaway from a Marketing point of view: speak to emotional benefits, indirectly if need be, and take a flier on a project every once in a while.

Arguments as Justification

As marketers, we tend to craft our messages according to what we think will be the most effective way to convince someone of doing something that we want them to do. Logic is a classic example, although not always the most effective (people are emotional and irrational beings!)
But it’s interesting to notice that sometimes our arguments don’t need to convince people at all, only help them justify. Even if a sales pitch is rejected on a logical level, it can serve as a useful justification if the customer wants that end result to begin with. If that’s the case, the customer is likely to use the argument to justify that action to self and to others. The argument doesn’t even need to make sense – just look good enough to avoid a feeling of guilt or embarrassment.
It all brings to mind the classic marketing resource National Lampoon’s Vacation. When the car salesman tries to pitch Clark on the Family Truckster, Clark doesn’t bite, “I’m not your ordinary, every day [fool].” But he wants to go on vacation and ends up buying thing anyway. Once he gets home he uses the same lines on his wife that the salesman used on him: “If you think you hate it now, wait till you drive it!”

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