7 Smart Tricks Brands Use To Make Us Spend (Wired, July 2011)


OK, let's review. Because I've seen a few thoughts recently about branding that I wanted to comment about. The last one is the subject of this post.

I'll call the 5 things below "myths v. facts" even though the "facts" are really my opinion. If you disagree, tell me.

1. Myth: Companies have brands. Fact: Companies do not have brands. The companies are the brands. Those brands have other brands. The entire thing is called a brand portfolio.

2. Myth: Branding is about passion. Fact: The point of branding is not to stir passionate love or hatred. The point is to foster addiction to whatever it is you're pushing.

3. Myth: Branding is successful if you've built "buzz." Fact: Branding does not end with "buzz." It goes like this: 1) Awareness 2) Interest 3) Initial Purchase 4) Loyalty 5) Addiction

4. Myth: Brands compete with other brands. Fact: The competition is with yourself not others. The ideal compliment for a brand: "There's really nothing else out there like it...no way to describe it even." PLATINUM words.

5. Myth: Branding is about creating beautiful exciting fantabulous art that shows how very brilliant and on-point you are. Fact: The point of branding is to make money. (Thank you for reminding us of this always, Al Ries.)

With #5 in mind, here are some neat tricks brands use to facilitate same, shared by Wired Magazine (Dan Ariely, "Gamed," July 2011). 

(By the way - I am a magazine freak and very harsh critic. But Wired's layout and writing is fantastic. Bonus tip: 5 magazines always worth the time and money - Wired, Vanity Fair, Fast Company, People, and Fortune.)

Keeping in mind that branding is about making money and not stroking your ego with a lot of hits to your website. So if you're a marketer, memorize. 

(If a consumer, beware. Maybe they're making it "convenient" for you, but they could also be fueling overspending on your part. Marketers are selling fantasy, they're not your parents - so by no stretch of the imagination should you assume that they really care about ethics.)

By the way - it is noteworthy how much of this information comes from academics. If you didn't care what "behavioral economics" was before, you'll be begging to take that class now.

The bottom line is, the decision to spend is mostly PSYCHOLOGICAL and only partially rational. 

Tactic #1. Be the default. (Amazon.com)

"For many of us, Amazon.com functions as a default because it has all our credit cards and addresses on file." 

So intelligent. Nobody wants to spend time registering with another site when they have a trusted vendor who already has their information.

Tactic #2: Offer low-threshold free shipping (Amazon.com)

"Super Saver Shipping, which sets a $25 threshold to qualify for free shipping....turns a lot of one-item purchases into two-item sprees."

I'm not sold on Amazon Prime, though, which Wired endorses as well. The $79 figure is daunting for me and I don't need most things in two days.

Tactic #3: Charge more upfront rather than tack on a fee later on (Netflix)

"Netflix built a billion-dollar business on one simple principle: People hate late fees." Versus regular video stores, where you always had to worry about getting the movie back on time.

This is the same issue people have with luggage fees. Better to build the price into the ticket than to nickel-and-dime the customer later on.

Also the problem with eating out. Just put the tip on the bill. I don't want to think about the fact that I'm paying a ridiculous amount of money for the same thing I could buy from takeout. Let alone the fact that I have to add 15% more to that amount.

Interesting sidebar: research cited in the article showing that if you force people to decide what they will want in the future, they will choose something "aspirational" rather than something real. Like with the DVDs, people chose "highbrow" movies rather than "lowbrow" ones because they actually had to think and plan.

Similarly, the article talks about a mistake people make with long-term scheduling. If you ask someone whether they'll be free to do something in a year (according to the article), they will tend to say "yes" even though they'll most likely be busy. In other words, they're aspirational about time. Rather, the suggestion was, imagine a year ahead as if it were two weeks ahead and assume that however busy you would be in two weeks, is how busy you'd be then. This turns your thinking more realistic.

Tactic #4: Make taboos acceptable by showing how the crowd buys into them (Groupon)

"The stigma of coupon use is real and broad-based."

The article cites research from the "Journal of Consumer Research" showing that if you are standing NEXT TO a coupon user, people tend to perceive you as "cheap or poor." Talk about branding by association! Groupon makes it OK to be a coupon user.

This reminds me of my Grandma who used to have the envelope thing with all the dividers for the different kinds of coupons that you clip from the Sunday paper. I used to think of them like trading cards or Monopoly real estate. Pretty and fun. But as an adult I have to admit, I really feel cheap when I use coupons so this research seems pretty accurate.

Similarly, other research (Noah Goldstein, UCLA) people were more likely to reuse towels in hotels if the hotel hung a sign saying that a specific percentage of other guests ("almost 75%") had complied. Versus if the hotel just asked them to help the environment by doing so, a smaller percentage went along with it.

Another thought about the taboo associated with coupons: Use a different name for them. Transform the perception of "cheap" into something different - like winning a prize, or being part of an exclusive club. For example, using "promo code" is good. Or saying, "mention code ____ for a 10% discount" works well.

Tactic #5: Get the customer to participate in an extended interaction (Farmville, Facebook)

I totally do not get Farmville. But I know a lot of people who do. And until now I never understood why.

First, it takes time to build the virtual "farm." And: "The more complex and difficult and time-consuming a process is, the more we fall in love with our creation and the more we become interested in the game."

Second, people give you virtual gifts, which makes you feel that you have to give things back to them.

In general the whole concept of "gifting" on Facebook is brilliant. "In the first 10 months of the program (the Gifts service, which is now dissolved), more than 24 million gifts were sent." (In my view, taking it away was only to figure out ways to capitalize on the concept more.)

Tactic #6: Bill later (Apple)

When you buy on iTunes, there's a lag between the purchase and the confirmation (vs. on Amazon, you see it right away.) 

Tactic #7: Offer random rewards, not predictable ones

This was discussed in the context of email but it can be applied more generally. People read email even though most of it is junk. Because once in awhile they get something really good, and they never know when that will be. 

The article cites research by Skinner & Ferster: "If a pigeon gets food every 100th time it presses a button, it will usually keep pressing. But if the reward comes randomly...the pigeon will press with much more vigor, even after the rewards are removed entirely."

All in all, from a marketer's perspective, it's good to be armed with this information so that you can use it to sell more things to more people. (Hopefully you'll be selling quality things that actually make their lives better.)

Have a good weekend everybody, and good luck! 


Image source here 

My new video on personal branding (30 sec.)

In which I have learned how to add a title and closing - in colors that match the blog. Admittedly, over-edited the last part slightly. But still pretty good. Watch here or sometime next week on Personal Branding TV.

"5 Signs You've Found Your Personal Brand"

Personal Branding: Advanced Shamelessness Required

Once we met a couple where the wife was Jewish and the husband Catholic. They looked, talked, and even gestured like identical twins.

I tried not to ask the impolite question of whether they were actually related. (As a child I had read every single book in the popular novel series "Flowers in the Attic." Major plotline: brother and sister imprisoned by evil grandparents together eventually marry.)

Of course I asked anyway. Not rudely but - well, OK - sort of.

The wife smiled and responded, "Everybody says that. It's just that Jews and Catholics are remarkably similar."

I threw my head back and laughed. She was right. Our two religions, two cultures, have one major thing in common: a pervasive sense of guilt.

So yesterday I was watching CNN's coverage of the Tweeting Congressman's resignation. There was Dana Bash, solemnly taking the "he did the right thing by resigning" side. (Recall the Congressman calling her fellow interviewer a "jacka**.") And somebody else taking the opposite side. Saying that others had gotten away with worse and stayed, and that sexual impropriety was not going to be a realistic standard for others.

I wondered. Why do some people get away with things while others don't? What's the secret of being Teflon-like?

The conventional wisdom (as espoused by Bash) is that it's about honesty. It was the lying that did the Congressman in.

I think it's about shamelessness.

People raised to feel guilty about everything have a very tough time saying, "I did it. So what?" It's like the sins are vines growing around their neck, strangling them. They don't lie very well at all. Thus the Congressman.

On the other hand, people raised in a different kind of environment - where happiness is prized as a right in and of itself and unhappiness is sort of a sin - just don't think that way. The moral laws are different. They don't believe in personal shame.

The classic illustration of this cultural conflict is the dynamic between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. He is the epitome of the neurotically guilty, eternally miserable Jewish New Yorker. Seeking refuge in a flighty, light, bubbly and accepting non-Jewish woman unburdened by guilt. Of course, he loses her to Paul Simon and the lure of "groovy" California.

When it comes to personal branding, like all branding, it's important to look at things objectively. You have to stand apart from yourself a bit in order to "own" your brand. That means - yes - forcing yourself to adopt a certain shamelessness. At the very least so that you don't freak out when you do something stupid and others learn about it.

But at the same time, you also need a moral compass. To know what causes other people shame and guilt. Because if you truly are a Machiavellian operator with no fear of hell, and you disrespect the ethical concerns of others, eventually you will be a source of shame to them. And like Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter," they will brand you with an "A" on your forehead and cast you out.

Be careful - be balanced - and good luck!

Just Do Something

Some people are incessantly negative.

"I can't..."

"What a waste of time..."

"That will never work..."

And so on.

It's almost like they think that success is unattainable. Either that:

1. It must be very easy to achieve - or

2. Inordinate effort against huge impossible challenges is always required.

The absence of either one of these polar opposites (depending on the bias of the complainer) makes them snifflingly suspicious.

The truth is that success is right in front of us all the time.

It is only our own mental blocks that prevent us from seeing it, and seizing it.

I remember when I programmed a QR code for the first time, at work. Nobody could believe it.

"How the hell did you do that?" Like it was a magic trick.

No magic, I just Googled "create QR code" and found a tool that worked.

I showed a customer how it worked and he said, "You mean we're ALLOWED to do that?"

I said "Uh-huh."

He said, "Because I'm so used to an automatic 'no.'"

I stopped doing the treadmill for awhile. And physically paid a price for that. EVERY excuse in the book.

One day I just got on again. Now I "do the treadmill." And feel better, thank G-d.

Success is right in front of your face.

I saw someone looking defeated today. I said "Are you in hell?"

She nodded wordlessly. Then said: "But the good news is it won't be forever till retirement."

That sadness makes me want to cry. How do you know retirement will be any better? You could drop dead the day after you get the gold watch.

Success is in the mind. It is a choice and we choose to make it.

I read about a young woman who graduated college, no job. But she was always futzing around making jewelry "on the side." Now the jewelry is the main thing and it is totally irrelevant that there are no jobs for Millennials out there.

There is an elderly man who takes customers' money at the deli. He is completely blind. The cash register says aloud to him how much money he is getting, in bills and coins.

I said to him, "How do you do it?" (meaning psychologically) and he said, "I believe you have to do the best you can, and that's it." Then he added, "I was born this way so I guess I don't know any different."

The blind man was so happy, really happy. I envy this man his peace.

The next time you are stuck, sad, or stupendously miserable - really, why waste your time? Just get the hell up. Shake it out. Get out of your own way.

With strength, faith, resolve and G-d's blessing, there are NO LIMITS on what you can achieve.

Good luck!

5 Signs You've Found Your Personal Brand

1. You are happy even when challenged, frustrated or broke

2. You can't believe people get paid to do this thing that you love

3. Your peers respect you

4. You feel empowered over your fate

5. You are endlessly interested in learning more

Social media as a social sickness


There was the cutest kid outside Starbucks the other day.

It was sunset on a warm night. The lights outside were twinkling. Inside it was cool and quiet and empty.

Wasn't on the computer, for once. Knapsack sat next to me on the floor. Collecting dust. I felt guilty.

Instead we were watching the kid outrun his mother.

The tiny toddler had huge blue eyes, bright curly blonde hair, and an infectious smile. He caught the audience's eye (those of us watching through the windowpane), looked at her, and took off running this way and that. The minute she swooped down to catch him, he would giggle and find some other escape route.

I leaned forward on the counter, head in hands, blankly staring. It looked like a viral YouTube video. Like "Dancing Baby."

"You're not going to work on the book? Or your teaching? Write a blog? You actually have five minutes to spare?"

The question was half-serious and I started laughing. Awww, boo-hoo, I'm a workaholic who is more of an observer of life than someone who actually lives it.

My daughter tried to get me near the pool this vacation. It was an enormous, beautiful collection of blue water, shimmering and clear. It was 90 degrees out. But I'm so uncomfortable in my own skin that I said, "No no no, I'm going to be cold."

Kicking and screaming I let her take me to the water. Sitting on the edge, on the steps, I said, "That's fine. Somebody has to watch the backpack." 

"You're kidding me. You're not even going to go in?"

"This IS in." Motioning to the backpack.

I wasn't looking for a second and she took a huge armful of water and splashed me in the face with it. "What the hell was that for?"
Laughing. I am a silly idiot.

It is ridiculous to live every minute as though it were a story, rather than real life.

Yet that is exactly what social media has done to all of us.

Last week my dad sent over pictures from a family luncheon. I got an invitation to see them in Picasa. There were literally 483 shots. What can you take 483 pictures of in two hours? 

Well I sure did find out. There is (name of person), eating corn on the cob. Wiping corn off chin. Smiling. There is corn in the teeth.

And do you know what? Like a treasure hunter looking for gold, I waded through all 483. 

When I was a kid we used to have little flip books where you flipped the little pages and you saw an animated feature.

This was sort of like that except on a wireless connection and with more of a "static" storyline.

I've mentioned before the mini-birthday party they had in FrozenYo. A teenage girl was all dressed up, her friends sang Happy Birthday, and they took cellphone pictures while she posed with the spoon before taking the first bite. 

And said, "Let's put this one on Facebook."

Sad to say, I am no better. I read books to find quotes to share on Twitter.

Once in the airport there was a huge family fight. It was so typical, and so bad, that it was funny, and the entire TSA line was cracking up. My only thought was: "Damn, it's too late to get that on video."

In the olden days we met people. Now, it's called "networking" to collect business cards so that we can send a bunch of LinkedIn invitations when we get home.

Bottom line is that nowadays, we're so busy sharing with the hive that we are not really bringing anything of ourselves to it anymore. 

Instead we are living our lives as if we were the Kardashians. Every little moment we are mugging for the cameras.

This reminds me of a book I had as a little girl. I loved that book, but it gave me nightmares.

It's about these two kids in the forest who discover a magical ball of yarn. When you pulled on the yarn, it made you get older. So you could grow up fast instead of having to be a kid. Which was so appealing to me I can't tell you.

In the book, the kids pulled on the yarn too much. Ending up old and gray and nearly dead before they realized that they should have just left the yarn alone.

It's like that in the social media world. We're fast forwarding through everything before the thing has a thingness-in-itself, just to make it social. 

The German sociologist Georg Simmel called this the transition from "subjective" to "objective" culture. Meaning that normally things have meaning for me, and then meaning for the collective, and that once the transformation has occurred, the subjective meaning is absorbed and gone. (In a sense, this is what a brand goes through as well on the way to becoming successful.)

Think about the word "friend."

In the past a "friend" was someone who had been through stuff with you. Over time. The word was a noun.

Now we use it as a verb. You "friend" people out of nowhere. It's like, "Hello, do you want to friend me?"

In New York we would say, "Who the hell are you?"

But in social media land we say, "Sure, whatever."

In a way, living in the mosh pit is liberating. Like in the video for the Avril Lavigne song "What the Hell." She jumps out and knows that the audience will catch her. 

But doing this all the time is disorienting. You stop knowing who your friends are. You stop seeing a boundary between real friends and social media ones. And you don't understand how badly you've screwed up until afterward.

It kept striking me that the politician currently the subject of a Twitter scandal used the words "dumb thing" when describing his activities on Twitter. I compared those words with the transcripts that the media reported. The number of relationships with strangers, the lengthy period of time, the things that were said on both sides - what an incredible disconnect. A married person doesn't do those things, should know better, should admit that this was really bad and not just dumb.

But if they're sick, they don't know. 

If they're part of a larger social disease, they are shielded from knowing.

Kids at a very young age nowadays are doing exactly the same thing as this politician did. Sending inappropriate pictures of themselves to each other, having very adult conversations, joining a realm that is so far from innocent childhood that it frightens me. And when you ask them about it, they honestly have no idea what is so wrong. "Everybody is doing it," they say, "that's just the way it goes."

You can confiscate all the cellphones in the world, but if kids already have their minds set this way, they will find another way to express it.

Of course it is so unfair to blame social media for all of society's ills. I am a huge proponent of same. I have seen it cure a lot more than harm. Bring openness, transparency to a society all-too-comfortable with leaving doors closed that cause people harm.

But at the same time, one does have to step back and look around every once in awhile. And ask ourselves if the mental illnesses associated with social media - and make no mistake, we are seeing a lot of pathology crop up - are the kind of outcomes we really want for ourselves and our children.

The world is praying for an individual to seek treatment. But isn't it just as important that we use this opportunity to diagnose ourselves, looking for a similar infection? As great as it is to "tweet for freedom," have we been pulled into a distorted world? One where the individual, personal experience and the capacity for intimacy has been destroyed and replaced by superficial connections that are normally meaningless in the end?

Definitely, with social media, let's take the good stuff and run with it. Let's fly. Especially when it comes to using our minds, and our connections with others, to crowd-source solutions to the world's most pressing problems. And of course to improve our opportunities in life.

But when it comes to our personal relationships, maybe it's time to slow down a bit. Take a breather once in a while. Splash around in the pool with our kids, disconnected.

So that we can live the lives we were meant to. Without the pressure of being a Kardashian.

Giving up our selves just isn't worth it.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Photo by OctopusHat, here

On being a branding expert with no branding clients.

Saw a tweet the other day that struck a nerve. About how annoying it is when people write about branding, but don't have any clients.

Struck me hard in the gut. I do this, I thought. (Expletive deleted.) Maybe I'm a phony?

Don't get me wrong...for the past decade-plus I've led a "branded" life. I worked as a brand consultant, led a branding institute, did branding research and communication for a Madison Avenue thought leadership group, and have been speaking, writing, and published since I started. I'm an adjunct assistant professor of marketing and do integrated marketing communication for a government agency on a full-time basis (all opinions my own.)

But technically, technically - the truth still remains. I am not a private-sector brand consultant or CMO now. I have a Ph.D in sociology, not marketing. And people who know me frequently ask aloud why I don't have a career in technology, given how much time I spend futzing with the computer. (I read Lifehacker.com for inspiration, OK? Still planning to make a garden one day out of Altoids mint tins.)

There really is no "answer," no hard "truth" on this. I can't explain why I am so passionate and dedicated to this field. Nor prove that I am qualified to say anything about it.

One thing I do know is that there are numerous people who do much the same thing:

* Penelope Trunk is a stay-at-home mom who lives on a remote farm in the Midwest who has thousands and thousands of followers on her blog about career success. (She is a serial entrepreneur as well...currently in goat cheese.)

* A Secret Service agent who served Presidents Obama and Bush is running for Congress in the state of Maryland based on...disagreeing with President Obama's policies plus doing "a lot of research.")

* The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about a former computer programmer who taught himself day trading and left his job to play the stock market full time. He delivered testimony and three dozen pages of documents in a case regarding WaMu (Washington Mutual) that left the judge and an industry insider impressed.

* Currently the fashion industry is enamored with a teenage fashion blogger who is like the "Doogie Howser" of fashion - really sharp, insightful, and even brilliant.

Consider the opposite argument - that only working-in-the-field subject matter experts should speak. I am not convinced they are any better suited to do so, no matter how many clients they have. Because expertise, in public discourse, is about the free market of ideas. And paid experts have hidden agendas.

Good example: I read an article in the Journal, also yesterday, by an ad agency executive talking about copywriting. So here is an expert, working in his avowed field. Should be credible, right?

Well, I have to admit it was a pretty good piece...until the end when I saw him promoting a new tagline his agency came up with. Which I didn't really like. And maybe neither did he. Except he "has" to like it because he is writing an article for the Journal and the mention is a not-so-subtle plug for his agency.

It is true that people working in their field have expertise worth considering. But it is also true that people outside of it, who care a lot and have no "skin in the game," have a certain objectivity. A refreshing cold-water-in-your face perspective. It's actually good to pay attention to both. (Like listening to Tea Partiers alongside Republicans and Democrats...you get a fuller picture.)

Last night Jack Welch was on Piers Morgan's interview show dissing Sarah Palin. "She's a celebrity, not a politician," he said, "because she lacks that certain gravitas." He likes Tim Pawlenty, because of "what he actually says," even though as Piers pointed out, he is a bit, well, boring. And Palin was actually the governor of Alaska and has political experience.

I am not taking sides here, but theoretically speaking - who actually is better suited to represent the people? A celebrity they relate to who needs some schooling on the issues, or a schoolteacher they don't who needs a charm injection to keep even the reporters awake?

We are living in a time in history where change is so rapid as to be a blur. What expertise really requires is to have your finger on the pulse of that change. And to take a pulse, you have to be able to measure a heartbeat. In any field, people who care enough to monitor, read and write about something - and whose thoughts are useful to others - are in my view well-qualified to do so.

Plus, most people I know of who are successful, learned as they went along - rather than having answers from the start. (Just ask my kids.) As Einstein put it, "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"

Only you, with G-d's help, can invent your destiny, and your brand.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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