Category: Know Your Audience

Why Your Customers Lie

Every one of your customers is an untrustworthy, fraudulent, false-hearted, cheating, calculating, double-dealing… (deep breath)… crafty, duplicitous, disingenuous, untruthful, scheming… stinker. Well maybe not a stinker.

But liars they are. How so?

Such is the proposition made in “All Marketers are Liars,” by Seth Godin. Don’t be fooled by the title. Godin makes the case not that good marketers lie, but that customers do — to themselves. Even the smart ones. In fact, we all do it.

Everybody has his or her own “world view,” says Godin.

That sounds a little granola crunchy, so let me clarify: We all have something we believe about how the world works. For the sake of efficiency and security, we’ll reshape reality until it can accommodate those beliefs. Even if we’ve got to twist facts into pretzels to make it happen. The little fibs — stories — we tell ourselves make life easier. Sometimes, they make life even more enjoyable.

Example: Godin tells us, in the book, about a glass blower named George Riedel. George is a 10th-generation glass blower. He’s a nice guy. And he makes wine glasses. As well as scotch glasses, beer glasses, and just about any other type of beverage-specific glass.

See, George and his customers believe every single beverage needs its special glass, or it just won’t taste right.

A $100 St. Emillion Grand Cru is dishwater, for instance, compared to how it would taste in a proper Bordeaux glass. Meanwhile, if you’re going to use the same glass to sip a vintage wine from the Cote de Beaune, you might as well drink it from your shoe.

Robert Parker, the best-known and arguably most powerful wine critic in the world agrees. And the glasses George Riedel makes, he says, will give you the best tasting experience humanly possible. Millions of wine-drinkers around the world buy Riedel’s glasses. And in taste tests, expert and amateur tasters alike — when tasting identical wine in two different glasses — almost always pick the wine in the proper Riedel glass as the best.

Yet, in double-blind tests where the shape of the glass is perfectly hidden…

The predictability of which glass a taster will choose falls to zero.

Not only does the shape make no difference in these tests. The value of the glass makes not a difference either. A $1 glass and a $20 glass have exactly the same non-impact on the results of the taste test.

Please, if you’re about to write to tell me about how wrong this test has to be… don’t bother. Because I’m with you. Even though I know science can easily nullify my beliefs. Heck, I’ve got a dozen balloon burgundy glasses and a dozen Bordeaux glasses lined up in my own cabinet. Right next to the pilsner glasses.

Why perpetuate the self-deception?

Because, clearly, it’s something I want to believe. Even more, believing it somehow makes it so. Maybe I feel smarter when I use the right glass. Maybe I feel worldlier. Maybe it’s just an excuse to justify buying better wine. I don’t really know.

All I can tell you is, science be damned, the proper glass just makes wine taste right to me. Somehow believing that makes it so.

Is that so wrong? Not at all.

Godin points out that Riedel, who sells the glasses, is just as devout a believer in the different-glass theory as his customers. If he were not, he wouldn’t be able to sell millions of dollars worth of glasses per year. In fact, he’d probably end up working somewhere else. As it is, his belief in the importance in the shape and quality of the glasses is what helps him make such a good — and popular — product.

Godin calls Riedel an “honest liar.”

Scientifically, the glasses don’t do diddly for the wine. Until, the person using them believes they do, and there it is. Right glass equals better taste. Voila. Like we said, his family has done this successfully — and virtuously — for 10 generations.

So when is it wrong for marketers to tell a fib?

When the fib is an outright fraud, told to pass off a belief that nobody at the origin holds as true. A fraud works solely for the benefit of the marketer. And worse, when found out, alienates the customer.

Take Cadillac. Cadillac cars used to be, well, considered the Cadillac of American automobiles. “When the new Cadillacs come in,” was something you waited for. When you “made it” in business, you bought yourself a Cadillac.

Then Cadillac cut corners.

They cheapened their cars but still sold them under the Cadillac brand. But the new models weren’t as plush, as classic, or as authentically “Cadillac” as the old models. The new models betrayed the old promise. Cadillac quickly sunk in status. And scrambled for years to take the tarnish off their image. While other luxury cars like Lexus took up the slack.

The trouble with fraud, says Godin, is that besides being just wrong, it’s a self-dooming business strategy.

Fraud does more than put dents in a customer’s wallet. It’s also a body blow to the customer’s ego. They feel the fool for having trusted you.

The secret, then, to telling tales that sell is to tell the most honest and accurate stories you can — the most authentic stories — and tell them as well as you can too.

Godin has a test. Look at your product, your position, your pitch, he says, and imagine the customer asking you:

1) “If I knew what you know, would I still buy?”

and…

2) “Will I be glad later on that I did?

If you can honestly answer yes to both questions, you’re on the right track. If not, go back to the drawing board. You’ll be glad you did. And you might sleep a little better at night, too.

More

The Simple Secret of… Complexity?

wineprThere’s a book, “Making Sense of Wine,” by author Matthew Kramer.

In it, Kramer writes: “What constitutes quality in wine?… The single greatest standard used in assessing a wine’s quality is its complexity. The more times you can return to a glass of wine and find something different in it — in the bouquet, in the taste — the more complex the wine.”

Could the same lesson apply to writing articles, ezines, or sales letters?

If it is, it’s one that flies in the face of conventional web wisdom. Usually, the writer’s mantra is “K.I.S.S.” (Keep It Simple Stupid). And most of the time, this rule works just fine. As does another you’ve seen me talk about here or in the weekly CR e-letter (sign up if you haven’t already), called the principle of “The Power of One.” The idea being that when you want to get a message across, the tither you can bundle it up for the reader, the better.

Yet, we also know that writing — especially the kind of writing we do in sales letters and even more so, editorially — is more and more about building relationships. And aren’t relationships built layer upon layer with complexities?

Here’s more from Kramer…

“It appears that we are, in fact, set up to respond favorable to complexity. Decades of work in experimental psychology have revealed that when people are free to choose between a simple visual image and a more complex one, they gravitate to the complex… Even our alleged neurological compatriot, the laboratory rat, has demonstrated a preference, over time, for more complex stimuli over simple.”

But if that’s true, doesn’t the idea of “keeping it simple” fall apart?

Kramer continues: “One researcher in the field employs the notion of disorder or entropy. The more things are jumbled, the more ‘information’ can be conveyed at one time. The trick is our ability to sort it out and make it meaningful. In short, there must be both pattern and complexity for sustained interest… For something to be truly satisfying, especially after repeated exposure, it must continually surprise us and yet we must be able to grasp these surprises as part of a larger and pleasing pattern.”

Rich. Complex. Consistently surprising.

That’s the juice we seem to want to squeeze not just out of grapes, but life. At least according to what Kramer’s saying. If we accept this as true, maybe there’s still a way to reconcile this insight and the one about the power of simplicity.

First, I’d say that yes, the relationship one builds with readers, either from the first paragraph of a piece of copy to the last or over a series of articles or issues or blog posts does need to grow and evolve. And as anyone knows, evolution is never simple.

Still, this doesn’t mean you can just jumble your ideas together. Even rich and layered relationships are united by a few very simple goals. Maybe even one simple goal, depending on whom you talk to. Even in a sales letter that drills home on one distinct message, the copy does many things to build trust, nurture a sense of urgency, intensify desire, and so on.

Second, I’d say that you can never discount the power of passion behind written ideas. You can’t write well about something you don’t believe in. And you write better about things you believe in strongly. I say this because passion about ideas, it seems to me, is the glue between the “power of one” single idea insight… and the context of complexity in which it can still be couched.

Yes?

More

Read this NOW, or the Puppy Gets It!

Years ago, I think it was National Lampoon sent out a mail campaign trying to get subscribers… or maybe it was renewals…

With a picture of a man holding an adorable puppy draped over his left arm. In his right hand, he held what looked like Dirty Harry’s revolver. The headline read (I’m  paraphrasing): “Subscribe now or the puppy gets it!”

Depending on how you feel about puppies, that qualifies as an “urgency” pitch. Of course, there are other ways to create urgency.

“Crazy Eddie” yelling on late night TV about his looney low prices on TVs and stereos… firesales and special edition offers… expiring coupons.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

 It’s no accident. Creating urgency is part and parcel of many a winning ad campaign. Maybe that’s why Linda, one of your fellow CR readers, wrote me asking what on earth was going on.

 The urgency plea, she says, is both everywhere and far too often just plain baloney. Sales end up lasting longer, last-minute prices seem to last forever, and so on.

What gives?

I took a minute to write Linda a reply. Then figured it was good enough to share with you too. See if you agree.

Yes and yes, I told her.

You’re right on two fronts.

First, lots of ads do whatever they can to pound the urgency button. Reason being, all marketing is more or less at war with the onslaught of “other” ads you mention — each of which competes for space in the customer’s mind — and more importantly, with the overwhelming forces of inertia.

The customer who reads and ad that encourages him to put it down for later consideration, is generally a customer lost in the long run. Put more simply, those who don’t “act now” tend not to act at all.

For a brilliant explanation of how this works, beyond the obvious, check out the much recommended “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini. Especially what he has to say about the pulling power of scarcity. People really do want to snap up the “last” of anything, rather than miss out.

That said, the other thing you’re right about is that when every single ad is saying you’re going to miss out, the message starts to get diluted. Everyone starts to sound the same. And in selling, sounding the same as everybody else is slow poison to your business.

When that happens, what happens next?

The clever sellers will come up with other ways to express urgency, other than “limited supply” pitches.

As you mention, they’ll have deadlines before price increases, limited-time offers on extras thrown into a deal, special bonuses limited to the first few respondents, etc. Among the group of info publishers I work closely with, one of the most powerful innovations of the last two years — literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars (and counting) — has been to create online “countdown” offers with time deadlines tracked right down to the hour and minute on which the deal is available. I keep thinking they’ll stop working. Yet they keep working, just the same. 

But here’s one last key.

To really work, the limits need to be real. Even if they’re created just to increase the urgency, they have to be enforced. Otherwise, as you suggest, the customer’s get wise to the ruse. Not only does the seller sacrifice trust in his claims, he also sacrifices the power of the technique.

Even as a marketer, I would also second guess those businesses that don’t make good on their “last chance” offers in the way you’re suggesting. Both for the reasons above and also because, frankly, it’s a bad sign for other reasons.

For instance, I know that with the marketers I work with, legal teams actually scan the offers and make sure that if there’s a deadline mentioned, the offer gets pulled the minute the deadline passes.

And if there’s a “limited low price” offered, the legal eagles make sure it never gets offered again. Price hikes are made to happen. Limited bonuses get retired according to the restrictions printed on the reply card. This keeps the marketers honest.

But it also preserves the power of the technique for the rest of us, when we want to try it elsewhere to the same audience.

Long story short…

You’re right to question the “urgency” pitch as a consumer. But both good and bad marketers use it. And likely, will use it forever.

Likewise, if you ever find yourself on the marketing side of the fence, it’s something you don’t want to rule out too quickly.

More

What Nascar, Kool-Aid, And Purple Oreos Have in Common

Purple oreos?How sick and tired are you of having to choose between brands? Funnyman Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Lucas Conley, author of “Obsessive Branding Disorder,” to find out.

Branding, says Conley, has spun completely out of control. The idea, of course, is to build a reputation for a product name… so future products bearing that name will fly off the shelves.

It’s borrowed credibility. Sometimes appropriate. But more and more often, says Conley, it’s not.

Take a look at some of the weird and whacky branding combinations he listed during the interview (while Colbert pretended the whole thing was sponsored by Dr. Pepper)…

…Sylvester Stallone Pudding ™
…Nascar Brand Romance Novels ™
…Nascar Packaged Meats ™
…KoolAid Brand Tennis Shoes ™
…Harley Davidson Birthday Candles ™
…Playdough Limited Edition Cologne ™

Yes, these are real products.

In each case, what’s the business goal? What’s the advantage? What’s the point? You have to wonder. The folks over at neurosciencemarketing.com wondered too, but with brands that add too many choices under one brand umbrella.

For instance, did you know that there are 46 different kinds of Oreos today?

I’m talking about the little chocolate cookies with the vanilla cream center. At least, that’s what we were talking about when I was a kid. Today, you can get the “Double Stuff” version with twice the filling… the inverted “Golden Uh-Oh With Chocolate Cream”… the “Duo” which is half vanilla and half chocolate… “Spring Purple” Oreos with purple cream… and so on.

The study goes on to list an epidemic in overly stretched brands: 11 kinds of Tostitos… 16 kinds of Goldfish snack crackers… 23 kinds of Gatorade. You get the picture.

Conley’s problem with psychotic cross-branding was that all these companies had moved miles away from what they did best. That costs their customers, who get duped into buying lower quality but branded goods. It also costs the companies, who get distracted from using what they know to take their already developed businesses to the next level.

When businesses explode their menu of varieties within an already successful brand, they get a different problem. They end up competing with themselves for their own customers’ attention.

Sound like a good problem to have? Not so fast.

Columbia University did a study, using shelves loaded with exactly the mind of mega-branded product lines listed above. Customers walked past the shelves groaning with 20 different kinds of Edge Shaving gel or 30 kinds of Smuckers Jam… and the site stopped them in their tracks.

Okay so far. Except that, even though more customers stopped to look… many FEWER actually bought, compared to the customers shown a more limited choice.

How much fewer?

In the study, 30% of the customers looking at the limited selection bought at least one item. But out of the customers flooded with choices, only 3% decided to buy.

Wow.

More