by Jeff

gossipYou’re think­ing of buy­ing some­thing or some ser­vice and an acquin­tance says, “Don’t do it; I bought that/hired them and it was a total waste of money.  I got screwed.”

Do you trust that acquain­tance enough to let them sway your deci­sion? Gen­er­ally speak­ing, yes.

But if you’re on Ama­zon, look­ing at an inter­est­ing book, and you see a hand­ful of 5-star reviews, many claim­ing that this is “The Best” book on the sub­ject, do you trust the pos­i­tive reviews?

Well, it depends on how well writ­ten and sub­stan­ti­ated the reviews are, etc. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, no, you don’t really trust them.  All else being equal, we tend to give far less cre­dence to pos­i­tive reviews than neg­a­tive ones.

Why we trust neg­a­tive reviews more than pos­i­tive recommendations

Basi­cally, we grant oth­ers author­ity in the mat­ter of their own per­sonal expe­ri­ences. If they say their favorite color is blue, we believe them.  If they say they had a bad expe­ri­ence with such and such a prod­uct or ser­vice provider, we believe that too, because they are speak­ing from their own per­sonal expe­ri­ence in that one situation.

You don’t have to be an expert on vacum clean­ers to know that the one you bought has failed you mis­er­ably. And your expe­ri­ence alone is often enough to sway some­one from buy­ing that brand.

But a gen­eral rec­om­men­da­tion is dif­fer­ent. The abil­ity to cred­i­bly make a pos­i­tive rec­om­men­da­tion requires more than just per­sonal expe­ri­ence with a given prod­uct. For a rec­om­men­da­tion to be per­sua­sive, the reader must have faith in the reviewer’s over­all judge­ment and in their field-specific knowl­edge.

You can tell me you liked a spe­cific type of ergonomic chair, but your expe­ri­ence alone isn’t enough to make me want to buy that chair because there are a lot of good chairs out there and I’m not look­ing for good — I’m look­ing for the best my money can buy.

In order to per­suade me that the chair you bought is the best chair for my money, you have to have more than just your expe­ri­ence with the chair.  You need to have broad knowl­edge and exper­tise (or at least expe­ri­ence) with the top ergonomic chairs on the mar­ket so that you can com­pare mul­ti­ple chairs and com­pe­tently pick out the best per­form­ing chair for the money.

To believe and act on your rec­om­men­da­tion, I’d need to know:

  • that your use of the chair is sim­i­lar to mine,
  • that you’ve already tried a bunch of chairs, and
  • what your cri­te­ria were for select­ing the chair you did.

All this over and above your per­sonal expe­ri­ence with the chair you even­tu­ally bought and recommended.

See the difference?

A Social Media “Friend” isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a friend

A lot has been made recently about stud­ies pur­port­ing to show that peo­ple trust their friends less and experts more. It’s well worth look­ing at the study, but be care­ful about apply­ing this too broadly.

First of all, what the study is really say­ing is that peo­ple trust anony­mous reviews less than rec­om­men­da­tions stem­ming from an author­i­ta­tive source.  Well, duh!

Does that mean reviews and tes­ti­mo­ni­als have lost impor­tance?  Hell no.  Keep­ing in mind what we just dis­cussed, here’s what I believe it means:

  1. Neg­a­tive reviews can still have an out­sized impact.
  2. Pos­i­tive review­ers need to sub­stan­ti­ate their unbi­ased nature and sub­ject mat­ter expertise.

Sean D’Souza is ahead of the curve, as usual

What this really reminds me of is Sean D’Souza’s advice on Tes­ti­mo­ni­als, advice that clearly under­stood (and mas­ter­fully lever­aged) this phe­nom­ena sev­eral years ago when his prod­uct first came out.  He used to give the PDF away to mem­bers of his newslet­ter, but the prod­uct he’s sell­ing now for $40 is well worth it, in my hum­ble opin­ion — and I’ve sam­pled more than my fair share of copy­writ­ing books, info-products, and guru advice ;)

shovelWhat tells you when it’s time to stop digging?

That repen­tance is nec­es­sary for sal­va­tion is hardly a prin­ci­ple con­fined to Chris­tian­ity. It’s really as sim­ple as say­ing that if you’ve dug your­self into a hole, you need to:

  1. real­ize you’re in a hole, and
  2. stop dig­ging, and
  3. become open to solu­tions (aka, a way out)

And until you do, you won’t have much hope of get­ting out of that hole. Obvi­ously, the sooner you rec­og­nize the hole, the eas­ier the process is. Just as obvi­ously, this applies to busi­nesses as well as individuals.

In fact, a lot of hole-digging in busi­ness involves max­i­miz­ing short term profit at the expense of long-term rep­u­ta­tion, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, prod­uct improve­ment, etc. Mostly because prof­itabil­ity is fer­vently mea­sured while the long term things often don’t even have indi­ca­tors, let alone mea­sure­ments. This means most com­pa­nies don’t real­ize they’ve dug them­selves into a hole until a cri­sis hits.

So what are your early indi­ca­tors for these “soft” or long-term fac­tors? Have you both­ered to set any up, or are crises going to be the only indi­ca­tor that the hole you’re in is higher than your arms can reach?


Are you demand­ing a state of grace, or are you will­ing to take peo­ple as they are?

One of the few things I don’t like about Get­ting Things Done is the “state of grace” fac­tor.  Mean­ing you have to start your sys­tem from a point at which every­thing is accounted for on a slip of paper in your in-box. You have to take 1–2 days out of your life to get your­self to the start­ing point.

I think that’s one rea­son there are far more vari­ants of GTD and peo­ple using mod­i­fied GTD sys­tems than there are actual GTD prac­ti­tion­ers. Peo­ple like the sys­tem, but most can’t start from that all-too-hard-to-achieve state of grace.

Sim­i­larly, busi­nesses that are will­ing to take peo­ple as they are gen­er­ally do a whole lot bet­ter than busi­nesses that force cus­tomers to have got­ten their ducks in a row before­hand. Peo­ple want solu­tions, not an “I told you so.” Think of the dif­fer­ence between a nor­mal uni­ver­sity and most online uni­ver­si­ties. They’ll always be a Har­vard, but I think a lot of 3rd Tier Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties are about to get crunched as more and more peo­ple opt for edu­ca­tional alter­na­tives that will take them where they are.

What about your busi­ness?  Are you will­ing to meet peo­ple where they are - to save them from their past stu­pid­ity if needed — or are you demand­ing cus­tomers enter your doors in a state of grace?


An apol­ogy with­out a “Mea Culpa” isn’t a real apology.

I know that with busi­nesses there are some­times legal issues with admit­ting you did some­thing wrong, but frankly, more com­pa­nies wimp out of mak­ing a real apol­ogy from fear than they do from actual legal constraints.

What they end up with is a psuedo-apology where they kind of sorta say they’re going to do bet­ter with­out specif­i­cally admit­ting or address­ing what they did wrong. But an insin­cere apol­ogy is worse than no apology.

If you’re mak­ing a state­ment about a mishap that’s your fault, you should say that it’s your fault, specif­i­cally and directly.  Don’t hedge, don’t be vague, and don’t try to spin it while you’re apologizing.


The object of giv­ing some­thing up is to gain some­thing else

Chris­tians fast and make sac­ri­fices dur­ing Lent  – i.e., they give up tem­po­ral, worldly plea­sures and activ­i­ties — so as to bet­ter con­cen­trate their minds on the eter­nal and the spir­i­tual. It’s not just about giv­ing some­thing up, it’s about elim­i­nat­ing some things to focus more on others.

This is a recog­ni­tion that you can’t just add and add and add with­out hav­ing things get crowded out of the pic­ture — usu­ally the wrong things, the most impor­tant things.

While we all tend to end­lessly add To-Dos to our list, there’s only so much time in the day. How many of us actively focus on a Stop Doing list? The idea is to replace less effec­tive and effi­cient strate­gies and prac­tices with more effec­tive ones.  So shouldn’t we have as many “Stop Doing” items as “Start Doings”?

What’s on your “Stop Doing” list?

2010-02-16_0013If you’ve ever been frus­trated and beaten down by this or that issue at work, was your out­look on that issue one of dis­pas­sion­ate, organizational-focused analysis?

Or was your search for a solu­tion to the prob­lem just as emo­tion­ally dri­ven as any con­sumer purchase?

The ugly truth about B2B Copy: most of it assumes that orga­ni­za­tions buy things.

But I’ve never heard of an orga­ni­za­tion get­ting on its com­puter, check­ing out a Web­site, fill­ing out lead forms, or meet­ing with sales reps.  The only peo­ple who do those things are, well, people.

And like all peo­ple, B2B cus­tomers gen­er­ally try­ing to do one of two things:

  1. Try­ing to get what they want
  2. Try­ing to get away from (or avoid) a problem/pain in the butt that they don’t want

In either sit­u­a­tion, emo­tions rule the day.  And so does the con­text of the sit­u­a­tion.  This is where even decent B2B copy goes wrong by assum­ing only pos­i­tive moti­va­tion from the buyer.  The copy acts as if only proac­tive cus­tomers exist in the marketplace.

Appar­ently, who­ever wrote the copy never lifted their head above the cubi­cle or observed much of the out­side world.  Yes, some peo­ple are aggres­sively proac­tive. But the major­ity?  They’re usu­ally mov­ing away from pain, typ­i­cally in the face of cri­sis. They get seri­ous about fit­ness after a health scare or humil­i­at­ing event. They avidly back-up com­put­ers after a hard drive fail­ure.  And so on.

And if you don’t think the same thing hap­pens with orga­ni­za­tions, you’re nuts; again, it’s peo­ple that are doing the buy­ing, and as impor­tantly, insti­tu­tions gen­er­ally have MORE neu­ro­sis than indi­vid­u­als, not less.

Here’s a few busi­ness exam­ples of this same behav­ior:

  • Sales results slide a bit, but aren’t really bad enough to push man­age­ment into real action.  They look around at some of their sales train­ing and sales recruit­ing options, but sit on that infor­ma­tion as long as times are mod­er­ately good.  Then, when a com­peti­tor starts steal­ing away key accounts or the mar­ket starts shrink­ing it sud­denly becomes time to buy sales training.
  • A company’s e-mail host­ing require­ments grows increas­ingly more com­plex.  The in-house host­ing becomes shaky at best and the IT man­ager knows it should be out­sourced.  He takes a look at his out­sourc­ing options, but he’s got about 10 other higher-priority items on his to-do list.  He might put­ter along like this for a year before suf­fer­ing, say, a 2-day e-mail out­age.  Now the IT manager/company is really in the mar­ket for out­sourced exchange hosting.

dominoesWhat I’m talk­ing about are pre­cip­i­tat­ing events – the kind of things that move a someday/maybe aspi­ra­tion into a firm resolve to buy.

Now here’s the deal: most com­pa­nies involved with B2B and com­plex sales know (or at least the sales peo­ple know) exactly what their top 5 or so pre­cip­i­tat­ing events are. Yet most B2B web­sites fail to address the neg­a­tive buy­ing emo­tions stem­ming from those pre­cip­i­ta­tive events.

Last week I was invited to take part in a land­ing page cri­tique by Bryan Eisen­berg.  My first ques­tion was, “what was the pre­cip­i­tat­ing event?”  And based on the answers to that one ques­tion, the copy was totally transformed.

In the space of a short half-hour call, the clients them­selves were able to take copy that read like some­thing a Perl script might spit to mes­sag­ing that com­pelling addressed the real buy­ing moti­va­tions of the vis­i­tor.  Like magic.

You can do it too.  Just ask your­self, what are your clients’ pre­cip­i­tat­ing events? Ask your sales team if you need help.

Now go look at your Web copy while keep­ing those pre­cip­i­tat­ing events clearly in mind.

Super-Bowl_1573858cDoes any­one really think that this year’s Super­bowl man­aged to be the num­ber 1 most watched event of all time because the actual ath­leti­cism on dis­play was supe­rior to year’s past?

Does any­one think that the main draw was really about the foot­ball itself?

Or do you sus­pect, as I do, that it was story behind the teams and behind the game that drew peo­ple in? That the emo­tional con­nec­tion we all shared for the strug­gles faced by a post-Katrina New Orleans brought in far more view­ers than the actual foot­ball itself?

Bot­tom Line: Emo­tional Con­nec­tion and Story sell more tick­ets than sheer athleticism.

Liv­ing in the South, I can say that Col­lege Sports (and espe­cially col­lege foot­ball) are a much big­ger deal down here than most pro sports.  Alumni have a much greater emo­tional con­nec­tion to their Col­lege teams than any pro team. And frankly, there’s also a sh*t-load more rival­ries amongst col­lege teams.  Emo­tions run high when Alabama plays Auburn, or Florida plays Florida State or Texas plays the Aggies, and so on.

If the NFL were smart, they’d fig­ure out how to cre­ate more of that. More rival­ries, more emo­tional con­nec­tion, bet­ter write-ups of the story behind the games.

And what they’d avoid at all costs is a strike or “lock­out” that could sever emo­tional con­nec­tions amongst the major­ity of their audi­ence.  They’d also want to squelch the kind of player free-agency that breaks the spell of team-loyalty. If the play­ers don’t care who they play for, why should I care who I root for?

Obvi­ously, this stuff extends well beyond football…

What kind of emo­tional con­nec­tions are you cre­at­ing with your cus­tomers? What kind of story are you telling?

P.S. Here’s another 5 Lessons in Suc­cess from Super Bowl XLIV Cham­pion Saints

2010-02-09_2309Uni­ver­sally acclaimed as one of the best busi­ness books of 2007, Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick is also one of the all-time best com­mu­ni­ca­tions books you can buy.

So the antic­i­pa­tion sur­round­ing their next book is pal­pa­ble — as was my excite­ment at receiv­ing a reviewer copy!

But frankly, what made Made to Stick great wasn’t so much the raw con­tent (though the con­tent was awe­some) as it was the incred­i­bly prac­ti­cal and cohe­sive frame­work that the Heath Broth­ers used to orga­nize that con­tent into a method for trans­form­ing messages.

That famous SUCCESS frame­work made the mate­r­ial stick.  And build­ing on that frame­work, the for­mat of the book itself made for an easy and enjoy­able read due to the numer­ous before and after exam­ples (or “clin­ics” as they called them) and illus­tra­tive anecdotes.

Those same virtues take cen­ter stage in their newest book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:

  • Ele­gant and prac­ti­cal men­tal frame­work?  Yup
  • Lots of Before and After style “Clinic” Side­bars?  Check
  • Incred­i­bly engag­ing and illus­tra­tive anec­dotes? You betcha

The Rider, The Ele­phant, and The Path

So hav­ing hyped the men­tal frame­work and struc­ture of the book, I’ll give you a quick and dirty expla­na­tion of it. The Heath Bros make three points right off the bat in intro­duc­ing their new metaphor­i­cal frame­work for change:

  • We’re fun­da­men­tally schiz­o­phrenic about change; our hearts and minds often dis­agree.  If you’ve ever set a 2nd alarm clock across the room to force your­self out of bed and pre­vent snooz­ing, you know exactly how much our con­scious minds and emo­tional desires can be at odds.
  • Rely­ing on your con­scious mind to self-supervise change sim­ply doesn’t work.  Con­scious atten­tion is a pre­cious resource that is quickly exhausted when used to over­come the emo­tional desires of our heart.
  • Envi­ron­men­tal cues often have a pro­found effect on our behav­ior and our abil­ity to change — shock­ingly so.  In fact, more so than most of us would ever guess

Bor­row­ing a metaphor from Jonathon Haidt, the Heath Broth­ers bring these three points together by call­ing the heart an Ele­phant, the con­scious mind the Rider, and the envi­ron­ment the Path.

And within this frame­work, mak­ing hard changes suc­cess­ful requires 3 broad strategies:

1.  You have to Direct the Rider

In this case, the rider is the log­i­cal, con­scious part of you and/or the peo­ple you are hop­ing to change. Now, this much isn’t a rev­e­la­tion, but most peo­ple do man­age to get this part wrong.

They get it wrong by expect­ing the ele­phant rider to be able to mus­cle the ele­phant into mak­ing the change against the elephant’s inclinations/will.  Not gonna hap­pen — at least not for long.  Self super­vi­sion is a lim­ited resource that’s too-quickly used up by brute force-of-will efforts.

So how does one more intel­li­gently direct the rider?

  • Over­come Paral­y­sis Analy­sis by Find­ing the Bright Spots.  Our con­scious minds are really good at find­ing prob­lems and ana­lyz­ing them.  Unfor­tu­nately, this kind of neg­a­tive analy­sis often works against us when it comes to mak­ing dif­fi­cult changes.  But we can bet­ter direct our con­scious minds by using tools such as appre­cia­tive inquiry and pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy.  These tools direct us to look for what’s work­ing, rather than what’s wrong. Find out what’s work­ing in spite of the neg­a­tive obsta­cles and ana­lyze why.
  • Make goals action­able by script­ing the crit­i­cal moves.  Whether desired behav­ior is easy and clear or just a lit­tle bit harder and more com­plex makes a HUGE dif­fer­ence when it comes to change. Get­ting Things Done is almost entirely based on this premise — you have to move from inac­tion­able to-dos and projects to well defined, do-able, next actions.  “Eat health­ier” isn’t a next action.  “Switch from whole milk to 1% and save your­self 5 bacon strips worth of sat­u­rated fat every time you drink a glass” is very much actionable.
  • Point to the des­ti­na­tion by pro­vid­ing peo­ple with an imag­in­able, con­crete, BHAGs. You want to put the rider’s power of analy­sis to work on fig­ur­ing out how to get to a moti­vat­ing des­ti­na­tion or goal, rather than using analy­sis to resist the change.

2. You have to Moti­vate the Elephant

The Ele­phant is the emo­tional, more instinc­tual part of you and/or the peo­ple you’re hop­ing to change. If your rider wants to get up early to go run­ning, it’s your Ele­phant that would much rather grab an extra hour’s worth of sleep.

Most peo­ple see the Ele­phant as the prob­lem, but in the vast major­ity of suc­cess­ful change efforts, the Ele­phant was engaged as a dri­ving force. Here’s how Switch sug­gests you do that:

  • Find the Feel­ing.  As the Heath Bros say it, “…the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.  You’re pre­sented with evi­dence that makes you feel some­thing…some­thing that speaks to the Ele­phant.” Grab their hearts and their minds will fol­low. User-testing is often times as much about cre­at­ing empa­thy for the end-user as it is about get­ting new usabil­ity data.
  • Shrink the Change. It’s eas­ier to tackle big prob­lems if you’ve already got a bit of momen­tum on your side, so make the change feel doable by empha­siz­ing the momen­tum that’s already there or by set­ting up quick ini­tial wins to cre­ate that momen­tum. My pet store gives us a free bag of dog food for every 8 we buy from them, but accord­ing to Switch, they’d be bet­ter off mak­ing the cards say every 10 bags and giv­ing away 2 free punches in order to cre­ate that ini­tial momen­tum; a Car­wash ran an A/B test on com­ple­tion rates for cards using that tech­nique which showed a 79% improve­ment in com­ple­tion rates.
  • Grow Your Peo­ple. Peo­ple make choices either on a consequences/cost-benefit model or from an iden­tity model. The first model is famil­iar to any copy­writer famil­iar with WIIFM.  Here’s how the sec­ond model oper­ates, “In the iden­tity model of deci­sion mak­ing, we essen­tially ask our­selves three basic ques­tions: Who am I? What kind of sit­u­a­tion is this? What would some­one like me do in this sit­u­a­tion? Suc­cess­ful change efforts work with and fur­ther develop the changees’ iden­ti­ties.  And this works in sports as well as foot­ball, as this great arti­cle on the New Orleans Saints proves.

3. You have to Shape the Path

This sec­tion of the book intro­duces Stan­ford Psy­chol­o­gist Lee Ross’s Fun­da­men­tal Attri­bu­tion Error, which states, “peo­ple have a sys­tem­atic ten­dency to ignore the sit­u­a­tional forces that shape other people’s behav­ior,”  which causes us to “attribute people’s behav­ior to the way they are, rather than to the sit­u­a­tion they are in.”

In con­trast, suc­cess­ful change efforts look to change the sit­u­a­tion in order to change behav­ior, rather than blam­ing the changee. Here’s how Switch rec­om­mends we do that:

What I Love About This Framework

As a Persona-based copy­writer and Web­site Opti­miza­tion spe­cial­ist, I often ran up against what I tend to call the industry-standard (or sub-standard, really) under­stand­ing of Web­site Opti­miza­tion, which was the mis­con­cep­tion that improve­ment came solely from tweak­ing the online envi­ron­ment: chang­ing this but­ton, stream­lin­ing that form, imple­ment­ing dif­fer­ent cart and check­out pro­ce­dures, etc.

And while there are cer­tainly gains to be made from those kind of opti­miza­tion efforts, often times the major gains had more to do with moti­vat­ing the Ele­phant and appeas­ing the Rider (in other words with mes­sag­ing and per­sua­sion) than in sim­ply tweak­ing the func­tion­al­ity of the site.

A pan­han­dler prob­a­bly won’t get more dona­tions by using a larger col­lec­tion bucket or by set­ting up a debit-card swiper for dona­tions.  He will get more dona­tions by cre­at­ing a more pow­er­ful mes­sage about his need.

In fact, Find­ing the Feel­ing, using Identity-based Deci­sion Mak­ing, and Script­ing the Crit­i­cal Moves are some of my go-to ninja tools when it comes to mak­ing the big gains for clients — the kind of gains that elude the slice-and-dice-and-multivariate-test-it-all crowd.

But I’ll leave dis­cus­sion of those tech­niques for follow-up posts.  For now, just go buy the darn book, will ya?

2010-02-11_1019First, if you haven’t heard of Social Media Exam­iner (SME) yet, you’re miss­ing out.  Recently ranked the #1 Small Busi­ness Blog by Tech­no­rati, SME is Mike Stelzener’s (of Writ­ing White Papers Fame) “Guide to the Social Media Jun­gle

Sec­ond, I’ve been lucky enough to guest post on SME and my lat­est post just went live this morn­ing. It’s an exam­i­na­tion of Social Media in light of Cialdini’s Weapons of Influ­ence.

If you like the posts you find here, you’ll prob­a­bly dig that as well.  Go check it out.