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.

2010-02-09_1141Basically, augmenting a reader’s reality means either:

a) getting her to see more of what’s there, to notice previously overlooked details, or

b) getting her to look past the surface to see intangibles, relationships, processes, or

c)  both a & b

This isn’t a technique given to systemization, but there are ways to spark your thinking process.  One I particularly like is something I stole from the field of Tagmemics.  Below is an extremely abbreviated discussion of it.

You can understand just about any object by means of:

  • Contrast: how is a donut different from funnel cakes or doughboys or cinnamon roles, etc.  What makes a donut a donut and not something else?
  • Variation: how cake donuts, glazed donuts, fruit filled donuts, etc. are all donuts.  How little chocolate donuts in a box at the convenience store and fresh-baked donuts from Crispy Kreme are both donuts.
  • Context: how donuts are typically a breakfast food, how they’re often paired with coffee, in what situation donuts are eaten, what are the cultural connotations and associations of donuts, etc.

Likewise, you can also think of an object in terms of:

  • A particle or thing: a donut as just that, a donut
  • A wave or dynamic process: a donut in terms of eating a donut.
  • A field or network of relationships: donuts as a cultural and culinary force

Augmenting a reader’s reality often means moving them from understanding something simply in terms of contrast to looking at context. Or from seeing something as a thing/particle to seeing it as a dynamic process or a network of relationships.

The most obvious example might be to take someone who sees coffee just in terms of the simple hot steaming cup o’ joe in front of them to seeing that cup of coffee as an opportunity to either actively support fair trade practices that enable the coffee farmers to earn a decent living from the sale of their crops, or to support some exploitative corporation.

For the most part, fair trade coffee looks and tastes just like regular coffee, but we gladly pay a premium price for the intangibles attached – as long as someone has taught us to see and value them.  As long as we’ve been provided with that bit of augmented reality.

2010-02-09_1047Of course, those kind of intangibles have to be baked into the product itself. They usually can’t be created out of thin air through copy alone.  When J. Peterman concentrated on only acquiring and selling items of authentic romance (emphasis on the authentic part), his company went from a single space-ad in the New Yorker selling cowboy dusters to $70 million in annual revenue in a few years, arguably on the strength of the catalogue copy.

J. Perterman copy was legendary for transforming a shirt into something much more than a shirt.  The copy “augmented” one’s perspective on J. Perterman’s clothing, usually by leaning heavily on context and relationship. Here’s an example from their current web catalogue:

Cold ComfortEvery season, before they become the boys of summer, baseball players have to get through April.

Like Opening Day in 1907. Giants hosting the Phillies a day after a snowstorm blanketed New York. The crew at the Polo Grounds barely finished shoveling in time for the first pitch.

A few weeks later, it was the White Sox home opener against the Browns. There was no snow, but when St. Louis starter Harry Howell took to the mound it was a chilly 38 degrees.

It would go down as one of the coldest Aprils in baseball history. 2646-msw-line-1Luckily for the players, the equipment managers had a duffle bag full of these.

Vintage Baseball Sweater (No. 2646).Last seen at the turn of the 20th century in places like Coogan’s Hollow, Crosely Field and Comiskey Park, it got players through the first 10 games of every season. You know, those days when the skies are gray, the foul pole white with early morning frost, and the players’ breath as thick as the mustard on the hot dogs.

Substantial, five-gauge 100% lambswool, it’s the perfect weight for early spring or late fall. Wear the collar up or down.”

Makes you desire the product far more than you might otherwise want a button-up cardigan, huh?

But in late 1999 the company slid into bankruptcy with the same copywriters writing the catalogue copy.  What changed?  According to J. Peterman himself, it was a loss of focus; they started selling all sorts of stuff not hand-picked by himself or staff that had been trained by him – stuff lacking authentic romance.

And while there were undoubtedly other business pressures and dynamics at play in the demise of the company, I’d be willing to bet that the copy suffered when the objects themselves no longer had authentic romance baked into them. You just can’t augment what isn’t there and never was there to begin with.

The good news?

  1. If you’ve got something with a genuine appeal, you’re way ahead of the game
  2. Most items and services are more interesting than you might think – especially to the person in dire need of it.  Often times, the authentic stories are there to be found, and as a copywriter, you just have to dig a bit to uncover them.

LynchpinLast week a friend told me I was (very briefly) mentioned in Seth Godin’s latest book.  So being the vain little schmuck that I am, I made sure to check it out at the airport book store before my flight home.  Sure enough, on page 61 Seth speaks about, and coins the term, “Krulak’s Law” partially based upon an old GrokDotCom post of mine.

Here’s the Law:

The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.

It’s called Krulak’s Law because Marine Corps Commandant General Charles C. Krulak was one of the very first people to see the consequences of an ever-present and hyper-democritized media. Here’s a brief excerpt on what he had to say about it in his seminal 1999 article titled, The Strategic Corporal:

“In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests – the Strategic Corporal.”

My blog post merely pointed out that this dynamic was hardly unique to the Military.  Businesses must also come to grips with this reality in light of the damage – and good – that can be done to a brand by frontline employees.  Here’s a few examples of this:

Basically, the more you are willing to push decision-making and responsibility down the organization and the more you’re willing to hire and train people to thrive in this kind of organization, the better off you’ll be in a 2010 world of interconnectivity, social media, and online reviews.

Even for online businesses, help desks and customer service reps can save sales or flush them away depending on both their skill and their level of empowerment to fix situations.

Every touchpoint with your business matters, even – no especially – the ones you may not give any thought to when thinking about your marketing.  In some ways it’s the clean bathrooms syndrome – except with the added threat of having pictures of your “dirty bathroom” broadcast throughout the WWW.

Bottom Line: if your organization hasn’t yet come to grips with Krulak’s Law, now’s the time.

So like a bonehead I managed to leave behind my beloved Logitech VX Nano computer mouse on a recent trip, and I needed a new mouse fast.

Which was just the excuse I needed to try out Apple’s new Magic Mouse.

Now, few people fully believe me when I tell them the research on how 67% of e-commerce Website visitors who land on a site looking to buy end up NOT buying because they don’t get their questions answered.

And I think the reason most people don’t fully “get-it” is because their conception of a “question” is perhaps too narrowly focused.  But more than that, I think it’s because the marketers and Web people just don’t put themselves in enough buying scenarios.  They don’t focus in on the precipitating events that cause people to buy, and how those events affect the immediate concerns of the buyer.

And I thought my most recent purchasing adventure might shed light on this:

I want a Magic Mouse and I need it fast.  No problem, I’ll just pick one up at Best Buy, right? Nope.  They’re fresh out.

Maybe I can order one on Amazon through Amazon Prime? Nope. That mouse wasn’t eligible for Amazon Prime. Sigh.

I can always buy the darn thing directly through Apple’s Online Store, right? Yeah, but how soon can they get it to me? I’m using my old piece-of-crap Apple Mighty Mouse and too many days of that will drive me up a wall. I need this new mouse STAT!

Well, let’s check it out.  Here’s what I see on Amazon’s order page: Apple Order Page

Notice the red-circled “ships within” statement by the picture of the mouse.  That’s good, but 24 hours covers a fairly long time.It was Sunday evening and if the thing didn’t ship until Monday evening, I might not get the mouse until Wednesday.   Frankly, I needed it faster than that.

Now, look at the 2nd red-circle and you’ll see that, when selecting next-day shipping, I had to enter my zip code.  With all that info, Apple should have been able to give me an “Estimated arrival date: Feb 2” type notice.

But I couldn’t get that from the site, and because I was a motivated customer, I called their phone number to get the info from customer service. Customer service worked brilliantly and they gave me 2 very-much-needed pieces of info to close the sale:

  1. Yes, outside of bizarre happenings, I’d get the mouse Tuesday
  2. If I didn’t get it Tuesday, Apple policy allowed me to get my express shipping fee refunded

So I ordered the mouse and it arrived on Tuesday.  Cool.

But what if I hadn’t quite been that motivated to call? What if I naturally preferred to order it directly through Apple, but could have gotten this product somewhere else?

The simple answer is that I likely wouldn’t have called and would have gone to another site to buy the thing (or a logitech mouse) – a site that would have given me the answers I needed in order to buy!

So what should Apple do?

In the last red circle on the screenshot, I think they should have the estimated arrival date(s) for items, and for customers selecting express shipping, they should display their refund policy for late arrivals.  So that the screen might look a bit more like this:


Obviously, Apple would want to A/B test this (as would anyone), as this very well might cause a few more people to take advantage of Apple’s refund policy.  But I’d be willing to bet the added cost would be more than made up for by increased orders and increased express shipping orders.

Apple caters to a clientele that can typically more than afford their “gotta have it” stuff, and that are typically impatient to get their grubby little hands on whatever it is they’re offering.  In other words, time is more important to their customers than money.

So answering customer questions about time would likely result in more orders for Apple.

Heck, they darn near missed my order, if it hadn’t been for their clearly published phone number and excellent customer service rep (and those points are e-commerce lessons unto themselves)…

But don’t limit this phenomenon to mere questions of item arrival, this dynamic applies to almost any question about your product related to the precipitating event surrounding your customer’s decision to buy – they can all make or break a sale.

The important questions for you are: have you considered your buyers’ precipitating events? And does your Website answer your prospects’ questions?

Or are you content with losing sales that should have been yours?

P.S. Not thrilled with the magic mouse.  It’s heavy, doesn’t slide that well, and the shape is rather un-ergonomic compared to my Logitech VX Nano. Still getting used to it, though, so I might change my mind. If you have one or are ordering one, you’ll probably want to download this bit of software to accompany it:

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