2014-10-17_1512A few weeks back I posted a list of 11 Marketing Triggers I swiped from a Quora answer, and also promised to eloborate on each item on the list, starting with the first, Ethos.

If you’re not familiar with the list, here are the 11 triggers:

1) Ethos (your per­ceived char­ac­ter) is the most impor­tant, as opposed to an appeal to pathos (emo­tions) or logos (logic).
2) Peo­ple make judg­ments by comparison/anchor­ing.
3) Peo­ple process infor­ma­tion best from sto­ries.
4) Peo­ple are fore­most inter­ested in things that affect them.
5) Break­ing pat­terns gets attention.
6) Peo­ple look to other peo­ple’s deci­sions when mak­ing decisions.
7) Peo­ple will believe things more eas­ily that fit their pre-existent mind­set. The con­verse is also true.
8) Peo­ple han­dle one idea at a time best.
9) Peo­ple want more choices, but are hap­pier with fewer.
10) Peo­ple decide first, then ratio­nal­ize — If peo­ple are stuck with some­thing, they will like it more over time.
11) Expe­ri­ence is mem­ory, the last part of the expe­ri­ence is weighted heavily.

What’s a “Trigger”

First, “trigger” is probably the wrong word for this list. “Principle” might be a better term. But for better or worse, trigger is what the author of the list used, so I’m sticking with it.

But what is a trigger?ElectricDrill

Ultimately, it’s a lever you can pull to give you access to stored energy. Think in terms of electric drills or trimmers or firehoses, and not just guns.

So a marketing trigger is a communicational lever you can pull to tap into already present and stored up desires, emotions, or instincts for the purposes of empowering action on the part of the audience. You want the people who see or hear your ad to take action: to buy the product or service.

And for your ad to cause (or at least influence) action you’ll need to present your audience with more than just information and reason-why — you need to trigger emotions, desires, and instincts.

Let’s Talk About Ethos

I’ve written about Ethos before but let’s start with the ABC’s of the topic:

A)  Customers prefer to do business with people and companies that they like and trust. If they neither like nor trust you, chances are you won’t get their business if they have any other reasonable option open to them. Ethos determines your likability for a given audience.

B) People have expectations around how a banker, bouncer, and surf instructor should look and act, such that an investment banker who shows up to a nine figure deal in boardshorts probably isn’t going to go over so well, and a not-so-muscled guy in a three piece suit probably isn’t going to incur much respect trying to break up a fight in a biker bar. Meeting audience expectations through proper decorum, or strategicaly violating those expectations, is also an aspect of your ethos that should be intentionally planned out.

C) Given enough respect for another person, you’ll not only accept but act on their advice. Maybe that person is your grandfather. Or an old boss or commanding officer. Maybe it’s a mentor or coach or a personal hero of yours. Whoever it is, I’m sure you can imagine how their advice is acted on almost instantly while most advice you recieve gets taken with a grain of salt and/or a large dose of procrastination. That’s what makes ethos a powerful marketing trigger.

Digging Deeper

In my article on Genesis Stories, I talk about how Aristotle breaks Ethos down into three component attributes:

  1. Practical Wisdom (aka domain expertise) — Do you trust this person’s subject matter expertise?
  2. Disinterested Goodwill — Do you believe they have your best interests at heart?
  3. Virtue (not just honesty and integrity, but overall excellence) — Do you respect this person in general?

Or, in the terms of Jay Heinrichs, you could think of these three as: Craft, Caring, and Cause, respectively. Good advertising should positively position the brand / company / owner in terms of their craft, caring, and cause. And, as mentioned, one of the best ways to kick that off is with a strong genesis story.

But the thing to remember about Ethos and advertising is that there are multiple aspects of ethos involved in persuasion:

  • How the audience percieves you, the advertiser (in terms of caring, craft, and cause)
  • How the audience percieves themselves (in those same terms),
  • How they WISH or ASPIRE to be perceived (again in terms of caring, craft, and cause)

When using ethos as a marketing trigger it’s best to focus on the gaps between these aspects of ethos:

  • What’s the disconnect between how your audience actually see themselves and how they WISH to see themselves?  Is the disconnect primariy in terms of caring (they wish they cared more or were more passionate or maybe more compassionate)? Of craft or skill (they wish they had greater abilities)? Or in mission (they wish they were motivated by a larger cause and could consider themselves a dedicated member of a tribe)?
  • What’s the disconnect between how they see you and how they see themselves? Do they see you as more dedicated? More skilled? More objective? All three? Which one will have the biggest impact?  How can you create that perception?

If you can answer these questions, you can use ethos as a persuasive trigger.

In situations where you have no real competitive advantage (and neither do your competitors), you can build your ethos to get people to like and trust you more than your competitors. This will become the core of your advertising strategy.

In situations where you have a competitive advantage or a USP or a special sauce, you can relate the benefits delivered by all that to the prospect’s self image. Or better yet, to bridging the gap between their current and their aspirational self image. How can your product help them move from who they are now to who they really want to be.

marlboroAnd if this sounds a bit too theoretical and high-drift, just remember that we’re really talking about the essence of image-based branding. The Marlboro Man didn’t sell billions of dollars of cigarettes by engaging in reason-why advertising copy. Marlboro’s campaign established an ethos for the brand that appealed to the audience’s aspirational gap.

And that’s how it’s done.

Let’s say you raise chickens and farm eggs for a living.

And unlike big agribusiness, you’re trying to raise your chickens under humane conditions, to follow the spirit and not just the letter of the law for “organic,” and that your chickens truly are “free range.”

How do you compete with all the aggribusiness jerks who cut corners, spin words, play the loopholes and then get to claim the same “organic” and “free range” titles as you?

When the average shopper looks down at all her options staring up at her in the Whole Foods aisle, most of her choices are all going to say the same things, over and over again: organic feed, free range/cage-free, omega 3s, yada yada yada.

How do you make your eggs stand out in a sea of sameness?

Answer: put a number on your claim: 2014-09-13 12.23.41 The other eggs say “Cage Free” and leave it at that.

Alfreco Farms specifies “108 SQ FT Outdoors Per bird.”

They put a number to the idea of “free range.” And that added credibility was enough to win my sale.

But it’s the picture they draw on their Website that really brings it home: 2014-09-14_2219 Now you know EXACTLY how much the other jerks are equivocating when they call their hens “cage-free” or “free-range.”

And you not only know, but FEEL in your gut, just how big the difference is between Alfresco Farms’ pasture-raising and some mega-farm’s “organic” and “cage-free” practices.

So when you’re faced with a similar challenge, give this a try: Put a number on it, then paint a picture.

P.S. Note that this company also tries to use alternative labels and certifications: “pasture-raised” vs. “free range” and “certified humane” over and above “certified organic.” All good things to do, but none of them have the power of putting a number to the claim. 

I saw an Acura ad tonight that left me rivited.

Frankly, I’m not sure it’s all that great an ad in the bigger picture, but the editing and storytelling was genius.

Some may think I’m overstating my case on this, but no less a genius than Stanley Kubric claimed that the very best film editing was being done in commercials way back in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview. Check it out [italics are interviewer, normal font is Kubric, bolding is me]:

Books I’ve read on you seem to suggest that you consider editing the most important aspect of the filmmaker’s art.

There are three equal things: the writing, slogging through the actual shooting and the editing.

You’ve quoted Pudovkin to the effect that editing is the only original and unique art form in film.

I think so. Everything else comes from something else. Writing, of course, is writing, acting comes from the theater, and cinematography comes from photography. Editing is unique to film. You can see something from different points of view almost simuluneously, and it creates a new experience.

Pudovkin gives an example: You see a guy hanging a picture on the wall. Suddenly you see his feet slip; you see the chair move; you see his hand go down and the picture fall off the wall. In that split second, a guy falls off a chair, and you see it in a way that you could not see it any other way except through editing.

TV commercials have figured that out. Leave content out of it, and some of the most spectacular examples of film art are in the best TV commercials.

Give me an example.

The Michelob commercials. I’m a pro football fan, and I have videotapes of the games sent over to me, commercials and all. Last year Michelob did a series, just impressions of people having a good time —

The big city at night —

And the editing, the photography, was some of the most brilliant work I’ve ever seen. Forget what they’re doing — selling beer — and it’s visual poetry. Incredible eight-frame cuts. And you realize that in thirty seconds they’ve created an impression of something rather complex. If you could ever tell a story, something with some content, using that kind of visual poetry, you could handle vastly more complex and subtle material.

People spend millions of dollars and months’ worth of work on those thirty seconds.

So it’s a bit impractical. And I suppose there’s really nothing that would substitute for the great dramatic moment, fully played out. Still…

After reading this I tracked down those Michelob commercials to see for myself, and of course Kubric was right:

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Kubric was right about the billiance of the editing, but also in the limitations of these commercials, as they are the epitomy of style without substance being used to sell style and fashion (i.e., products without substance). There is a hint of a storyline in these ads, but it’s left very intentionally vague, impressionistic, and, well, fashionable. And that’s OK for beer, I guess, but probably not what you want for cars, though I don’t think those ads did anything for Michelob sales, either.

What you need for more substantive products like cars is a style that keeps the “visual poetry,” but harnesses it to tell a “story with content.”

Which is precisely what is so brilliant about this Acura Ad:

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Same visual poetry, but now it’s in the form of a cohent narrative that shows the passion behind the substantive efforts to make a substantive product: a performance-oriented luxury car.

Will this ad sell some freaking cars? I don’t know. But it should at least generate some interest. And maybe make you feel something for Acura you might not have ever felt before.

And that’s no small thing.

But forget about Acura, let’s talk about you!

Because I predict we’re going to be seeing more of this form of intense, rapid-fire visual poetry going forward. This Cirque Du Soleil-esque form of rapid distraction.

Sure, we’ll still pay attention to the well done, dramatic monologue. And sometimes it’s better to zig when others zag, like Dodge did a few Superbowl’s back.

But intelligently harnessing the power of rapid-distraction storytelling is becoming more and more common in mainstream advertising. And it’s not limited to just big national brands either. Frankly, I think the only thing stopping radio advertisisers from doing it is skill. Heck, it’s already been done once.

So what are you waiting for?

Do you know how to tell a story in rapdi-fire format?

Came across this DBB ad recently and was struck by how true everything in it remains. In fact, by how much more true it is today than on the day it first ran. Read it and see for yourself:

DDB Do This Or Die

Seems like the world of advertising — both in mass media and online — is in desperate need of another Creative Revolution, just as this post and this cool video suggest.

And frankly, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.


com.quora.androidHave you ever heard of Quora?

It’s a Q&A-style social media site. People ask questions and genuine no-kidding experts answer them. Then members vote the answers up or down. The Q&As you see in your newsfeed depend on who you follow, the interests you indicate, and (of course) the questions you pose.

My addiction to Quora flows from the quality of the answers: they’re almost always insightful, experienced-based, and often brilliant.

The List of Triggers I Snagged from Quora

At any rate, one of the first Q&As I read on Quara was this one on cognitive biases: “What are some good examples of biases being exploited in marketing?”

And this answer from Kevin William Lord Barry struck me as well worth reading, copying, and (eventually) posting and riffing on as a (series of) blog post(s) [bolding is mine]:

“I think exploitation is too strong a word. Humans communication in general is an emotional thing. In any case, here’s my master list:

1) Ethos (your perceived character) is the most important, as opposed to an appeal to pathos (emotions) or logos (logic).

2) People make judgments by comparison/anchoring.

3) People process information best from stories.

4) People are foremost interested in things that affect them.

5) Breaking patterns gets attention.

6) People look to other people‘s decisions when making decisions.

7) People will believe things more easily that fit their pre-existent mindset. The converse is also true.

8) People handle one idea at a time best.

9) People want more choices, but are happier with fewer.

10) People decide first, then rationalize – If people are stuck with something, they will like it more over time.

11) Experience is memory, the last part of the experience is weighted heavily.”

I’ve got to admit, Kevin created a pretty good list — why esle would I have reprinted it here? — but…

  • One, it’s hardly exhaustive. I bet most of you could think of a few principles and biases well worth adding, and I invite you to do so in the comments,
  • and Two, there’s no commentary, just the bare list, even though each item begs for some elaboration.

So in future posts, I’ll discuss what I’d add to the list, and then move through Kevin’s list and offer a deep-dive on each item. But for now, I’m just kind of interested in your thoughts.

What psychological principles or levers would you readers add to or take away from this list?

P.S. I’m sure many of you Cialdini fans will recognized item #6 as an expression of Social Proof — which sort of begs one to add the other “Weapons of Influence” to this list of cognitive exploits. And if you’re not familiar with Ciadlini, you can get an excellent quick and dirty intro to his 6 Principles of Influence from this video that my colleague, Tim Miles, sent me:

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2014-04-23_0836Balls Beat Brains, Balls Beat Budgets” — Andy Nulman

Advertising with heart kicks two ways:

1) Advertising with Values &                    Passion (heart = soul)

2) Courageous Advertising                       (heart = lion hearted) 

And, as you can see, both ways intersect in the heart. The word “courage” even comes from the French word for heart, which is why you can not only be courageous, but can encourage others, helping them to “take heart.”

This isn’t just theory, either; it’s observable fact.

Every small business advertiser I’ve worked with who had the guts to take a strong stand in their advertising (and then to back their claims up when the time came) always found the source of their gutsy courage in deeply and passionately held beliefs and values. Values imparted through family traditions, defining moments, and relationships.

This is important because it’s the business owners capable of advertising with heart that experience the most impressive (and sustained) growth.

So let’s take a closer look at Andy Nulman’s quote:

Balls Beat Brains

Of course smarts matter and sound strategy is crucial. But when it comes to small business advertising, the obstacles to adopting and implementing a sound strategy is rarely a lack of smarts or the inability to come up with (or have a professional come up with) a great strategy. The obstacle is always a lack of courage to embrace that great strategy once it has been presented.

Because great strategies are  always gutsy.

This isn’t to say they are risky, though. Often the riskiest thing is NOT to use a gutsy strategy.

Gutsy gets confused with risky simply because the identity of a privately owned company is inextricably tied to the self-image of the owner. So an owner of good taste and respectability can’t help but react to any necessarily outrageous (i.e. gutsy) advertising strategy by feeling as if it requires taking exceptional risks with her self image.

Here’s how that usually manifests:

1) “The risk of insult is the price of clarity”

To make an advertising claim powerful, you have to use surprising, vivid language, and your statements have to be made without the usual conditionals, exemptions, caveats, and contextual preambles that would render them perfectly defensible.

In other words, your words have to be dramatic. And to be dramatic you have to “cause a scene,” which is to say you have to exhibit the crass bad manners of drawing attention to yourself by leveraging other people’s attentional triggers.

Business owners with manners don’t want to “cause a scene,” so their natural tendency is to wimp on the messaging by filing off all the sharp edges from the ads. “We just can’t say that!”

It takes courage (or shamelessness in general) to look at sharp messaging strategy and commit to it without flinching.

2) Saying what you stand against means making enemies

This one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?  If you choose whom to lose and state what you stand against, you’re not only purposely excluding some people and drawing a line in the sand, you’re also calling out anyone who believes otherwise.

Most business owners don’t want to do that. They want everyone to like them (and give them their business), so pissing off anyone seems like a bad way to advertise. Unfortunately, no business can be all things to all people, and you can’t have insiders without outsiders. You have to be for someone in particular, not everyone in general, if you want your message to resonate.

So only those business owners with the emotional passion to take a stand and the courage to make enemies end up with loyal customers, real brand value, and advertising capable of attracting and building such.

3) Strong Offers Absent Fine Print Means Occassionally Taking It On the Chin

My partner, Roy Williams calls it “budgeting for the knucklehead factor,” and it comes down to this: when you make unconditional guarantees on something — the quality of your products, a no excuse delivery date, an offer of a free trial — you have to overcome the fear that people will take advantage of you.

Make no mistake, it’s not a baseless fear; a small percentage of people WILL take advantage of you. That small percentage will shamelessly return an obviously abused or past-the-service-life item and ask for a replacement. Or gluttonously thieve three or four free trials, rather than limiting themselves to one. And so on.

Those people are knuckleheads, and yes, you should anticipate and budget for their shenanigans, precisely so that you can take it on the chin and smilingly live up to your promise.

Yet the real fear that business owners face isn’t the reasonably assessed risk that a small percentage of people will take advantage of them; it’s the nightmare scenario where 30% to 100% of them do. Fortunately, that scenario only exists in nightmares. Any business owner with the heart and the courage to face that fear down inevitably finds that the knuckleheads make an exceedingly small percentage of the population.

Believe it or not, the vast majority of people will treat you fairly, the vast majority of the time. Just ask companies like Walmart and LL Bean and Nordstroms — companies that make unconditional guarantees and suffer the knuckleheads in order to enjoy the business and loyalty (and profits) from the rest of us.

So for small businesses, this kind of advertising requires a double dose of courage: one to look past the irrational fear and make the strong promise or guarantee, and another to take it on the chin when the inevitable knucklehead forces the issue.

4) Telling Your Genesis Story Requires Real Vulnerability

Telling an audience about your life-defining moment takes guts because you are openly exposing your soul. But it’s also one of the only ways we’ll ever believe in your mission and your irrational commitment to it. As I wrote earlier, if you want us to believe in your superpowers, you’ve got to tell us about your genesis story.

And because telling a genesis story requires vulnerability, including one in your advertising takes guts. It takes heart in both senses of the word. Some business owners have it. Most don’t. Just ask yourself, would you be willing to expose something like this:

“When I was seven years old, I held my father’s head in my hands as he took his last breath and died. A thing like that stays with you. It helps you under­stand that rela­tion­ships – peo­ple – are what life’s all about.You gotta tell’em you love’em.

This is J.R. Dunn. So now you know why I became a jew­eler. Fine jew­elry is one of the ways we tell peo­ple we love ’em. When I got older and fell head-over-heals for Ann Marie, the love of my life, I didn’t have enough money to buy her an engage­ment ring. She mar­ried me any­way. Go figure.

But I can promise you this: If you’re think­ing of get­ting engaged to the love of your life, come to J.R. Dunn Jew­el­ers in Light­house Point. No one in Florida, no one in Amer­ica, is going to give you a bet­ter engage­ment ring for your money than me. One of the great joys of my life is to make it pos­si­ble for guys to give the woman they love the dia­mond she deserves.

There was nobody there for me when I needed an engage­ment ring. But I promise I’ll be there for you.”

That’s J.R. Dunn’s Genesis story. And it took real heart to broadcast it to the world in a radio ad. Would you have the courage to do the same?

Balls Beat Budgets

The formula is quite simple:

Salience * Repetition = Long Term Memory Storage

Salience is just another word for emotional importance (aka relevance). The more emotionally important something is, the less repetition it takes to lodge in your long term memory.

You can probably remember how and when you proposed to your wife, even though you only proposed once (and if you had to propose more than once, that definitely got permantly chiseled into your consciousness). You can also likely recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news about 9-11.

And as a former high school teacher, I can also tell you that the opposite is true: as emotional importance falls to zero, the number of repetitions required to make something stick approaches infinity.

Courageous Advertising amps up the emotional importance — the surprise and the audacity — of the ads in order to boost the salience of the message. Assuming, of course, that the message had any relevance to the customer to begin with. Commiting to a relevant message to begin with requires courage, and then accepting gutsy wording/copy requires additional courage from the business owner.

The upshot is that courageous ads require significantly less repetition. And in advertiging, repetition = money.  That’s how small budgets beat big budgets, or in Andy’s terms, how Balls Beat Budgets.

Better yet, audacious advertising gets it’s own free press and attention — on an order way beyond what even most big budgets can buy.  Just ask the creators of the Poo Pourri video below how much free news coverage and viral sharing their video received. It’s on the order of hundreds of millions. And it was made for just a few thousand dollars.

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Of course, it takes some audacity to make an ad like that, but that’s the point, isn’t it?

And it’s not just about videos. This applies to publicity stunts, signage, store decoration, direct mail packages — everything. Audacity gets noticed, remarked on, and spread by word of mouth, social media, news, etc. This is another way that balls beat budget.

Of course, audacity is one thing, but audacity that reflects your values and deeply held beliefs is even better. Remember, it’s best to combine both meanings of courage — heart and balls.

That’s why effective advertising is almost always courageous advertising.

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