In a salute to all the new graduates this spring, I’m replaying one of my favorite posts, about the most gifted book a graduate is likely to receive…
Saying What Your Customers Can’t
If I told you one particular book sells almost 300,000 copies every single year, what would you guess actually drives those phenomenal yearly sales? Want a few hints?
- It’s not a how-to, Chicken Soup, or For-Dummies book
- The vast majority of those 300,000 copies are sold in the spring
Give up? The book is Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go – an incredibly popular gift for graduates.
That book manages to powerfully communicate what hundreds of thousands of parents and relatives all want to say but can’t quite seem to say nearly as well as the good Doctor. And because he has so graciously supplied them with the means of saying it, Dr. Suess continues to sell huge amounts of books spring, after spring, after spring — for as long as there are proud parents of new graduates needing to hear the message.
The question for you, dear Business Owner, is what are you helping people say?
- What are you helping them say about themselves?
- What are you helping them say to others?
Because not quite knowing how to say what’s on your heart is something we all suffer from - and something most of us will gladly pay for relief from.
Are you willing to harness the same profit engine that Dr. Suess has used to sell millions upon millions of copies of Oh, The Places You’ll Go? This brilliant radio ad by Adam Donmoyer represents a perfect example of how to harness this power to drive sales:
That ad sold more watches that Fathers’ Day than that jewelry store has ever sold on any day, ever. All because they helped plenty of daughters say what they really wanted to say, but weren’t quite able to give voice to on their own.
What are you helping your customers say?
Not only is it possible to animate your advertising with the proven cartooning principles of squish and squash, but it works even better when you apply some of that same strategic animation to your business itself.
But to do that, we have to understand how Squish and Squash is related to exaggeration and visual impact. Here’s an excellent example I downloaded and swiped from Mark Kennedy’s brilliant blog:
Before Squash and Stretch
After Squash and Stretch
The difference is pretty astounding isn’t it?
Full alignment with the direction of movement + exaggeration of the line of movement. And just to drive home the “exaggeration of the line of movement” part, take a look at this other swiped picture from a Willard Mullin download (also downloaded via Mark Kennedy):
What’s This Got to Do With Your Business?
First of all, understand that there’s the product or service you’re selling, and then there’s what you’re REALLY selling. Because unless you are hawking commodities at commodity prices, what you’re really selling goes way beyond product or service and get’s down to brand promise.
And the delivery of brand promise within your business is where you need all that alignment and strategic exaggeration.
Take Starbucks, for example. Did they really need to call their small, medium, and large coffees Tall, Grande, and Venti? It’s almost kind of silly, isn’t it? The kind of thing that’s easily parodied.
But it’s also an exaggeration designed to make the names aligned with the brand promise (not to mention the brand prices). Same thing with the music, the decore, the ludicrous choices and special lingo for how you want your drink prepared, etc.
This kind of exaggeration and alignment takes guts precisely because it’s easy to make fun of. But the added profit makes it easy to endure the laughs : )
Bottom Line: the experience of whatever it is that you’re *really* selling could easily be improved with a little animation via alignment and exaggeration. You just need the desire and the guts to do it.
P.S. I apologize for the “brand promise” jargon. I generally try to steer clear of marketing-speak, but that was the only term I could come up with to get at the non-tangibles that allow a branded product to easily charge premium prices.
When animators, and often times writers, wish to show an internal, emotional state, they’re forced to look for and use “objective correlatives.” In other words, they have to use the outward cues and signs that correspond to the emotion.
And just as importantly, they then have to “animate” those cues and signs through a form of artistic exaggeration. For instance, when a man sees an excruciatingly attractive woman, his pupils will dilate, his eyes will widen, and his heart will race a bit, or “skip a beat.” This is all relatively subtle (even if the attendant leering and head snapping is not), but subtle is not how animators need to do things. So this is how they represent it:
Understand that this is not just crude exaggeration, but instead represents a process of:
- Finding the right cues and signs (aka small specific details) for a given emotion, reaction, or situation
- Exaggerating those cues and signs through the animation principle of Squash and Stretch.
Applying This to Your Marketing
When asked what makes them different, unique, and better, a whole lot of Main Street Businesses end up with the response that “we care about the customer,” or “we simply provide better quality and better service.”
Yet while it’s wonderful that they do care — I wouldn’t want to write ads for a business owner who didn’t, frankly — you simply can’t put that in your advertising and expect results.
So what do you do?
You look for the objective correlates and you apply some squash and stretch.
In other words, what are the signs and cues of your caring and your superior quality? Caring is an internal state on your part. How does the customer end up sensing or experiencing that care? What actions do you take and what sacrifices do you make because you care?
If you insist on higher quality, how does that play out in the construction process? How does that impact the customers experience of your product? In what ways would they be sorry if they didn’t get that higher level of quality?
Now exaggerate and animate these things in your advertising. So let’s suppose you own a bakery that specializes in donuts and, well, you really care about the quality of your donuts. And one of the objective correlatives of that is that you’re willing to get up at an ungodly hour in order to ensure that your morning customers will get freshly made donuts each day. Here’s what a little squish and squash might do for you:
If the squish and squash part seems a bit tricky, you’re right to think so — it IS tricky. And if you’re guessing this doesn’t just apply to the ads, but to the business itself, you’re guessing right on that as well. Creating some objective correlatives and then exaggerating them a bit is a big part of imputing quality and “learning to think like the customer.” More on this later : )
Unfortunately, most textbooks and teachers act as if they are three separate and exclusive appeals, as if you must choose one over the others, or as if they are essentially unrelated to each other.
This is totally and fatally wrong. Here’s the right way to think of these things, as quoted from Dr. Jonathan Shay’s essay, Aristotle’s Rhetoric as a Handbook of Leadership [emphasis mine]:
Aristotle shows us that leader has three interrelated means of achieving his fellow citizens’ trust:
- Appeal to their character (éthos)
- Appeal to their reason (lógos)
- Appeal to their emotions (páthos)
These three are interrelated, not separate, because the goals of action arise from the troops’ ideals, ambitions, and affiliations—their character. Reason concerns the means to reach those goals. And the emotions arise primarily from their cognitive assessments of the real-world improvement or deterioration of their ideals, ambitions, affiliations, and how fast they are changing in the world.
Aristotle has useful comments on the leader’s need to build trust through appeal to the troops’ character and emotion. He even explains how it is possible to be “too rational,” losing the trust of those you are trying to lead. (See Garver’s, “Making Discourse Ethical: Can I Be Too Rational?”)
Now, to be fair, Dr. Shay’s essay also examines the importance of the leaders Ethos as perceived by his followers/audience, but this is the aspect of ethos most everyone else already focuses on, with lots of solid content on incorporating speaker/brand ethos into your copy. What most people gloss over when discussing ethos is the importance of the audience’s ethos.
Why is this so important?
Because you want to appeal to prospective customers’ best image of (and aspirations for) themselves. Then show how your advocated course of action corresponds with that image.
And when you do this, you’re not ignoring pathos or logos, either. The emotional appeal in your copy will stem from the gap between the reader’s ideal image of themselves and the current (often frustrating and disappointing) reality. While the logos will both demonstrate the credibility of your proposed solution while also demonstrating your inherent respect for the audience. To quote a bit more from Dr. Shay’s essay:
The centrality of rational explanation (“argument”), rather than coercion or deception, shows the leader’s respect for the troops, who are his or her fellow citizens. You can’t separate respect from good will… The persuasive power that comes when a leader appeals to reason comes more from the degree to which it provides evidence for the leader’s respect toward the troops than from the power of reason to compel assent, or having compelled assent, to guide or restrain behavior.
Or as I like to say, Facts need Drama and Drama needs Facts.
So, while I fully recognize that the character or ethos of the leader/speaker/brand IS indeed incredibly important, I’d suggest that this is so only in relationship to the ethos of the audience.
Start with the audience’s self-identity first, and the rest will fall into place.
We like to think our memories are both accurate and unchanging, but the truth is they’re far from either. Research by Elizabeth Loftus has shown memories to be extraordinary malleable and capable of being falsified. And pioneering research in social psychology has shown the mind-bending power of cognitive dissonance to alter our memories.
So what does this have to do with advertising and small business?
The Festinger and Carlsmith Experiment
First, let’s review the research in cognitive dissonance. Here’s a quick and dirty write-up of the original experiments conducted by Festinger and Carlsmith:
- At the beginning of the experiment, student volunteers were asked to perform a simple and boring task.
- Then, before the subjects left the experiment, the experimenter asked if the subject would be willing to do a small favor for the experimenter, specifically asking if they would tell the next subject in line that the experiment was fun and enjoyable.
- Subjects who agreed to do this were paid either $1 or $20. Subjects in both groups typically agreed to tell the next subject that the experiment was interesting.
- But when experimenters followed up with the subjects, the highly paid subjects confessed that the experiment was actually boring, while the lower-paid subjects were more likely to say that the experiment was “not bad” or that it was “interesting.”
So why the difference in opinions between the lower-paid and highly-paid volunteers?
Cognitive Dissonance and Cialdini’s Influence
Psychologists call it Cognitive Dissonance, but if you’re a fan of Cialdini’s book, Influence, you probably know it as an example of Commitment and Consistency. Either way, social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen it in the absence of strong outside pressure.
So for the Festinger and Carlsmith experiment, a large reward (like a $20 payment in 1950s money) counts as strong outside pressure, while a $1 payment does not. That’s why the lower-paid volunteers (and not the higher-paid ones) changed their judgement to reflect the “stories” they told the other “volunteers” — the story that the experiment was fun and enjoyable!
OK. Now how would this apply to you and your business?
Despite what you may be thinking, the applications do NOT involve some Machiavellian plan to implant false memories or employ psychological pressure on your prospects/customers through cognitive dissonance. And for the record, I truly do NOT recommend such schemes.
What I do wish to emphasize, however, is this fairly straightforward bottom line:
*People Remember What Gets Reinforced Through Re-Presentation*
So the great results you get for people? You might want to ensure that experience gets reinforced, right?
And the best thing that people remember from your work? You might want to reinforce that, too, right?
And the time you jumped through some hoops to get them something extra or extra-fast? Ditto.
So how do you make sure these things get Reinforced? Through Re-presentation. And what the hell does that mean?
Understanding and Using Re-Presentation
At it’s simplest, representation is nothing more than a recounting of events through narrative. When you tell me what happened, you are re-presenting the experience and also solidifying the memories of that experience — but only for those memories that get included in the story. What gets recounted in the narrative gets reinforced, and those aspects left out of the narrative get diminished from memory.
In more elaborate form, a re-presentation can involve making abstract benefits tangible. Or providing a symbolic marker/event for an accomplishment earned over time.
When weight loss services give you a bag of sand that weighs as much as the fat you lost, they’re reinforcing the benefit through a dramatic re-presentation of your weight loss. Same thing with the before and after snapshots.
When a martial arts dojo gives your kiddo a new belt through testing, they are helping to commemorate progress with a symbolic marker/event. Same thing with breaking boards. What’s more likely to stick out when you tell someone about your experience at the dojo: all the times you sat watching your kids work through forms, or the moment you saw one of them break a stack of pine boards with their bare hands?
So what’s the best method for ensuring your clients most favorable memories get reinforced?
Use symbolic and tangible markers combined with narrative re-presentations to really ensure those positives get cemented in memory. Don’t just hand the successful weight loss client a bag of sand, tell their story, and then get their emotional response and testimonial on video tape. Your retelling of the story, plus the dramatic re-presentation of their accomplishment, plus their own recounting of their success and happiness at the event will ensure they never forget the way they feel about that accomplishment.
So what symbolic markers and tangible, dramatic re-presentations are you using? What kind of narrative re-presentations?
Don’t leave positive impressions of benefits to chance. Reinforce them through re-presentation.
The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss
“Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking…”
The $80 Embroidery, by Lacoste (poem by me)
Now, some polos have emblems and some have none.
And those emblems resemblems all critters under the sun
Moose and Crocs and Sheeps and Ponies,
All set-up to cost you more monies
Why should those emblems matter at all?
Those critters are cute but still rather small…
But they’re sure to win the approval of cronies
So search out those emblems and join all the phonies
P.S. I’m not really calling Polo and Lacoste wearing folks phonies. I’ve got my favorite brands like everyone else. But, hey, it fit in with the rhyme scheme and general theme. Also, if you’re interested in the subject of mimetic desire (and you should be) you can read more about it here and here.