Monthly Archives: March 2010

Science and Advertising, Simple or Complicated?

The LA Times recently ran this wrap around ad on its front page edition, dated Friday, March 5, 2010.

LATimes Depp Front Page Ad

As this NY Times story demonstrates, there was some discussion between the editorial guys and the business guys over this decision with the news folks losing to the money folks.

The LAT did something like this a year ago.

Clearly the people who own the LAT believe they must make their advertising appeals this obvious to maintain their journalism.  To speak truth to power, you do need to be in business.  That’s just the tension.

But, my concern is with scientists who want to get their work into journalism sources.  Why would you want to associate your Truth with this?

Rethinking about Rethinking Marketing

Marital Marketing Mix

Here’s the premise:

Imagine a brand manager sitting in his office developing a marketing strategy for his company’s new sports drink. He identifies which broad market segments to target, sets prices and promotions, and plans mass media communications. The brand’s performance will be measured by aggregate sales and profitability, and his pay and future prospects will hinge on those numbers.

What’s wrong with this picture? This firm—like too many—is still managed as if it were stuck in the 1960s, an era of mass markets, mass media, and impersonal transactions.

Here’s the conclusion:

To compete in this aggressively interactive environment, companies must shift their focus from driving transactions to maximizing customer lifetime value. That means making products and brands subservient to long-term customer relationships. And that means changing strategy and structure across the organization—and reinventing the marketing department altogether.

Let me rethink this rethinking with thoughts about marketing, persuasion, and relationships.

Marketing is classically defined as activities that facilitate the exchange between a buyer and a seller in a marketplace.  It requires, not implies, but requires:  people who are buyers or sellers, products or services, a medium of exchange, and a marketplace.  As long as you stick closely to the common meanings of these terms, marketing is an obviously powerful method.  When you extend the meaning of these terms through metaphor, the method moderates.  Think about the failure of Charlotte Beers at the State Department and branding the US.  Marketing works with markets, but not so well with diplomacy.  Marketing works with brands, but not so well with public perception of nations.

Persuasion is communication that changes the way freely choosing people think, feel, or act.  The communication can be interpersonal or mediated and it can lead to immediate behavior change, an impulse buy, or merely belief change.  Most importantly, there is an inherent asymmetry in persuasion:  The source and receiver goals and expectations are not the same and there does not have to be an exchange of “like for like” (e.g. buying a pair of shoes with money).

Relationships can be defined numerous ways, but all definitions focus on the amount, quality, and frequency of information exchange.  The most intense, intimate, and usually long-lasting relationships (with or without sex) thrive on a lot of honest, authentic, spontaneous, guileless, rapid, and frequent information exchange.  The least intense, intimate, and usually short-term relationships (again with or without sex) run on information that is constrained, role bound, required, formulaic, traditional, scripty, legalistic or legal.

Let’s now consider the mix of these three concepts with the premise, that of shifting from ” . . . their focus from driving transactions to maximizing customer lifetime value . . . and long-term customer relationships.”  The premise suggest an important addition to the classic definition of marketing that now includes a long-term “relationship” between buyers and sellers.  Stated another way, if you don’t build a long-term relationship in a transaction, you’re at least doing bad marketing and if you want to be professorial about it, you are not actually doing Rethinking Marketing.

As claimed earlier, relationship varies with information exchange between the source and receiver, so if Rethinking Marketing requires a long-term relationship, marketers must offer more information that is honest, authentic, spontaneous, guileless, and rapid.  And, some of that information should be not about the standard elements of marketing (buyer and seller, goods and services, medium of exchange, marketplace, price, product, placement, and promotion), but about the relationship between the two partners.  The partners should disclose emotional needs to one another, behavior preferences.  The partners should compromise based on emotions, past actions, current needs.

Relationships that mix persuasion with lifetime value into trust, openness, authenticity, disclosure, and feedback are tricky things.  Imagine running a marriage with marketing principles.  Or just a friendship.  Sure, you can see the analogies, but if trust in a marriage is a product with a price that varies with promotion and placement, you probably belong on Yet Another Reality TV Show.

Acting and Persuading

MetaphorI’d like to consider the relationship between persuasion and acting.  Certainly the similarities are obvious with that strategic sense of pretending in order to accomplish some other goal at the top of the list.  Acting, like persuasion, is strategic or it is not.  But there are deeper subtleties.  Let’s start with an observation from a critic looking at changes in American actors over time.

David Thomson in the Wall Street Journal offers a sharp analysis of Method Acting and its decline.  He makes many interesting points, but one point, primarily of emphasis, struck me for its application to persuasion.  Thomson observes:

Something odd is happening to our actors. No one seems to talk about it, but it’s there, and it has to do with our uneasiness over “sincerity.” Now, we’d like people to tell us the truth—whether our president or our spouse—yet we find it hard to trust “sincerity.” After 100 years and all those movies, wide eyes and an unwavering look too often seem like a proof of acting.

You may recall my Rule:  All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.  The subtlety of the Rule is not that you must lie, deceive, or falsify to achieve, but rather you will probably fail if you try earnestly, obviously, authentically, spontaneously or more simply, sincerely.

Thomson explores his point in a comparison between Method actors (from Marlon Brando to Robert DeNiro) to Technique Actors (from Laurence Olivier to Meryl Streep) to illustrate the decline of acting sincerity.

Now, I would first quibble that whatever the differences between Method and Technique actors, there are all first and foremost actors which means that the good ones are insincere, even the Methodologists.  While Brando may seek out his own experience to inform his performance of Terry in “On The Waterfront,” he still selects from a variety of personal experiences to find what he thinks is the one key to the correct performance.  Thus, even though Brando looks sincere in his Method, there is a planned, deliberate, and cold blooded decision.

Past this quibble, what do we learn about persuasion in our consideration of acting, whether through Method or Technique?

First, both acting and persuasion share similarities.  Both typically proceed from some form of script.  There’s an old theater expression:  If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.  Good persuasion should function the same way.  It is not necessary to have every word, gesture, and move prescribed in advance, but without advance planning, if only to identify the TACT and a play, persuasion will fail if left as a spontaneous reaction.

Second, both benefit from repeated performances, not just rehearsals.  Actors learn about their characters and the rest of the play during performance and adjust through a run.  Persuaders do the same.  In face to face sales, you encounter recurring commonplaces – the same worries about cost, convenience, availability, feasibility, and on and on – that allow you to try the “same thing” repeatedly, almost like Groundhog Day, but with enough variety so that you learn to move faster, smoother, and more effectively.  In a persuasion campaign, you also get repeated opportunities to change a TACT and learn from your receivers.

Third, both acting and persuasion share that dynamic tension between the natural and the artificial.  Even Technique actors let themselves naturally go and simply show their real selves as if it is the character.  And, too, with Method actors, while they always seek the key note from their personal experience, their deadly planning and selection renders the action something less than spontaneous even though it is “real.”  The same tension exists in persuasion.  You often have a personal stake in the Other Guy’s change and that natural force animates your action, but it occurs within a sense of restraint and control in recognition that the action is, after all, about the Other Guy, not you.

Fourth, in a few instances the acting and the persuasion benefit both parties in the interaction.  Both the actor and the audience may achieve insight, experience exhilaration, or merely share laughter and pleasure – it’s an equal exchange of value.  The same exchange of value can sometimes occur in persuasion as the receivers change to a more desirable thought, feeling, or action and the source derives satisfaction in a form of altruism.  Many teaching and coaching experiences provide just this opportunity.

Fifth, and finally, acting and persuasion share an imaginative spark, a creative flash, that hot hit you get in the moment of decision and action.  While both have the planned performance element, what makes both exciting, thrilling, and baffling is that magic of the instant, the “here it is, never to be repeated” moment where everything comes together either in combination or collision with the thrill of success or emptiness of failure just on the other side of that unrepeatable moment.  You just never know how it’s going to turn out, do you?

Persuasion is the performance of a play.  A paraphrase from Harold Goddard’s criticism of Shakespeare is apt here.

A play’s prosperity lies in the ear

of him that hears it; never in the voice

of him that speaks it.

Beep Beep

BeepBeep ContainerPeople fail to take their medications properly and this leads to continuing and sometimes worsening health conditions.  The largest reason is forgetfulness.  If you are of an age, say under 50, this seems largely unbelievable.  How can people forget whether they’ve taken their daily pill?  An Evil Pharma once hired me to answer that question and since I was under 50 at the time, I thought they were crazy to even ask it.  What?  People can’t remember whether they’ve taken a pill!  Then . . . time passes, I’m over 50 and I get it.  Sometime after 50 you’ll understand this too and you can give me a friendly wave of acknowledgment.  Perhaps I’ll even remember what it’s about!

But to the problem with pills.  How do you make people behave like proper boys and girls and take their medicine?  This article in the Wall Street Journal provides a nice description of the range of solutions.  My favorite is the beeping container.  Basically, researchers are testing a pill box that emits . . . ah, information to the user.  Maybe it glows.  Maybe it beeps.  Perhaps an email reminder to your iGizmo.

Sounds like a solution and it is, but what problem does it solve?  If you take just a minute to think about this, you should realize that Beep-Beep is a simple thing, but even simple things can function in a wide variety of ways.  Is it a stimulus, a response, or a consequence?  Something else?  Consider.

Feedback.  Of course!  Pure feedback, right?  You’ve got a goal state (taking the pill on schedule) and your current state (haven’t taken the pill) and some feedback (beep-beep) that alerts you to the difference between the goal and your current state.  So, this thing should work pretty well because as I’ve noted before, Feedback Is A Good Thing.

Ding-Dong.  Of course!  Mere classical conditioning, right?  You’ve got the ultimate stimulus (Beep-Beep) that elicits a response (gulp) that evolved from a simple pattern of unconditioned associations leading to conditioned S-R bonds.  There’s not even a simple feedback analysis that compares the current state to the goal state.  No thinking here at all.  Beep-Beep is just Ding-Dong.

Why? Because.  Of course!  Every time you hear that Beep-Beep, you ask yourself, Why?, and begin the attributional search for meaning that boils down to an answer that is either Internal (I made this happen) or External (Somebody is doing this to me).  Now, Beep-Beep is a lot more complicated.  It’s not Feedback and it is not Ding-Dong, but a search for answers that forks the path and leads to either the Internal or External exit ramp.

If you go on the Internal exit ramp, Beep-Beep is a Good Thing.  Why is that thing beeping at me?  Because I am getting old and losing my short and medium term memory faster than my hair and it is damn near impossible to remember getting dressed this morning even though I’m wearing pants right now, but of course, I could have slept in them and wouldn’t remember that either and, oh, why is that thing beeping at me?  I forget a lot and it reminds me to, to, . . . take a pill . . . or else check and see if Melanie has trapped herself in the basement again!  The key point in this rabbit hole of memory is that the Beep-Beep elicits an Internal Attribution where you take personal responsibility for the medicine, the container, the beeper, everything.  Then, it’s All Good.

But, if you take the External exit ramp, Beep-Beep may be a Bad Thing.  It reminds you of that bossy, whippersnapper physician who’s always nagging you and that greedy whippersnapper pharmacist who’s pushing pills for profit and those Evil Pharmas owning the world, and Health Care Reform and on and on.  Forces outside of you are beeping at you, pushing you around, controlling you, manipulating you.  And you will likely take the External Exit Ramp because your body is falling apart and no one wants to own up to that!

So, Beep-Beep, a simple thing, is actually many things:  Feedback, Ding-Dong, and Why? Because.  And every time the container goes Beep-Beep, any one of these functions may arise making each time the First Time.

So, how do you handle it?  Well, you could . . .

. . . hey, hire me, write a check, and let’s get serious.  Do you really expect me to deliver the money shot for free in this blog post?  Come on.  This is worth millions of dollars.  You didn’t take my advice in 2001 and look what happened then!

Down Goes Science! Down Goes Science! Down Goes Science!

You Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple.

A Rule that implies . . .

You Should Not Persuade a Falling Apple.

. . . because when you try, you make your science look like persuasion and not like science.  I’ve warned on this and to no avail.  Consider this headline.

As Climate Change Debate Wages On,

Scientists Turn to Hollywood for Help!

What’s past is prologue from the Sweet Science.  Cue up Mr. Cosell calling the fight with Foreman and Frazier.

Never make science a voting proposition.

P.S. Who wrote that headline?  Elmer Fudd?  Debate “wages” on?

Bellows Fight

What’s Green and Fat? BodyHeat 2.0

BodyHeatScientists are developing an energy cell that stores reusable energy based on the movement of your body.  Breathing alone generates energy, but capturing, storing, and reusing that energy is a difficult technical problem.  But, we’re getting closer, so let’s imagine a gizmo something like a piece of duct tape that you place on your body that has an output wire you can connect to all manner of small iWhatever devices.  Body movement alone powers them.

My first prediction from this technology:  More Obesity!

Sure, some enterprising scientist will do a zillion dollar NIH grant that puts this device, let’s call it BodyHeat, in your shoes.  And, the researchers will pitch this as a clever form of persuasion that encourages kids to walk and run more so that they save enough energy for all their iWhatevers in an energy efficient way.  Green BodyHeat!  And they’ll report a 134% increase in physical activity in the BodyHeat group compared to the Control lamers.  Obesity epidemic solved!

Except that the technology for BodyHeat will improve so that as long as you breathe occasionally BodyHeat 2.0 will capture and store enough energy to power your house all day.  Why run?  Why walk?  Just breathe and you’re Green, baby.

Green and Fat.

Chamberlain’s Tragedy or Dissonance from Munich

Neville Chamberlain Paper in Hand

While reading Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson on the rebellion within the Tory party against their leader Neville Chamberlain and his popular policy of appeasement with Hitler and Nazi Germany, I encountered this revealing quotation.

The P.M. (Chamberlain) is very depressed about press attacks on him: he needs a tonic, says David Margesson; but in fact I think he suffers from a curious vanity and self-esteem which were born at Munich and have flourished, in spite of a good many wounds, ever since.

This quote comes from the diary of John Colville who served as a personal secretary to Chamberlain and worked daily with the Prime Minister.  And, it provides a glimpse at the potential operation of dissonance in Neville Chamberlain and serves to help understand his thinking and action.  Keep this key quote in mind:

“. . . he suffers from a curious vanity and self-esteem which were born at Munich . . .”

As a quick history refresher, recall that Chamberlain led Great Britain during Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany.  Chamberlain pursued a popular policy of appeasement as the means of preventing a second World War in Europe.  The crowning achievement of appeasement occurred at a 1938 meeting in Munich where Chamberlain secured an agreement (YouTube link with key quote at 2:09 in clip) from Hitler that Chamberlain believed produced Peace In Our Time.

Neville Chamberlain at Airport

But, almost from the moment that Chamberlain uttered Peace In Our Time, Hitler moved to ensure War.  Yet despite every prevarication, violation, and provocation from Herr Hitler, Chamberlain held fast to the agreement and defended it.  The quote from Colville explains in small part why Chamberlain persisted in pursuing appeasement while the world around him was collapsing.

Colville had worked with Chamberlain well before Munich and continued until Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister in 1939.  Colville’s observation reveals that Chamberlain viewed the Munich agreement as a central part of his self concept and self esteem.  He committed himself to the core with that agreement.  Thus, any following bad acts from Hitler did not simply threaten an agreement between nations, but also threatened Chamberlain’s perception of himself and his self worth, making it difficult for Chamberlain to accurately assess events.

And, apparently, Chamberlain never gained perspective on appeasement.  Even at the end of his life, less than a year after he left his office, he wrote:

So far as my personal reputation is concerned, I am not in the least disturbed about it. The letters which I am still receiving in such vast quantities so unanimously dwell on the same point, namely without Munich the war would have been lost and the Empire destroyed in 1938 … I do not feel the opposite view … has a chance of survival. Even if nothing further were to be published giving the true inside story of the past two years, I should not fear the historian’s verdict.

Neville Chamberlain and Hitler

This is the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy.  Chamberlain was a good and gifted statesman, but filled with vanity, and more human still, certainty about his vanity.  While he did do good things, he thought very well of himself for doing them.  Hitler exploited Chamberlain’s character, tying the agreement to Chamberlain’s skill, making Chamberlain believe in his own abilities.  That personal in the political chained Chamberlain to the dissonance path.  Thus, every evil act Hitler committed served only to strengthen Chamberlain’s attachment to the Munich agreement because Chamberlain could not separate an evaluation of the agreement from his own self worth.

Perhaps, thinking about dissonance in a Shakespearean tragedy can help us understand this psychology better.  Dissonance is the means by which good people can persist in bad and foolish acts while never achieving insight into the failure.  Dissonance is the trap that uses pride as the bait.

Marilyn Monroe or Spring Ahead?

DST Collage

Hmmm.  What’s going on today?  It’s not Melanie’s birthday or our anniversary so I’m good on that.  No deadlines for clients or publishers.  Gee, took the garbage out.  Oh, yeah.  It’s Spring Ahead!  Set your clocks ahead today.  Wow.  That’s big.  How can I capitalize on this?  Everyone’s buzzing about it, so it’s current, trendy, NOW.  Think, Steve.  Think!

Maybe I could do something like the New England Journal of Medicine and scare people with FauxItAll Science about Spring Ahead reminding everyone that It Kills You!  I might get media coverage like this.

Yeah.  I could do that.  Instead, I’ll show the persuasion trick.  The tactic is simple.  Use your credibility to present useless data but expressed in Scientese.  Consider.

The incidence ratio for the first week after the spring shift, calculated as the incidence for all 7 days divided by the mean of the weekly incidences 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after, was 1.051 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.032 to 1.071). In contrast, after the transition out of daylight saving time in the autumn, only the first weekday was affected significantly (Fig. 1B); the incidence ratio for the whole week was 0.985 (95% CI, 0.969 to 1.002).

Holy Heart Attack, Batman!  That mind numbing, grammar cracking, and meaning mashing paragraph sounds deadly!  What it means without all the deliberate double talk is that heart attacks increase about 5% over normal when you Spring Ahead and decrease about 4% when you Fall Back.  Now, anything more than 0% is an increase (or a decrease) and since we’re talking about heart attacks, this is serious, right?

No.  This is trivial, unscientific, and untrue.

Expressed as the Windowpane, a Small Effect (45/55 difference) would be rewritten as a 50% change.  Thus, the effect reported here of 5%, is 10 times smaller than a Small Effect.

The only reason it appears to be scientifically important is the huge sample size that makes such trivial numbers Statistically Significant.  (Propeller Head Side note:  And given that there is no random sampling here, the use of significance testing is meaningless here except as a Coulda Been hypothetical in the style of, Yeah, Coulda Been That Marilyn Monroe Wanted To Have Sex With Me If . . .)

This is also an observational study from a large database in Sweden.  It is not replicated anywhere by anyone else from another database.  This kind of information is easily available for these researchers, yet no one tests it against other databases to see if they can find the same effect.  Why not a database from the United States?  Or Russia?  Or any other country in the European Union?  Or Iran?

But, with a big event like Daylight Savings Time, I can attract media attention with a little ditty that trades on credibility.  Provide a scary headline – Spring Ahead To Death! – and no one reads the details.

I’m gonna take my chances today on a Google image search on “marilyn monroe.”  Without any filters.  If this is my last post, you’ll have to determine for yourself whether it was DST or MM that killed me!

and Sometimes inSincere Persuasion is Bad, too!

My primary persuasion Rule is, All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.  When you really, really, really mean it, you will probably fail at persuasion because it is about the Other Guy and not your sincere feelings.  Please do not misunderstand this Rule.  Being Sincere is Bad, but that does not mean being inSincere will make it Good.

Matt Armstrong points to a video from the White Canvas Group that asserts how to win the Communication War on Terror or the “war on terror” or whatever you want to call it.  Please take 60 seconds to view it.

Who could pass a true-false test over the claims from this video?  The text Arguments move faster than normal comprehension speeds in addition to moving unexpectedly and unpredictably across the screen.  People cannot process the Arguments.  The video is a deliberately designed Low WATT dimmer switch that overloads cognitive capacity and disrupts that Long Conversation in the Head.  It also marks a decidedly inSincere tactic.

The video thus takes Arguments and intentionally obscures them with speed and movement, leaving it as a pure Cue play.  It says, Trust Me, I’m Good.  The inference is that if you use this tactic and this approach, you will bedazzle the Bad Guys in the communication version of the War on Terror, rock on to victory, and maybe win a Clio award!

Folks.  This won’t work.  It may get funded.  But, it won’t work.  Reality will kill it although if you use inSincere Metrics like, the AssSecDef2.0 LOVES it or the Cool Table guys LOVE it or some such social twiddly-dee, it will look good.  In other words, among people who have no understanding of communication in general or persuasion in particular will find this slick video, slick.  And, slick works, baby . . . at the Cool Table.

Think about this.  Just think about it.  Do a simple Cascade analysis.  Think harder and do a Standard Model analysis on it.  Or use your own Persuasion Model on it.  Sure, this attracts attention.  Slick and inSincere persuasion does that.  But, attention is not processing or responding or behaving.  It is only attention.

While the communication War on Terror should be fought with a wide variety of tactics, it will be won with strong Arguments repeatedly considered by High WATT processors.  You want change that produces persistent, resistant, and motivated action.  That comes from the Central Route, not from these Cue balls.

Sometimes, inSincere Persuasion Is Just Bad.  And . . .

Persuaders Can Be Famous or Effective, but Not Both.

There’s a Difference between Persuasion, and Smoke and Mirrors; With Persuasion the Illusion Lingers.

the Persuasion Advantages of a Hyphenated Name

Rose Named

I have a big last name.  “Booth-Butterfield.”  And that hyphen.  Okay, mock me.  I deserve it.  The hyphen, however, does have persuasion advantages.

Today, my sweet wife, Melanie Booth-Butterfield, received a personalized gift and fund raising appeal from her beloved Arbor Day Foundation.  It gave her free trees, a free book called the Free Tree Book, a free fragrant purple lilac, and a free year of coffee, PLUS an embossed sheet of adhesive mailing labels AND an attractive, personalized Certificate of Appreciation.  All presented proudly to:

Melanie B. Butter

What a hoot!  I cannot tell you how many times we’ve spotted persuasion plays from various charitable and not so charitable organizations over the years simply because no one gets our names straight.  Here are the most common attempts.

Steven B. Butterfield
Booth Butterfield
Steven Boothbutterfie
Stephen Butterworth
Steve Boothbut

Marketers out there harvesting personal contact information obviously have trouble with both the hyphen and the length of the last name.  It appears that most simply drop the hyphen then compress the two names into one word, but then the one word contains too many letters for the field width in their database, so we get these weird truncations, mashups, and mistakes.

But, the good news is that we can spot the faux friends immediately.  Even with ones as persuasion skilled as this Arbor Day Foundation ambush. All those warm, emotional folks making the world a better place, send us such tender, sweet, and generous notes, letters, and packages and, gee, they even let us,  if we’d like, write a check.  How about it,

D.R. Boothbutt

What’s most interesting to me is that for-profit companies almost never make this error.  They almost always get it right and never let the mistake stand.  Our good close personal friends who are saving the world somehow don’t see my name and its correct spelling as that important, I guess.  And really, what’s in a name?

As long as the check clears.