Monthly Archives: October 2010

Persuasion on a Period

Lysteda Ad

1. Do you have heavy menstrual flow?

2. Do you dread the first days of your period?

3. Do you have to organize your physical, leisure and daily activities around it?

Do you realize this survey is persuading you?

4. Does your bleeding soak through one or more pads or tampons every hour for several hours?

Do you know that medical researchers define heavy flow as ” . . . flow of more than . . . 16 soaked sanitary products per menstrual period?”

Do you still have heavy menstrual flow?

If you do, then this survey may have persuaded you to buy a drug you don’t need.

READ THIS:  I am not a medical expert and certainly have no credential in women’s health.  You are in charge of your body and I’m not making any medical recommendations.  Read.  Think.  Gather more information.  Think!  For yourself!  Okay?

Now, our key point: it is easy to persuade people on health and safety behaviors and you need to understand the difference between persuasion and education.

This survey is a new example of an old idea that is now called push surveying.  You are asked to provide your answers to a survey as part of a poll or research study or as a scientific measure.  And, the questions on the survey seem to be objective, unbiased, and straightforward.  However, if you read them more closely, you realize that the questions are worded in a way that pushes you toward a particular attitude, belief, or behavior.

For example, I can make you feel a lot more religious by wording questions on your religious behavior in a way that makes you say “Yes” a lot as in:

1.  Do you ever attend religious services?
2.  Have you taken any religious training?
3.  Have you ever made a contribution to a religious group?

Even the most ardent atheist will have to agree with questions like this and that agreement in this moment makes you more vulnerable to the push.  I move you just through careful wording of a “scientific” survey.

The persuasion force behind this play is self perception theory as developed by Daryl Bem in the 1970s.  Bem argues that we observe our own behavior just like when we are watching a stranger.  We then draw inferences about ourselves just as we do with strangers.  If we see a stranger hold a door open for someone, we can infer that person is “polite.”   When we open a door for someone, we observe that action and infer, “Gee, I’m polite.”

Salancik and Conway used this reasoning to conduct a series of lab and field experiments that manipulated self perception of religious beliefs (guess where I got my religion push survey above?).  Lo and behold, they found that these push surveys could indeed move people’s immediate attitudes, either more or less religious depending upon the push, and that people would behave consistently with that self perceived attitude.

So, in our current example, you take the survey on periods and you find yourself marking a lot of yes answers.  You then observe your attitude and conclude, “Gee, I need this pill!”

We can realize that this tactic is a Peripheral Route, low WATT, Cue-based play.  You are not a high WATT laser beam here, looking for all the available facts, evidence, and reasoning on periods, then carefully considering the information, elaborating on it with that Long Conversation in the Head to form a Central Route change that is persistent, resistant, and predictive.  Nope.  You just observe all those “Yes” answers, click on the coupon link or email registration, and they’ll get back to you right away.

Now, if you’re smart you realize that it is easier to push on issues that are abstract and not concrete.  So, how can these pharma wizards push women on something as concrete as a period?  Easy.  Never use numbers.  Always use words.

Realize the problem does exist.  Some women experience way out of range menstrual periods and if you just count, science appears to indicate a quantitative standard:  16 soaked sanitary products in one period.  By this standard fewer than 25% (1 in 4, right?) of women have “heavy flow” or, more technically, menorrhagia, and most of that is going to be among perimenopausal women, not younger women.

So, technically, we’ve got a drug that is most useful to older women and less so among younger women, but if you look at the ads, the models are not that older demographic.  And, if you read the print testimonials for a particular drug you note the ages of the women are all under 50 with a range from 43 to 26.  And, none of these testimonials discuss that explicit standard of 16 products in one period.  They instead feature subjective terms regarding cleanliness, motivation, and attractiveness.  And, of course, there’s that push survey.

Now, notice what has happened.  We’ve gone from a fairly straightforward, measurable standard – remember the number 16 – and blended in elements that are considerably less straightforward and measurable – attractiveness, motivation, feelings of cleanliness.  We can make a much larger group of women start thinking, “Hey, I need this pill.”  That’s great for business in the same way that guys under 60 or 50 or 40 with no serious underlying medical condition are using that little blue pill for their “erectile dysfunction.”

So, from just this innocent looking survey, I’ve dragged you through push surveys, self perception theory, and a quick WAC analysis with the ELM.  Who knew it was so busy?  Still waters run deep you know or as my Rule states:

More Is the Enemy of Less

I could go on quite a bit with this.  What about the ethics of push surveys to push pills?  What about tempting women with words when numbers are useful?  Didn’t hormone replacement therapy start something like this?  Hey, I didn’t tell you about all the controversy with Bem’s self perception theory and the battles with dissonance theorists.  Professors were literally fighting each other at professional conferences over self perception versus dissonance.  Sigh.  So much to say, so little time to say it.

But, the pharma guys are getting their groove back.

Technical Addendum.

1.  Push is a passe and nowadays if we are Tragically Hip and Postmodern Cool,  we should call it Nudge, rather than Push, although Nudge’s probably not going to be as Cool after the 2010 midterm elections, but that’s what makes it Tragically Hip – after November 2010 you’ll likely have a beautiful word killed by ugly conservatives.  That’s the problem when you tie your political philosophy to your work; elections, not science, determine your success.

2.  Bem’s work goes back to the early 1970s.  Yes, people were alive then and doing good research that did not appear on the Internet because the Internet didn’t exist then, but smart people did.  We used paper to write words and tables and graphs, then collected those papers into journals and books.  Wow.  You can go to a museum called The Library and see these artifacts.

3.  It appears that Lysteda works (go to Page 6 on the slide show).  Look at this graph.

Lysteda Graph

That’s an almost 50% reduction.  A woman would need half as many tampons or napkins as usual.  That is a noticeable and practical improvement.  Yet, I’d caution, caution.  While we see this effect size, I’d raise the specter of hormone replacement therapy.  No one did a good, long term study on the effects of HRT and we got a very nasty surprise with breast cancer.  There are no long term (10 or 20 year follow up) studies with Lysteda, so, again, if you are cautious, you might want to be cautious here.

What’s the Buzz 2.0

Begin with Jesus Christ Superstar (about 45 seconds in) to get the concept and the groove.
Jesus Superstar Buzz

Buzz is a new name for an old concept called word of mouth.  When people you know say something to you about another product, service, person, event, issue, and on and on, that is word of mouth or buzz.  It is an interpersonal, face to face persuasive message delivered without obvious benefit to the source.

If you read the scientific research literature of the pop press, most notably the NYT,  Malcolm Gladwell or other such FauxItAlls, you know that Buzz is a preferred Cool Table Nudge, the gentle push behind your friend’s voice cooing in your ear, “ooohh, iGizmo, baby.”  Thus, the Cool Table guys never talk to new potential customers, converts, or suckers, but rather the Cool Table Nudges Buzzers who will then talk to you.  Hollywood shows this in those conspiracy movies that feature a CIA agent overthrowing a government.  Hey, you don’t actually man the tank yourself, you just tell someone else who then tells another someone else and voila, you’ve got a revolution and another bad Matt Damon movie.

There’s no doubt that when a lot of people are Buzzing, there’s a lot of change in the neighborhood.  But, is this Buzz truly causal and persuasive or is it merely correlative and not?  It’s possible that after people have actually changed due to some other persuasive cause, they then start Buzzing and if you don’t know about that earlier and genuine persuasive cause, you’ve just fooled yourself on Buzz.

Now, here’s a novel idea:  Let’s start with the real research literature rather than the latest pseudoscience from guys trying to sell ads.  Get to a good social science search engine like PsychNet or EbscoHost and search on key terms like “wom” or “word of mouth” or “buzz” and see what you get.

My search turned up 100 hits for the various combinations of search terms going back to 1983.  When you tighten your focus to publications that are “quantitative” and “peer review” the number drops to around 50.  There are only a couple of “review” or “meta analysis” publications.   (Here’s a pdf of the meta for you gear heads: WOM Meta)  Now, 100 references over nearly 30 years is not much work.  Over the same time period there are over 400 hits for “elaboration likelihood model” as a comparison.  “Cognitive dissonance” turns up over 2,500 hits.  “Credibility” delivers over 5,000 hits.  There’s actually not that much good scientific information out there compared to other persuasion concepts.

What else is interesting is that most of the “wom” hits are in the last 10 years.  Why?  I’d guess we’re seeing the Cool Table at work here and that simply because we have networked computers, it’s just a lot easier to do a WOM study.  Back in the day, you’d have to have a lot of confederates buzzing which takes time and money.  Today you can buzz on a computer.  Of course, one might ask if WOM is different when it arrives in the form of an email versus an actual person actually talking to you, but apparently that distinction is unimportant to the Cool Table.  Buzz is Buzz even when it is mediated . . . if you sit at the Cool Table . . . otherwise?

Now, as I scan the various WOM studies one factor screams at me.  Buzz functions differently across the studies.  Sure, they all feature people talking to people about something else – the basic element of the Buzz – but what that Buzz accomplishes varies across studies.

This is not surprising if you’ve read modern persuasion theory.  Any persuasion variable can function in a variety of ways.  For example, across the Cascade, Buzz can affect Reception, Processing, or Response.  Within the dual process models like the ELM or HSM, any persuasion variable can function as a WATTage switch, an Argument, or a Cue.  Let’s consider Buzz in the many facets.

1.  Buzz with Argument.  The content of any buzz can contain information that bears directly on the central merits of the attitude object in question, whether a person, event, product, yada-yada.  If the information in the Buzz is favorable we call it a strong Argument.  If it is unfavorable, we call it a weak Argument.  When people tell us this crucial information we are directly exposed to Argument quality and if we are High WATT, we engage that Long Conversation in the Head and Elaborate our thoughts to the Argument and change our attitude accordingly moving along the Central Route to create resistant, persistent, and predictive change.

2.  Buzz as Cue.  If we are Low WATT when we get the Buzz, we won’t engage that costly Central Route process, but we can make a simple Cue:  If Other People Are Doing It, You Should, Too.  Thus, through Comparison, we can create change as we hear people Buzz and follow the crowd.  It helps, too, if we have affection for the Buzzer; we then get the Liking Cue piggybacking along with Comparison.  Of course, this Peripheral Route change is less resistant, persistent, and predictive than the Central Route, but in the short term, it is real change.

3.  Buzz as WATTage switch.  “Gee whiz, this is the second time today one of my buddies has Buzzed on the New New Thing.  I’d better look into this!”  You don’t actually pay that much heed to the Arguments you hear and you’re not Cue-ing along the Peripheral Route, but at your earliest opportunity, you seek out your own information on the New New Thing and change accordingly.  The Buzz flips the switch on your willingness and ability to think and motivates your drive on the Central Route.

4.  Buzz as Reception.  In the Cascade, the first step to ultimate downstream behavior change is Reception or just getting the message.  Buzz thus becomes a form of advertising that appears all around you giving you opportunities to realize that there’s a New New Thing out there.  No Arguments, Cues, or Switches, just pure awareness of the New New Thing.  Thus, Buzz can break through the clutter and noise and make your New New Thing stand out as worthy of further attention.

5.  Buzz as Response.  Simply because people are Buzzing, some folks will form a positive response based not on the Cue, the Switch, or even the Arguments in the Buzz, but just from the pure presence of Buzz.  Those are the Cool Table folks who value Buzz for itself and will hook onto the New New Thing merely because it is new.  Thus, Buzz attracts like minded souls who dress, drive, read, eat, sleep, reproduce, and think like the Cool Table.

6.  Buzz as Nothing But Chatter.  You should never overlook the possibility that all that chatter is not Buzz, but just chatter, just people talking to while away the day with family, friends, and coworkers.  It’s just the stuff of socializing, hanging out, killing time, just being there.  Yeah, they used the New New Thing and they are talking about It, but more to talk with you than to talk about It.  Not to be a Buzz Kill, but . . .

Now, when you realize how multi-functional Buzz is, it should dawn on you that a Buzz is not a Buzz is not a Buzz.  It depends on how the Buzz functions if you want to understand how it works.  Those self educated FauxItAlls at the Cool Table who don’t need no stinkin’ peer review science will simply see that Buzz can work, but will have no idea why it works in some instances, but not in others.  They will focus on the mere fact of some success and groove on with it.

Instead, you’ve got a really good theory and you can think properly with it, so you realize that Buzz does work, but its effect will always depend on how you use it.

Finally, the practical part:  How do you make Buzz?

Realize that Buzz is primarily Comparison or If Other People Are Doing It, You Should, Too.  Typically Comparison is a Cue, except when the house is on fire, you don’t know it, and you see everyone else running, then Comparison is an Argument.  Jokes aside, keep your eye on the persuasion ball.  Buzz is Comparison.

The easiest way to generate Comparison is to buy people and pay them to Buzz.  If you read the Comparison section in CLARCCS Cues, you’ll see many different ways to do this.  My favorite goes back to a History of Theatre textbook about how play producers used to pay shills to hit the streets before a play and Buzz about it, then sit in the audience during performances and Buzz when the star entered and Buzz on the laugh lines and Buzz on the tear-jerker scenes and in general communicate positive Buzz on cue (nice irony there, huh, a Cue on cue.)

A nice variation on this strategy is to employ the Two Step Flow wherein you buy Buzzers who are Opinion Leaders in a targeted network.  Those Opinion Leaders pour information into the network about your New New Thing creating a two step operation of You to Opinion Leader, then Opinion Leader to the Other Guys.  (This is the basic process behind those large corporate type meetings where you assemble a bunch of fellow travelers on some topic, let them stand up in public and say cool things, then while serving them a fabulous lunch, you show them your New New Thing and how it connects to their Cool Table work.  They then leave the room and Say It For You which means, Buzz, baby.  This is why NIH will never suffer a budget cut.  Take a lesson – some of those Feds are really dangerous people.)

Of course, the Buzz better front strong Arguments because once the Other Guy gets your New New Thing and discovers that it is cheap, lame, broken, stinky, rancid, expensive, and useless, your Buzz just bought you a customer base of Angst, Anger, and Hate.  Buzz is one of those Be Careful What You Wish For admonitions.

Finally, don’t look to Steve Jobs and Apple as Buzz Mavens.  They create desirable products that satisfy a large and rabid population.  Jobs is shooting Buzz in a barrel because he’s got really strong Arguments with his iGizmos.  Jobs may play some of the other tricks, too, but it all begins with those fabulous toys.

[x+1] = Bad Persuasion

The WSJ is engaged in a great journalistic endeavor that might actually and finally win a Pulitzer Prize for Rupert Murdoch.  They are running a series on web privacy and marketing.  I will ignore the obvious hypocrisy of the WSJ since they engage in many of the same practices they reveal in their series, but it is still a useful reading exercise in applied persuasion.  Please go to the story link, then look around in the series for your own edification.

I’d like to focus on just one persuasion point.  Consider this quote.

Armed with its data, [x+1] taps consumer researcher Nielsen Co. to assign the visitor to one of 66 demographic groups.

[x+1] is an online marketing and privacy snooper on the bleeding edge of web persuasion.  They have one of the greatest persuasion tools in the history of civilization – databases of realtime tracking cookies on a 24/7 network that never forgets – and what do they do with it:  classify online users into a static group.

In other words, they are on all sides of your computer experience, watching you from your past and present, and they put you in a psychographic.

Static.  Not dynamic.

In other words, the bleeding edge is merely doing what marketers have done since PT Barnum.  So even with that Really Cool corporate name of [x+1] these guys are still persuading BC style, Before Computing, that is.

P.S.  I use the World of Trust widget on my Firefox browser and the [x+1] website comes up in Dangerous Orange, not to be trusted.  Yeah, I’m the fighting young persuasion genius with that Really Cool name that announces my presence with authority and trips off doggy old WOT.  How lame.  They just need a flashing fuchsia light and voiceover shouting “I’m Cool!  I’m Cool!  I’m Cool!”

Take a Toke on Web 2.0

Twitter Logo

More news about social media with an emphasis upon twitter.

Toronto-based social media analytics company Sysomos scanned 1.2 billion messages that were sent in August and September 2009 to try and get some idea of the kind of conversations that are going on.

Even before we get to main point, just think about 1.2 billion tweets in 60 days.  What an incredibly rich data set!  One billion messages just on Twitter and in just two months.  Imagine how much impact this must have.

. . . more than seven in every 10 tweets sink without any kind of reaction . . .

What?  Over 70% of the tweets are not processed?

That at leaves 23 percent of messages that get an @reply. Drilling down, Sysomos found that 85 percent of replied-to messages get just one reply, 10.7 percent get two, and just 1.53 percent get three replies.

Web 2.0 is just about useless as a general persuasion tool.  Yeah, 160 million tweeters out there and more every day.  What a network!  Zounds, the potential Reception is huge.  The potential.  Potential.  Possible.  Maybe.  Could be.  Ever been hit by lightning?  Twice?  On one day.

I appreciate that social media gets you into Reception, the first stage in the Cascade, but this study demonstrates that even if everyone reads your tweets, almost no one does anything about it, not even @reply.  How much money, how many sales, how much attitude change can you possibly generate from this?

The social media industry is a lot like the tobacco industry.  They make money on your suffering.  Sure, you get all those great benefits just like with cigarettes:  You look so cool, you put yourself at the Cool Table, you get that rush from every tweet, you act habitually, you can’t stop, you feel the benefit, but never know the benefit.

Twitter is good for the VCs who own it.  Not so much for you.


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

More Is the Enemy of Less.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

Cig Ad Clouds

Obama’s Continuing Ancient Greek Tragedy

In this form of tragedy, you kill what you love and what you loves kills you.  Read this NYT love song to Mr. Obama and see the illustration.  The author, Mr. Baker, offers many tributes to the one he loves and Mr. Obama reciprocates.  They apparently do not see what awaits.

How would a genuine independent voter react to this portrayal of President Obama?  Does it make him look credible, trustworthy, strong, reliable, principled, or fill in the blank with your favorite Presidential trait?

He told me he was happy with the redecorating of the office. “I know Arianna doesn’t like it,” he said lightly. “But I like taupe.”  . . . If there was something incongruous about the president of the United States checking out reviews of his décor by Arianna Huffington, well, let’s face it, he has endured worse reviews lately.

And on and on.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

Just Spell Her Name Right

“Mary was gratified to find that her novel was once more in the public eye, but the celebrity it brought her was not entirely welcome.  The association between Frankenstein, Shelly, and the Swiss ‘league of incest’ was still vivid in the public mind, and the drawback of her fame became apparent when the Lyceum production was placed under scrutiny by some self-appointed guardians of public morality.  The Theatrical Observer for 8 August 1823 carried reports of placards ‘posted widely throughout the Metropolis.’  They carried a stark warning for ‘The Play-Going Public.’”

Do not go to the Lyceum to see the monstrous Drama, founded on the improper work called, ‘Frankenstein’ – Do not take your wives and families . . . This subject is pregnant with mischief.

“This was hardly the kind of attention Mary wanted to attract as she attempted to establish herself in London as a respectable literary widow.  Nevertheless, the placards had the effect of drawing crowds to the Lyceum, and Frankenstein appeared in many stage versions throughout 1823 and 1824.  It all helped to build Mary’s professional reputation, even if the methods by which her name was made were not of her choosing.”

. . . from the “Young Romantics” by Daisy Hay.

Young Romatics coverThe more things change, right?  In Daisy Hay’s fun and interesting book on the young English Romantics (John Keats, mad and bad Lord Byron, but most specially the Shelley’s, Percy and Mary) we see an old lesson in Reception effects from the Cascade.  Just getting your name out there in the network can produce fabulous downstream behavior effects.  Of course, it helps if you also provide a strong Argument in the form of a classic work of literature, in this case, Frankenstein.  The bad PR created the buzz, but Mary Shelley’s genius kept it going.

Sure, there is no bad PR unless you have a weak Argument stuck in the middle of the Cascade.

Young Romatics Daisy HayP.S.  The “Young Romantics” is a fabulous form of literary biography that traces the interacting lives of those great Romantic poets and their friends and family.  It also demonstrates again the deadly effects of being the smartest guy in the room – take your pick of either Percy or Bryon – on the people around them.  Those great independent imaginative intellects created great poetry, but destroyed lives, and moved on without awareness or concern.  Finally, the book illustrates the birth of the modern public intellectual through the combination media in an industrial society.  All in all, an interesting book.

Down Goes Raese, Down Goes Raese, Down Goes Raese

In today’s turbulent politics, a widely popular politician, Joe Manchin, faces destruction at the hands of his opponent, John Raese.  Joe’s a Democrat and too close to you know who and Mr. Raese has made Joe pay for it.  The polls show the damage.  Mr. Raese leads.

But, now we’re going to see what kind of jaw Mr. Raese owns because Mr. Manchin just floored him.

Manchin Shoots

Down goes Raese, down goes Raese, down goes Raese.

Man, a Peithos Award to Manchin and his persuasion team.

Persuasion Off The Hook

CA Governor Shots

This is neither the first nor the last instance and everyone has their own Off The Hook moment, but it always bears attention.

Brown called the Los Angeles police union early last month and left a voice mail asking for its endorsement, but the attorney general accidentally left the phone slightly off the hook. The answering machine continued recording as Brown went into what he thought was a private tirade against Whitman and the union . . . That’s when what appears to be a second voice suggests, “What about saying she’s a whore?”

The Brown is question is Jerry Brown, current Democratic candidate for governor of California competing in a tight race against Republican nominee, Meg Whitman.  Normally, a candidate like Mr. Brown – a Democrat in great standing with great local success running for an office he successfully held many years ago in a State that favors his political party – would be coasting to victory, but this year, 2010 midterms, everything is different.  He could lose this race.

So, persuasion skill is obviously important.  And a male calling his female opponent a “whore” for her deal-making ability is obviously not a great persuasion play.  As always:

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere

That anonymous voice from the Brown campaign caught on voicemail provided an authentic, sincere, and deeply held belief that women running for office have whorish attributes.  Men make deals, but women . . . well, women do something else.  That authentic belief may be deeply felt, but it is not anything to be said as a persuasion play in a tight race.

Also realize:  Mediated persuasion never ends.  Might need to create a new Persuasion Rule.