Behavioral science tells us that most marketing strategies overemphasize motivation. Moderately motivated people are more likely to do what’s easy than highly motivated people are to do what’s hard.
Ease beats motivation. That explains the fate of most New Year’s Resolutions.
Google’s competition had gone in for massive cross-selling and indexing. Yahoo and Netscape’s homepages were cluttered with links.
Behavioral economists confirm what direct marketers long knew – choice depresses response.
Why, because simple is easier, and ease is the single most important factor in designing for behavior change.
Google had a simple search bar, a logo and that’s it. Faster is easier.
And, the distance in time between action and reward increases effectiveness geometrically. That’s why Google uses a little of its precious homepage real estate – to tell you exactly how many nanoseconds it took to get your result.
So, what is “the age of AI,” what does it mean and why should you care?
To start to get a sense of just how powerful Artificial Intelligence machine learning powered by machine empathy can be in inspiring action and caring for people, please watch this amazing episode of YouTube‘s “The Age of AI” with Robert Downey Jr.
A hint: If you’re not sacrificing, you don’t care enough.
90% of what we do to help our clients succeed, you will never hear about. We do it because we care. We do it because we are obsessed with client success. We do it because it’s more fun and more inspiring to have successful friends.
There are things we do for which the client should get all the credit. They do. We have a few terrific clients for whom we do exceptional work, but whom we can’t talk about. We don’t.
Everything we do is a collaboration, and the success of the collaboration is the client’s success. A significant part of what we do, we do when the client is between jobs. There is no bill. There is no expectation of future gain. You’ll never hear a word about these services, unless you happen to be one of those clients.
I hear Nordstrom stories and Zappos stories and I think… if only people could hear our stories, they would be even more amazed… but discretion is one of the most important commitments we make to our clients.
Client success isn’t the same as “customer success.” It’s not just about being happy with our product. Client success is client success and fulfillment in career and life.
People talk a lot about KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators. They use various words to talk about them.
“What are your KPI’s?”
“What are your key metrics?”
“Do you have numbers you must hit?”
Merely accepting the first answer is a mistake. Remember, your aim at this point is to be a master appreciator. From great appreciation comes great inspiration.
Do not do what most people do. Do not merely accept the KPI’s, dutifully write them down to show you’re paying attention, and then move on to other things.
Instead, continue to drill in with questions in a Socratic attempt to appreciate why these are the KPIs.
When you understand why these are the KPIs, you will have built a mental model that allows you to think and imagine outcomes just as a CEO, board member or key investor in the company does.
If you understand why the KPIs are the KPIs, then you will be able to see change coming to those factors that affect success for the business. You will also be able to question the KPIs and help the client focus on the Performance Indicators that are truly Key.
For example, we worked for many years with an electronic broker. We asked the question, “What key measures drive the creation of value in the company? What key measures drive growth?”
After some discussion we got to three:
Increasing the total number of active clients. Increasing client trading activity Increasing the total number of assets in accounts. After some discussion, we decided that only the first two measures – the number of clients and their level of trading activity – were important drivers of value at that time. The reason for this was that interest rates were very low and therefore deposits were not a significant source of revenues, profits or business value.
Fortified with this appreciation of the drivers of growth in the value of this business, we were able to confidently move on to our next steps in generating that growth – asking and answering the question:
What key actions or behaviors drive those KPIs?
The KPI “increasing the number of total clients” was driven mostly by increases in the numbers of new funded accounts.
So, the behavior that would drive growth in this KPI was, “More customers opening new accounts and funding them.”
This was wonderfully focusing.
Increasing client trading activity was the second key driver of growth. Whereas in other categories, marketers are focused on increasing revenue per customer – for example, people who run shoe stores want to sell more pairs of shoes per customer and people who run e-commerce sites want to increase the average cart size – retail brokers had remained focused on acquiring new customers.
There were exceptions. We helped Tom Sosnoff, Lee Barba, Ainslee Simmonds and Lee McAdoo build thinkorswim (now part of TD Ameritrade) from a small and interesting digital options broker to a powerhouse with the industry’s most valuable customers.
Sosnoff, a savvy trader, was an even savvier entrepreneur, a born teacher and a natural movement leader. In short, he made options trading cool and never played down the risk or danger. This got thinkorswim to the summit base camp from which it would begin an even more rapid ascent.
Options traders trade a lot and pay well for their trades. When thinkorswim merged with Investools – a pioneer and leader in the online education space – they immediately had a way to dramatically scale the creation of new options traders.
People paid good money to Investools to teach them how to trade options. In exchange, Investools helped them to transform themselves into active options traders. Investools needed a platform for these student traders to trade on. It would have to offer simulated trading as well as real live trading.
Thinkorswim fit the bill perfectly.
Now, Investools students would learn to trade on the thinkorswim platform.
In addition, Investools substantial graduate list of tens of thousands of active options traders became available to thinkorswim for remarketing. Half of those former students became thinkorswim clients.
Next, thinkorswim began to integrate Investools training into its platform and customer service offerings. This increased trading volume and dramatically grew the value of the business.
The key insight here: new trading concepts and ideas lead to more trades.
We would mine this insight for our new client and take it even further, programming trade ideas into software apps that could also execute the trades.
Since our key driver of grow was increased trading volume, which we thought of as increased volume per client, the behavior that would drive this growth was defined as “one more trade per customer per month.”
This would make a real difference in the value of the business, and it was just a start. Just trading volume summit base camp, a milestone on our way to the top.
Since the behavior was “the client makes one more trade per month” we went to work to address the blocks to that behavior. Our clients were already more active than nearly all the other retail brokerage clients in the industry. But, what kept them from being even more active?
Remember that if you want to increase a behavior, you need to combine motivation and ease in the same moment – (MxE)Same Moment = Behavior.
We spent thousands of hours watching traders trade. We got to know their multi-screen set-ups and the joys – and sometimes intimacy avoidance – of their basement trading lairs. We interviewed scores of them and the interviews were so compelling that we edited several of the audio recordings and paired them with animation to create authentic and effective tv commercials and digital videos.
The motivation was there. They wanted to trade more. In front of their screen was the moment. They only lacked the ideas, they told us.
All the time that wasn’t spent trading was spent trolling for ideas. They loved the trading. The trolling for ideas was the hard work that made the trading possible.
More ideas, delivered in the moment they are in front of their screens, made as easy as possible to understand and execute, would unlock the behavior we were looking for.
Trading ideas, programmed and ready to download and execute like apps on a mobile device, did the trick.
Traders reported being more satisfied and improved their performance. We got our one more trade per client per month and that was just the beginning of the growth in trading volume.
As a master change agent, you’ll bring the much-needed clarity to each situation. You’ll walk into rooms where everything seems important and the list of things to be solved is as long a Vaynerchuk’s YouTube feed.
And you’ll go right to the essentials.
What measures most affect growth? What behaviors drive those measures? With those questions asked and answered, you’ll get down to work.
How do we make those behaviors motivating and easy (in the same moment)? You are well on your way to building your Theory of Change. The next steps help you prioritize and focus still further.
Here, I’m going to try to get you to do something that, for most of us, doesn’t come naturally, something that just feels wrong.
It will fly in the face of your professional training. You will find it very hard to get there by using your normal processes. When you even suggest doing something along these lines, you will face immediate resistance. People may think you’re crazy. People may call you crazy. People may use the “crazy” word to shut down all conversation around the idea and make the discomfort go away.
Most of us believe that marketing is trying to put a good face on our product or service. Most of us look for the benefits. Most of us believe that a certain amount of “positive spin” is absolutely essential to “work that sells.” And most of us have some successes to show for these beliefs.
If your product or service is good, if there aren’t great alternatives, and for a while, this level of marketing communications will probably work. And yet the greats have done something very different. They’ve told the truth that most marketers would view as ugly, and in doing so they have stolen the show, and significant market share.
Nike. Dove. Starbucks. Dominos. Telling the ugly truth is a strategy challengers use to become market leaders and market leaders us to remain market leaders.
Our core client is an organization or brand led by people who are committed to their doing good and being better.
That said, many potentially good organizations have much to feel embarrassed about.
There is a tendency to hide the struggle and the failings and thereby inadvertently hide the hero’s journey. As a business leader I have been guilty of this much of the time, missing the opportunity to engage others with the facts of our very human struggle.
I have sought out authentic entrepreneurs as clients so that I can be continuously exposed to the challenging and edifying example of people who tell the radical truth.
Change agents tell the truth. They believe in radical candor. The look for the truth that remains unsaid. They use it to unblock progress, and it works.
For the company with its heart in the right place, a sort of insane honesty can show confidence and clarity of thought and charm while earning trust. Here are some corporate PR examples, followed by some advertising examples.
No one has ever seen one, because they only exist as an idea or a myth. So, where did the myth come from?
Imagine a time before photography, videography, TV, film, Instagram, all of it… a time when information was passed mouth to ear and walked on foot.
In 400 B.C.E., the historian Ctesias wrote about the one-horned creature for the first time in Greek literature. He was probably referring to the Indian rhinoceros, but readers imagined unicorns.
People hear about a rhinoceros and they imagine a unicorn.
That’s the short of it.
Author and essayist, Adam Gopnik, uses the story of the rhinoceros and the unicorn to explain the difference between modern liberalism (a rhinoceros) and other political philosophies (libertarianism, communism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc.) which he likens to unicorns.
Unicorns are ideal. They have a sort of mythic perfection. We love to think about unicorns. We like to believe in unicorns.
On the other hand, a rhinoceros is an awkward thing. It’s basically a pig with a horn on its head. It’s funny to look at and is politely ignored by proponents of Intelligent Design.
The rhinoceros is a compromise. The rhinoceros is also a perfectly successful animal.
We like our ideals ideal. We like our goals and objectives that way too. We want to build our businesses to some ideal template, some golden form of a business.
Often one hears talk of the leader of successful challenger in a category spoken of in unicorn-like terms.
“Why aren’t we more like Netflix? Google? Apple? Wieden? Droga? RGA? BFG? CPB? DDB? etc.…?”
Tech disrupters with billion dollar-plus valuations are even known as “unicorns.”
They are not. They are rhinoceroses.
Everything successful is an evolved compromise. So, instead of trying to force people into inhuman ideals, why don’t we try to build our organizations from splendid compromises. Why don’t we use the parts well, respecting each one as a successful animal?
Yes, the result may be funny to look at, a bit awkward and ungainly, but it will also be real and more likely successful. And it will be human too.
Why don’t we try to build rhinoceroses rather than unicorns?
Behavior Change Marketing is a rhinoceros, not a unicorn. It isn’t an impossible idea, nor does it claim to be a pure and new thing in the world. It isn’t merely academic and philosophical.
Behavior Change Marketing integrates perspectives and learning from a range of disciplines.
It recognizes that Behavioral Economics is nice old Behavioral Science with some great PR.
We accept the gifts of Behavioral Economics, but we equally welcome that longer heritage of concepts and learnings from Behavioral Science more broadly.
Our long experience in the trenches of direct and digital marketing have taught us that the single best funded program of behavioral economics experiments and their results are mostly lost to us. Lost because their very existence constituted the protected trade secrets of the companies that ran them.
These hundreds of thousands of A/B split tests, multi-cell tests and other experiments form priceless expertise carried around in the heads of venerable brand response wizards, are sometimes set down in writing but always through the distorting lens of hagiographic self-promotion, agency promotion or awards entries.
The knowledge is legend, and much of it is lost to science. That said, we will take all of it we can get, and we will work to see our clients and the broader world get as much benefit from this Fort Knox of intellectual property as we can.
Equally we recognize that the first design thinkers were not denizens of Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, that design thinking was not an invention but at best a rediscovery. If you want to read an excellent compendium of astonishing design thinking, read the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison’s case study and pitch presentation of their brilliant and flawed rhinocerian creation, the U.S. Constitution.
No, design thinking has been with us a long, long, time. In fact, it took science to get us off the trail of design thinking. Science limited its scope. For example, economics focused on rational homo economicus rather than irrational human beings, and behaviorism focused on observable behavior and demeaned cognition. In dealing with shadows of human beings rather than the whole, scientific thinking led to flat, rational, poor design and communication.
Design thinking was a rediscovery, an attempt to make whole again, to bring in empathy, humanity, uncertainty and chaotic reality. Behavior Change Marketing integrates design thinking as well.
The field of Positive Psychology has seen enormous growth in influence over the past two decades. Today, nations consider Gross National Happiness along with Gross National Product and Subjective Wellbeing is measured by the U.N. to balance their scorecard in evaluating the progress of nations.
And Evolutionary Psychology has helped us to understand the important of signaling, including self-signaling, which challenges the logical, simple, rational and largely incorrect view of human motivation.
The Modern Era loves Unicorns. We love the mythic simplicity. We want to believe that class struggle along drives history and that the future is knowable. A mechanical view of the Universe and envy of natural sciences supported a culture of simple certainty. But, today we understand that even our physics doesn’t operate that way. That, at the best, there is probability. That even if you know everything about the present, you cannot predict the future with any certainty. Randomness is a feature of every system.
So, we are building a Rhinoceros, and we couldn’t be more proud. If you’re building a Rhinoceros too, maybe we could help.