Secret Sauce

How to Pack Your Messages with Persuasive Punch

 Secret Sauce

Author: Harry Mills
Pub Date: February 2017
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814438060
Page Count: 192
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814438077

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Chapter One


Our message-making needs reinvention

When it comes to messages, what worked in the past won’t work today. Two decades of destabilizing and accelerating change have profoundly changed the psychology of how, when and why customers respond to persuasive messages.

For the first time in history the customer holds the trump cards

Digital-driven technologies have armed buyers with anytime, anywhere access to the choices and information they need to call the shots. [hold for quarter page illustration (three circle equation)] Once customers gain power, they become increasingly skeptical, pay less attention and become less reverential to those who try to influence and sell to them.

Marketers and brands are becoming less influential

In our Google-driven world the influence brands, marketers and salespeople have over customer decisions is rapidly diminishing. Trust in business is at an all-time low. Customers increasingly base their decisions on reviews from other users, web accessed expert opinions, and price comparison apps. Stanford professor Itamar Simonson and best-selling author Emanuel Rosen in their book Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information write that customers are influenced by two sources of information which they label M and O. M is shorthand for the information buyers get from marketing information sources. O is shorthand for the information buyers get from other sources. In a Google-driven world buyers decisions are being increasingly influenced by O.1

Customers increase their use of O when:

1. A buying decision is important

2. A buying decision involves increased risk and uncertainty

Why? Because customers inherently trust O sources more than M sources.2 M and O Power Shift [hold for half page illustration (seesaw)]

Are digital communication technologies rewiring our brains?

We live in a world where a phone originally invented as a talking device has become a “weapon of personal empowerment”. In her book Decoding the New Consumer Mind, Kit Yarrow says the pervasiveness of digital technology has transformed our lives.3

In the new digital world she reports:

• We skim and scan rather than read

• We’re bombarded and interrupted by a relentless barrage of information

• We’re conditioned to want everything faster

• We are increasingly addicted to stimulation and speed

• We’re becoming less and less tolerant of anything that requires patience.

In his book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern mind, Gary Small describes the new mental state we live in as “continuous partial attention”.5 We are drowning in a tsunami of information. Consulting company Excelacom reports 150 million emails are sent every minute across the internet. In comparison the U.S. Postal Service processes just 353,000 pieces of mail each minute – that’s about 0.2 per cent the number of emails sent. And that’s not all. In the span of just one minute:

• 347,000 tweets are tweeted.

• 20.8 million messages are sent on WhatsApp.

• 527,760 photos are shared.

The Firehose

Shlomo Bernartzi, a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and author with Jonah Lehrer of The Smarter Screen uses the metaphor of a firehose to describe the deluge of data that characterizes our information age.

He tells us in ancient times the flow of data and messages that competed for our attention was more “like the drip of water from a leaky faucet.” By the middle of the twentieth century the flow of information was more like a steady flow of water coming out of a kitchen faucet. Since the 1980’s computers have been increasing the quantity of information exponentially. The magnitude of data is now so great it is as if our kitchen faucet has been replaced by a high pressure fire hose which sprays us in the face with a deluge of data.”

A fire hose unleashes 125 times more gallons per minute than a kitchen faucet. But we can’t drink it, because the mouth has fixed constraints. It doesn’t matter how much water flows by our face – we will never be able to gulp more than a few sips at a time.

When it comes to how much information our brains can process, the limiting factor is rarely what’s on the screen. The amount of information will almost always exceed the capacity of our mind to take it in. Instead we are limited by a scarcity of attention; by our inability to focus on more than a few things at the same time.7 This problem is compounded by our brain’s fundamental limitations and constraints.

According to psychological lore, when it comes to items of information the mind can cope with before confusion sets in, the “magic number” is seven.

In 1956, American psychologist George Miller published a paper in the influential journal Psychological Review arguing that the mind could cope with a maximum of only seven chunks of information. The paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information,” has since become one of the most highly cited articles and has been judged by the Psycological Revew as its most influential paper of all time. But UNSW professor of psychiatry Gordon Parker says a re-analysis of the experiments used by Miller shows he missed the correct number by a wide mark. Professor Parker says a closer look at the evidence shows the human mind copes with a maximum of four ‘chunks’ of information. Not seven.

To remember a seven numeral phone number, say 6458937, we need to break it into four chunks: 64. 58. 93. 7. Basically four is the limit to our perception. “Our brain filters billions of pieces of information streaming into our senses into a maximum of three or four conscious items.” Experiments show we can easily keep track of three items relatively easily. We can competently handle four items – though our accuracy diminishes. Most find handling five items virtually impossible.”

“Surprisingly, our working memory limit of a handful of items is basically the same as a monkey’s brain, even though a monkey’s brain is about one fifteenth the size of ours.”9 Whenever the volume of information pounding our brains exceeds its ability to process it, we become overwhelmed. The result: bad decisions.

One way of coping is to taking is to take shortcuts.

A new study by scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute shows 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. In other words, most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.

The evidence suggests people are more willing to share an article than read it. The study co-author Arnaud Legout says “this is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

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