Why we gossip.

Kyle loves to ride his motorcycle.
Really, really fast.
He’s gotten it up to 180 mph on the highway.
But Kyle hates to fly.
Because while sitting in a plane, Kyle’s not in control.
There’s no logic to his feelings.
Flying is, statistically, much safer than driving.
Especially at extreme speeds and on a motorcycle.
But that information is irrelevant to Kyle.
Because Kyle’s feelings drive his decisions.
And so do yours and mine (even though we’re largely unaware of them).
Like Kyle, one of our most powerful feelings is our desire for a sense of control.
(I mention it briefly in my TEDx talk).
It’s hard to see, but it’s everywhere.
For example, a recent study sought to answer a question.
Why do people gossip?
The results seem paradoxical.
But only if you are unaware of the mysterious workings of the mind.
It turns out that we don’t really care about the subject of the gossip.
What we care about is what that information means to us.
“Individuals use evaluative information about others (i.e., gossip) to improve, promote, and protect themselves.”
We use gossip to contrive a sense of control.
To attempt to feel secure about our future.
And we do the same when looking at our fitness trackers and stock portfolios.
Most of us have the human brain all wrong.
We think people are moving through the world, trying to figure it out.
Hoping to understand “reality.”
We’re not.
Instead, we’re being pushed and pulled by life’s circumstances.
Rapidly screening and interpreting stimuli, in order to make personal meaning.
We’re on the lookout for what’s useful.
For anything that what will give us an edge or make us happy.
These are extremely noisy times.
Everyone and everything seems to be competing for our attention.
And this reality makes influence a primary currency.
Once you accept the nature of human beings.
Once you see that we all view the world through a unique and self-interested lens.
One that focuses incessantly on our environment, our identity, and having a personal sense of control.
Your approach to influencing others will change dramatically.
And so will your results.

Is your brand misunderstood?

McDonald’s brand is misunderstood.
That’s how their executives are rationalizing the company’s worst financial performance in years.
And so they’ve hired a new head of marketing.
To “convey facts and address misperceptions” about their food.
Will it work?
Can facts trump people’s beliefs?
Absolutely . . . not.
Our desires and memories govern our perceptions.
And we ignore information that conflicts with those beliefs.
Especially when our desires are salient.
And when our memories have been built up over time.
So McDonald’s should forget about conveying facts.
And work like hell on changing beliefs.
The real reason behind McDonald’s brand image problem is simple.
Given the abundance of fast-food options, people don’t believe in the brand’s unique value.
And that fact was revealed by McDonald’s CEO during a recent interview with the press.
“McDonald’s is in the business of satisfying customers and that will never fall out of favor. The question is what do you do to do that?”
“What do you do to do that?” indeed!
That’s the nature of today’s brand game.
So are you misunderstood?
Are people losing their appetite for your brand?
Don’t waste a penny trying to “educate” or “convince” them.
It won’t change a thing.
Instead, give them a novel and valuable experience.
One that aligns with their beliefs and desires.
Then sit back and watch in astonishment.
As they educate and convince themselves.

Brand loyalty or brand betrayal?

Most aphorisms have an equal and opposite one.
“He who hesitates is lost.”
“Everything comes to those who wait.”
A recent study tested a pair of proverbs on brands.
The researchers wanted to know.
Is it, “Out of sight, out of mind?”
Or, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
What they found may surprise you.
(It doesn’t surprise me at all).
Participants in the study stopped consuming certain brands, like Facebook.
Some substituted, or were prompted to use, an alternative brand, like WhatsApp.
Others simply went cold turkey.
Here’s the “insight.”
How much a person desires a brand depends.
On the length of time that passes before they can find it.
And whether or not they can find a suitable replacement to satisfy their desire.
So it’s “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
The longer they go without, the greater their desire.
Unless they find a substitute.
Then it’s “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Is there are lesson here?
Probably three.
First, your brand isn’t as critically important to your loyal customers as you may believe.
Second, make sure they never have a problem finding, purchasing and consuming it.
If you do, they’ll probably remain loyal.
And finally, try like hell not to be substitutable.

The brand identity illusion.

I wrote this, as a slightly different version, seven years ago.
And, based on what I’m witnessing in the world of business and brands, I guess I need to say it again.
So here goes.
Have you ever heard, or been asked, this question?
“If your organization, or brand, were a car, what make or model would it be and why?”
No?
You’re very lucky. I’ve heard it a lot.
In fact, too many times to count.
And not once have I come across the perspective inherent in this response:
“My brand would be a customizable, decked out limousine.
One in which I can give my customers the rides of their lives!”
Most organizations are obsessed with navel gazing.
Trying to discover “who they are” and “what makes them special.”
They hire consultants and spend countless hours pondering their unique identities.
And for what reason?
To help them create their brand personalities and craft their messages, of course.
There’s only one little problem with their approach.
It’s completely backwards.
Business is not psychotherapy.
It’s theater!
It’s not about going “in,” because your audience is interested in you and your unearthed identity.
Sorry, but they’re not.
It’s about going “out,” and ingratiating yourself to your audience.
By making them feel good about themselves, and their decisions, in your presence.
It’s about unearthing what they need to feel good, smart and special, and then giving it to them.
It’s easy to become hypnotized and confused by your own marketplace experiences.
That’s what great brands are hoping to have happen.
They want you to get lost in their carefully constructed brand identities.
And to have you believe that it’s all about their uniqueness and passion.
For their coffee, equipment, motorcycle, phone, you name it.
In fact, it’s really all about you.
Great organizations are like great directors and producers.
They’re obsessed with their brand performance (and pulling you into it).
Before you even know it, you’re rationalizing the purchase of a $4 cup of coffee, a $3 golf ball, a $30,000 Screamin’ Eagle Fat Boy, or a $500 phone.
Why?
Because you’re a Starbucks kind of girl.
You’re a champion like Tiger.
You’re a rebel accountant.
You think different, dammit. That’s why!
The present, bemused way of thinking, is a chimera.
“A brand is a promise and engagement is the Holy Grail.
All we have to do is engage people with our communication and deliver on our brand promise.”
Really?
What precisely is Starbucks’ brand promise?
How about Nike’s or Harley’s?
Surely you must know Apple’s brand promise?
And do you really believe that GEICO’s brand is all about promising to save you 15% on your car insurance?
Yes?
Then you’ve been hypnotized, my friend.
Leadership brands don’t make promises.
They create and fulfill expectations through carefully and precisely crafted associations.
Expectations of receiving a particular feeling about your identity.
Starbucks wants you to feel special as you exchange pleasantries with their Barista, and urbane as you hurry down the sidewalk flaunting your overflowing shoulder bag and upscale logoed cup.
Nike wants you to feel like a winner, as you proudly tee up your $4 swoosh-embossed golf ball.
Despite the fact that you’ll inevitably smash it into the woods, where it will land humbly amongst the $1 Spauldings and Wilsons.
Harley wants you to feel like a member of an exclusive, free bird club, as you hang up your pinstripe suit and don a $40 t-shirt, $300 pair of boots and $400 black leather Harley jacket.
And Apple? Well, let’s just say Apple totally gets branding and the spirit of our times.
Dre headphones anyone?
Please don’t get me wrong.
I am not saying that it’s all about image and that product and service attributes are irrelevant.
In fact, it’s just the opposite.
From selecting organic eggs for my children, which tells me that I’m a caring Dad, to driving a Tesla, which tells me that I’m a progressive one.
Today the substance of a brand is as important, if not more so, than the sizzle in creating resonant associations and the subsequent brand “feeling.”
What I am saying is that your products, services, pricing, place of business, promotion, and people are all a means to an end.
And that end is the outward-focused, enhanced identity of your audience.
So forget about trying to figure out whether you’re a Buick or a Bugatti.
It really doesn’t matter.
Instead, get busy ingratiating yourself to your audience.
By helping them feel good about themselves and their decisions.
And after a while, that unique and valuable way of being will become your true, and valuable, brand identity.