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Make it easy for the mid-brain
2014-08-02: I gave a talk the other day, I was one of three people, and my chosen topic was the underlying psychology of sales and marketing .. principles you can take and apply to everything you do.
I majored on the importance of having brand values that are consistent and clear, and I have a low-cost method of working out and communicating them, so I shared that.
All fine. But then I hit slightly choppy waters when I started talking about priming effects and triggering the mid brain, so I wanted to explore that a little more here.
The idea is that we have an old brain that's constantly on the looking for change. When it spots something different it asks: can I eat it? Can I shag it? Should I run? So, there are techniques to engage with that.
The mid-brain or subconcious, it turns out that's a lot cleverer than we tend to think. It can do maths, spot trends, and brings relevent stuff to hand effortlessly. It makes our decisions for us (that whole logic thing is just a veneer to make us feel good).
Our new brain is the one with language and logic, and it's hard work, it uses blood sugar when we think. It's effort, and it feels like a drag.
The problem from the floor was that using methods that trigger the mid-brain to unthinkingly part with cash feels snidey, dishonest.
I countered, at the time, that .. well, the extent to which you would deploy these methods depends on your brand values. The person raising the issue wanted a fully open and honest relationship with their public.
Thinking about it, I still don't think we got to the nub, so here it is.
I might, as a for instance, want to support the Terrence Higgins Trust out of pure goodness and humanity. That absolutely does not mean that I want to know all about AIDS or HIV or the Terrence Higgins Trust's campaigns or how the government is not listening or AIDS in Africa or concerts or campaign gains or losses or new treatments or anything else. All of that is new brain effort stuff. I may have made my decision once to support the Trust, and just want to outsource my caring to that Trust. Here's £10 a month, go do your thing, don't bother me again .. unless .. unless .. it's relevant to me.
Obviously, not everyone thinks that way. Obviously, a great many people who support the Terrence Higgins Trust would care about many aspects of HIV.
Anyway, wanting an open and honest relationship with an audience, from a marketing perspective, that suggests (I may be wrong) that if I follow that organisation, I'm going to be bombarded with loads of engaging stuff. I'm saying I may support you, but I may not want the engaging stuff.
The Internet is a place of abundance, except when it comes to attention.
So .. if you have people who support you, and they will do that because their values match your lived and communicated brand values, I don't think it's dishonest to design ways they can help you without them having to engage their effortful new brain. They already like you, they don't have to relive and rework the decision every time.
Call it usability if you like.
So now, let me tell you about Aldi.
I was dragged into Aldi one day by my wiser half, against my wishes. I was, frankly, embarrassed to be seen there. My business wasn't doing so well, and we had to save money. "Aldi is where the poor people go", is what was in my head. I started my first business in Thatcher's Britain when people used to work from their back bedroom but call their home "Impact House" and buy cassette tapes of office noise to play in the background so when they made calls and wrote letters, it all looked like you were bigger and more successful than you in your pyjamas working in the back bedroom & driving a Mini Metro would suggest (not autobiographical). Everyone likes to keep up appearances, no-one buys from a failure. I'm over that now. But then, I'm back in the fiscal black. Perhaps I'm there because an Aldi shop is about half the cost of a Sainsbury's one.
Well nowadays, said wise one is gluten free and Aldi doesn't do that, so yesterday we orfed (jeez, it's such a pleasure to not feel autocorrect angina, to just be able to type and make up words without auto-correct fucking it up every time) to Sainsburies.
I tried to buy some reasonably priced fruit.
Sainsbury's has a Basics range. It doesn't seem to be like Tesco's value range where the price is low. The price isn't really low. It's just .. here's a basic thing everyone buys. That makes no sense, not everyone buys apples, but anyway, the price didn't seem low. So there's my logic brain trying to work that out.
I tried to buy some mangoes. There were packs of two mangoes for £4. On the price label, they provide a price per 100g calculation so you can compare, except in this case it said £2 per fruit. OK, I got that. Above that was a "box of mangoes" for, as I recall, well anyway for the sake of argument, £10. Is this boring you yet? Like I say, it's effortful thinking. The whole shop is like this. I know you know, but there's a point coming.
So the box of mangoes, if you really looked you could work out how many mangoes were in there. But were they the same sort of mangoes? And was it more value? That gave a price per 100g. So to work that out, I'd need to weigh the two packs. Scales. 1 set. Bowl/container/dish thing missing. Find an assistant. Repeat request for reinstatement of weighing scales dish three times because foreign. Go do something else while he works on that. At end of shop, bowl not reinstated. All fruit more expensive than Aldi anyway. Buy carrots.
One more example. I sometimes get the urge to push a cream cake into my face. I only need one because that satiates the urge and the wise one is gluten free. I've stood for what seems like hours at the fridge not finding anything that really works. Morrisons Raspberry Turnovers work. Sainsbury's cake counter is a fabulous place with lovely staff. But it's all 3 for 2 offers.
I don't want 3, I haven't got that many friends. I just want to buy a thing and eat it. I don't want to buy a thing and eat it while thinking "I could have got this so much cheaper if only I'd gone for the 3 for 2 offer". It's a guilty pleasure anyway. That makes it no longer a pleasure. I've stood at that counter and struggled, I'm serious, struggled to overcome all of that, and walked away, more than once.
I tweeted Sainsbury's about it, we got into a long (for Twitter) conversation. I explained that the last time this happened was a Friday night. On the Saturday morning directly after failing to buy from the Sainsbury's cake counter out of sheer confusion, I spent well over a tenner in a local bakery where I wasn't troubled by 3 for 2 offers. Their final reply to that before I gave up; this from a professional outfit to a 53 year old man: "I bet you got a lot of yummy treats! It's making me want to make a trip to the bakery myself. Tiffany"
Here's my big point. Supermarkets have traded for years on confusion, on making your new brain work so hard it gives up, leaving any strategy you had in tatters and your defences down so they can hit you with pictures of pretty girls and healthy families and a sweet and cake aisle to make up for all the logic work you just did.
Well now, there's Aldi. Want carrots? Here are carrots. Want coffee? Here's coffee, there's decaf, and there's caf. Coffee. It's coffee. Here you are. You said you wanted coffee, here's the coffee. Is it any good? Yes it's good, our professionals chose it, our business depends on it. Yes it's cheap, that's because we keep it simple. One coffee. (Actually there are a couple of choices, but not a whole aisle.) You go shopping: coffee, apples, milk, cat litter, ice cream, yes .. mangoes, home. Done.
Aldi are making things easy. The other supermarkets are hard work. That was fine while there was no competition, but now there is.
I can do the week's shop in Aldi for half the price and be back home within 30 minutes, and my brain still has energy for politeness and a sense of humour.
So this "don't make me think" thing (notably a book title on web usability) is a very, very big deal. Allowing people to make easy choices once they have chosen to support you, that's big.
Yes, you could get all tricksy with sales psychology. God knows the supermarkets, brands, advertisers, PR guys, politicians and the rest are absolutely doing it gangbusters at us. That's seriously a crazy sized problem for the whole of humanity. But if you don't wanna because it feels wrong, just think usability and ease and not making your supporters jump through hoop after hoop. They are your supporters. Help them, make it easy for them to support you.

By John Allsopp
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