Am no longer blogging here…

…but thanks for visiting!  Am spending most of my time these days working to shift demand towards sustainable consumption with blissmo.  Sign up to save up to 50% on the best in organic & sustainable!  

For more on me, check out my LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile, or follow me on Twitter.  If I do start blogging again, it’ll be at sundeepahuja.com. Again, thanks for stopping by!

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Book review: “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion”

Book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Summary:  This book can’t be summarized.  It can only be very, very strongly recommended.

Recommended? YES. Buy it now if you haven’t read it.

Table of contents:
1 Weapons of Influence
2 Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take…and Take
3 Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind
4 Social Proof: Truths Are Us
5 Liking: The Friendly Thief
6 Authority: Directed Deference
7 Scarcity: The Rule of the Few

Notes:
Below are my key takeaways and some interesting points, but I’m telling you.  Buy it.  Read it. Trust me.

  • Expensive implies quality. Example: gems in a jewel case that weren’t selling were marked up and then sold at a “discount” to the markup (a price higher than the original price), and they sold like hotcakes.
  • Power of contrast. Example: If you go into a men’s store they’ll try and sell you an expensive suit before the sell you the expensive sweater, because the contrast makes the sweater appear more affordable.
  • Reciprocity. Example: If someone buys you something (say, a Coke), you’re more likely to by something from them (say, raffle tickets).
  • Concession. Example: If someone tries to sell you something and you pass (say $5 of $1 raffle tickets), they’ll try and sell you something less that you’ll end up buying because you feel bad (1 $1 raffle ticket).  Another term used here is “reject then retreat.”
  • Commitment leads to consistency leads to collaboration.  Example: During the Korean war, the Chinese got American soldiers to make public commitments of various things.  Then they made those commitments even more public, which the American soldiers had to stand by to be consistent.  That consistency then led them down a path of minor forms of collaboration – without them really thinking about it as such.
  • Writing something down, even privately, strengthens your commitment to something.
  • People like and believe in commitment because their image and reputation is on the line (ie the Chinese concentration camp example above).
  • People like more what they struggle to get, even if it’s not that good. Example: frats (hey, it’s in the book, don’t hate the messenger).
  • People like to feel they have control over a decision – even if they really don’t.
  • The power of social proof, or the idea that if others do it it’s good.  Example: introverted pre-schoolers who saw introverted kids become social in a movie were more inclined to go play. Another example: cults.  People follow the crowd because they believe in the “wisdom” of the crowd.
  • Convince and you shall be convinced.  Example: cults, where people who convince or convert others become more convinced (that’s why so many are evangelical).
  • Assign responsibility if you want things done. Example: a stabbing that took place over many minutes had 38 witnesses…it happened cause everyone figured someone else would call the police.
  • The power of copycats that’ll play on social proof.  Example: if you find a wallet of someone like you and you’re more likely to return it (it’s true).   Another (scary) example: more suicides when the press publicizes a suicide…more fatal “accidents” too.
  • Liking is an important part of influence.  Attractiveness, similarity (identity and context), compliments, contact & cooperation all can make someone more influential.
  • The reason good cop/bad cop works is because the subject feels someone is on their side.
  • Associations are powerful. Bearers of good news get treated well, and bad news get treated poorly.  Examples: weathermen (or Roman messengers reporting lost battles!)
  • People tend to defer to authority/experts.  Examples: experiments involving shock therapy where people listened to a guy in a lab coat to inflict pain on another human being (incredible how strong this is).
  • The power of connotations and context over content, and how it can imply authority.  Titles and clothing do this.
  • Gaining trust.  Example: a waiter who advises against a more expensive item early in the meal will gain the trust of everyone at the table, and then he can suggest more expensive items and more items through the course of the meal.
  • Scarcity is powerful. There’s a psychological reaction…people don’t want to lose their freedom, and don’t want to lose.  This plays to a second point: competition. Invite 3 used car buyers at the same time and you’ll sell the car faster.  A cookie is more attractive if there are two of them than if there are 10 of them. (Always as yourself when something is scarce: will the cookie taste as good if there are 10 of them?). Plus, if you saw that the number went from 10 to 2, you want it even more. It can even lead to revolt…when something is given and then taken away, people get mad; if something is never given at all, they don’t know what they’re missing.
  • “It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful.”
  • “The most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange group conditions to allow the principle of social proof to work maximally in their favor.”
  • “Social proof is most powerful for those who feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and who, consequently, must look outside of themselves for evidence of how to best behave there.”

More on this book on goodreads!

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Book review: “Brand Simple”

Book: BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed

Summary:  To build a great brand, pick something different and important about your product, create a simple branding message around it that generates an emotional response, and then stick to it!

Recommended? Eh, not really…you’ll get the gist in this blog post (you’re welcome).

Key takeaways:

What is a brand?

  • “A brand is what your product or service stands for in people’s minds; it might be an image or, perhaps, a feeling. Branding is the process of executing and managing the things that make people feel the way they do about your brand.”
  • A brand is a “promise that links a product or service to a consumer.”
  • “A brand simplifies choice. ‘Let’s go to Subway’”

What makes a strong brand?

  • “It has been proven time after time that the strongest brands are built on simple, compelling ideas that grab people by signaling that something is different from what they’ve heard and seen before and is relevant to their needs.”
  • “’Brevity is the soul of brand.’”
  • “The best brands connect on an emotional level, not a rational level.” Why? “Emotion almost always wins over function, even in the most commonly used or ubiquitous products.”
  • “For a brand to be successful it must stand for something different, and this difference must be relevant to its users.”
  • Brands transcend the category.  Think Kleenex for tissues, Virgin for airlines, etc.

How do you figure out your brand?

  • “If you want to win you must know what you’re selling, find a way to prove that what you’re selling is different, and distill this difference into a focused idea that can drive and unite everything associated with your brand.”
  • Understand the market, the consumer, and the competition, and figure out what factors can enhance the product’s point of differentiation.
  • Speaking of competition, figure out what they say they do better then you, then make sure you communicate to the customer that you do these things at least as well as they do to get to parity.  Then tell them what you do better or different.
  • Make a list of desired – and undesired – associations (and their relative importance), to help you figure out your “brand driver.” What’s a “brand driver”? It’s what your brand stands for.  Find something different to say about your brand, make it simple and focused, and align it with your business strategy.  When finding something different, try to look for “an obvious and universal truth that no one else has seen.”
  • The author talks about something called a “BrandAssetValuator,” which is a fancy tool based on the interrelationships of four brand dimensions:

1.    “Differentiation – what makes your brand unique
2.    Relevance – how appropriate this difference is to the audience you want to reach
3.    Esteem – how well regarded your brand is in the marketplace
4.    Knowledge – how well consumers know and understand your brand”

Branding starts with the team

  • “Everyone on the…team understands the simple idea on which the brand is based and knows how to bring it to life.”
  • Map the customer journey so employees know where and how customers interact with your brand.  If you have partners, resellers, etc., make sure they know how to communicate your brand as well.
  • You need a “brand driver” for external and internal use; the short phrase that captures the essence of your idea.  For example, take GE: “imagination at work.” This is important so employees know how to make decisions that align with the brand. FedEx is great example…what’s their promise to customers and to them selves? On-time delivery by 10:30am.  If you ever watched Castaway, remember the way that brand promise unified everything for everyone in the early scenes? And that last scene where he delivered the package: that’s delivering on the brand promise.

Alright, those are my notes from the book.  At then end he’s got a summary, which I..umm…summarize here:

1. “Understand that brand and branding are different concepts.”
2. “Establish a differentiated meaning for your brand that the consumers you want to reach care about—find relevant—before you try to begin branding.”
3. “Know exactly who you want to talk to—that is, know your audience.”
4. “To find a different and relevant brand idea, look for the obvious.”
5. “Make sure your brand idea aligns with your business strategy.”
6. “Capture the essence of your brand idea in a brand driver—a simple statement of what your brand stands for.”
7. “Draw a map of the customer’s journey with your brand.”
8. “Remember that brand building is a marathon event.”

Check out more on this book on goodreads!

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Book review: “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This”

Book: Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads, Second Edition

Summary:  Of the parts I did read (I skipped the chapters on creating radio and TV ads), this book can be summarized by saying: the best ad creative is simple, clever, honest, and evokes an emotional response (easier said than done!).

Recommended? Nope. Unless you’re in the ad business, as this book is really for folks who create ads for a living, not for folks looking to get a few tips on marketing or brand building (go figure).

Key takeaways:

  • Know the product, inside, outside, and upside down. How does it feel to use it?
  • It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it (duh). Example: Imagine an ad for tennis balls with the words reading back and forth across the page like watching a tennis match. Another example: Imagine an ad for flowers titled “Exactly how mad is she?” with three different bouquet sizes pictured (genius!).
  • Position yourself against something people know…against something tangible…a known quantity.
  • Create “benefit boards” of what your product does well, show it to customers, and see what resonates.
  • Read the publications your ads will be in as context is king. Example: An Economist billboard ad that reads “Ignore obstacles” that — yup, you guessed it — is obscured a bit by a building pillar.
  • Dramatize the benefit over the feature. “People don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes.”
  • Use tools to capture attention: wit (ha!), metaphors (something they already know), and photos.

Select quotes from the book:

  • “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved” - John Dewey
  • “‘Each brand has its own core value, something it stands for. I use the expression ‘brand=adjective.’ Volvo = safety. FedEx = overnight. Dan Wieden puts it another way: Brands are verbs. ‘Nike exhorts, IBM solves, and Sony dreams.’”
  • “First, say it straight. Then say it great.”
  • “Make the claim in your ad something that is incontestable.”
  • “Avoid style. Focus on substance.”
  • “Find the central truth about your product”
  • “‘Words are a barrier to communication’” (menos es mas, amigos!)
  • “Don’t set out to be funny. Set out to be interesting.”
  • “Write like you would talk if you were the brand”
  • “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
  • “‘Tell the truth and run.’”
  • “Certain headlines are currently checked out. You may use them when they are returned. Lines like, ‘Contrary to popular belief…’ or ‘Someting is wrong when…’ These are dead. Elvis is dead. John Lennon is dead. Deal with it.”

Sample ads: 

  • From a Crispin&Porter ad: “Sales” is a hitchhiker saying “To Jacksonville.” “Marketing” is that same hiker saying “To Mom’s for Christmas.”
  • An ad for Volvo which is simply a safety pin in the shape of a car
  • An ad for a travel agency with photos of exotic destinations that reads “After you get married, kiss your wife in places she’s never been kissed before” (he he)
  • An ad with the copy “Which of these three kids is wearing Fischer-Price anti-slip roller skates” — showing just one kid off to the right
  • An Economist ad: “Lose the ability to slip out of meetings unnoticed”
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Vote with your dollar

In early 2006 I started a blog called Change Your World, with the sub-title “Little, everyday things you can do to make your world a better place”. I then wrote a whopping six posts before running out to things to talk about (read: getting lazy). The goal of the blog was not to be another (annoying) voice cheerleading “Yeeeay recycling! Yeeeay organic!” to “save the world”, but to point out that doing things like recycling and eating organic is better for YOU; believe it or not, it’s usually the selfish thing to do.

Further, it was an effort to get folks (including myself) thinking about the “net impact” of a product/service; about all the externalities associated with production, raw materials, transport, and so on. My opening post argued that buying recycled, eco-friendly toilet paper reduced cancer risk (possible dioxins and formaldehyde in regular tp!) while improving children’s health, preserving the environment, and saving water. It’s a bold call (I was unemployed at the time if that explains anything), but these days a growing number of folks are talking about the “total cost” of a product; for example, here’s a NYT article that talks about “food miles”, or how far food has traveled before you buy it.

To that end, though resolutions come and go I intend to make an effort this year to be (even more) conscious about how I “vote with my dollar“. Each time I spend money, I voice support for what I buy (these days, I really, really support San Francisco’s bars/clubs). Buying recycled toilet paper is not only better for me and better for my world, but it also sends a (small) message to the folks over at Charmin that I care about me and my world — and that they should too if they care about their profits (or the profits from a  Ultra-Soft 16-roll pack, anyways).

This year, I’m going to make more of an effort to vote organic and free-range (over processed and themeatrix). And to vote local (over food transported from across the globe). And to vote fair-trade (over, um, unfair-trade).

You get the idea.

For anyone interested in everyday impact, here were the six posts I made to my “change your world” blog:
Volunteer your PC through the World Community Grid
Reach for the Nalgene instead of the Evian
Don’t just search…GoodSearch!
Changing the world is as simple as changing your homepage
Loan $25 (or more) to change lives through Kiva
Wash your hands

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A quick note on Manav Sadhna (amazing non-profit operating in India)

When several of your closest friends (whom you also happen to deeply admire as people, not the drinking buddies) (no offense dudes!) get involved with a non-profit (I hate the word ‘charity’), it says something powerful about the organization. Two of these friends, Seema Patel and Premal Shah, actually went to India at recent points in their lives and spent several months on location working with the organization, Manav Sadhna, which “is comprised of a young group of dedicated individuals working for the upliftment of poor and needy children.”

Last week, Seema and my buddy Dev hosted a fundraiser for Manav Sadhna in LA and were able to raise over $3,500. Here was the reply from the Uncle that Dev sent the check to (for my non-Indian peeps, ‘Uncle’ is a word used in respect for older fathers…call a younger father an Uncle at your own risk):

For sure this funds will go long ways and help many kids and mothers for our 32 on going projects…For example Shanta ba and her blind son slept hungry for 2 days last year because she couldn’t see any more and not work at age of 78! She came to MS community center for help. $42 gave her an eye operaton in govt hospital and $4 gave her the glasses she required after that. In two weeks she was all smiles and actually work and see the face of her widow daughter’s daughter!

Yeah.

They don’t accept donations on their site yet, but if you’d like to donate you can send money to Dev via PayPal and he’ll pass it along; his email addy is dev@devdugal.com.

(mp3 audio of this blog post)

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The next good thing: PROJECT GOOD

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last few years it became cool to be what is now (affectionately) called “socially conscious”. Folks being conscious of their social impact is nothing new, but buying organic/fair trade/green used to get me branded as a treehugging, free-love-loving, ganja-smoking hippie (which, umm, may or may not be true) — yes I live at Haight/Ashbury, but c’mon people, I own an SUV*!

Marketers have given this raaapidly growing segment of our population a nice name. We are the LOHAS market, which according to the Wiki is an acronym for “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability that…in year 2006 was estimated at $300 billion…market [domestic].” Did you catch that? Let me repeat: $300 BILLION. A few weeks ago at GreenFestSF I got a glimpse of alll the different things people are doing to get your dollars and grow that market, including everything from “green” mattresses to anti-oxidant wonder juices to ethical investment funds. But unlike other market opportunities (like, say, oil) this market is all good because it’s all GREEN, right? Psh.

Home over Thanksgiving I picked up my wonderful hometown publication, The Sacramento Bee, to read the following unsurprising headline: Many ‘green’ claims may be shady. Umm…you think? And many claims, even if they’re true, are waaay over-hyped as the most AmAzInG thing when in fact they’re quite mediocre; not to name names but one bottled water company (Ethos) donates a nickel a bottle towards international water development projects, and they charge $1.80 a bottle…you do the math. Clearly, there needs to be a way to figure out what’s really good, and what’s not so good.

Project Good

Enter PROJECT GOOD.

It’s not here yet, but Project Good will be a marketplace where you can see how legit — or good, if you will — products really are. You know a rug is Fair Trade if you can trace that rug back to the smiling rug maker in Afghanistan who made it. You know how much of your money is going where you want it and how much is going to line the pockets of sharks trying to play you a FOOL (sorry, got a bit carried away) if there is transparency. You know you want something like this…well, Project Good is coming.

You can learn a bit more about Project Good at projectgood.com, a placeholder site for the marketplace which will be launching soon.  Project Good is a collaboration of eBay and World of Good, and the product of years of work; I highly encourage you to sign-up …

[alright, I think it’s time for full disclosure…I’m consulting for Project Good on marketing, specifically to help drive sign-ups and interest pre-launch — so yes, by signing up you’re doing me a favor : ), but no, I’m not misleading you about the potential of this marketplace. It is the brainchild of some close friends who are truly building something amazing (guys, don’t let me down here!)].

So sign-up and stay tuned….

* Which I never drive…and even still, it’s carbon neutral : )

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Good Magazine & “Steal This Idea”

First off, I want to make a plug for Good Magazine. Great content, wonderful community, and the best part is that when you subscribe 100% of your money goes to one of 12 non-profits (Kiva just recently became an option!). Plus, you’ve gotta love their tag-line: A magazine for people that give a damn.

The reason for this post is to highlight a section they have called “Steal This Idea”, which I love. Folks with ideas for something / anything that’ll somehow make the world a better place can write in with those ideas, and then the editors pick the ones they like and profile one per issue. What I wish they’d do different is make it more of a democratic process and allow readers to vote on the ideas. An open flow of innovation between Good Magazine’s self-selected readership could spark some really big things, and help GOOD ideas become GREAT ideas. Yeah? You with me?

Oh fine…I’ll be honest. I submitted an idea and it didn’t make the cut : (
Luckily I have a blog and can self-publish! : ) Ready? Here it is:

Everyone has stuff lying around they want to sell but don’t have time to, right? So this is what I propose: A win-win-win for (1) people with stuff they want to get rid of, (2) the Salvation Army, and (3) local non-profits.

Step 1: Someone with stuff he/she wants to get rid of takes 5 minutes to list what he/she has and the condition that it’s all in on a simple website, and indicate which of the participating local non-profits he/she wants to benefit (minimum $100 value per item).
Step 2: The Salvation Army comes by and picks up the stuff.
Step 3: While the stuff is in the Salvation Army warehouse, the non-profit specified lists the items on eBay and tries to sell it.

If the stuff sells, the Salvation Army sends the goods out, the non-profit gets the proceeds of the sale, and the person gets a tax write-off for the selling price of the goods. If the stuff doesn’t sell, the Salvation Army gets the stuff and the person gets a much smaller, but still better than zero, tax write off. Yes, I know the Salvation Army has some very particular beliefs which I don’t necessarily agree with, but my understanding is they do a good job of taking donated items and giving them to those in need, and I’ll bet a lot of people hold on to higher-value stuff — and this might incentivize them to move those items as well. Ideally the stuff sells and local non-profits have a new, high-value revenue stream : )

I (sorta) tried to start this back in 2003, but (very) quickly realized it was more work that I was willing to do. Sad, I know. Have an idea you’re not going to make happen, and don’t have a blog to publish it so you can show off how clever you (think you) are? Send ‘em into Good: stealthisidea[at]goodmagazine.com

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Feel the fusion

Like many people, I think I can write. Like most people, I really can’t. Still, that small fact will not stop me from publishing a movie script (page by page) that my friend Jaspaul and I started (and stopped) waaay back in 2003. We started the script with the intention to share some of our stories with the world (starring us, of course). We stopped working on the script when we realized we had no idea what we were doing. We wanted to pick it up again someday but more than 4 years later fusion rots away on my hard drive.

Until now : )

It’s (supposed to be) Good Will Hunting meets Save the Last Dance meets School Ties meets Spaceballs. Please note that the script is Rated R for language, adult situations, and poor attempts at humor (like that Spaceballs mention).

Forgive me: http://feelthefusion.wordpress.com/

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Panel – Beyond the Poke: The Social Impact of Social Networking

I’m speaking on a panel tomorrow (Saturday) about how social causes can leverage social networking platforms (last week I spoke about the future of social networking — as if anyone knows). Premal was supposed to speak but now he can’t make it, so I’m speaking in his stead (sweet, huh?). Anyways, the organizer asked for a short blog post on the organization’s blog, which I figured I’d re-post here since I’m all about leverage.

Hey folks. Just wanted to write a quick post to encourage everyone attending >play this weekend to try and make the “Beyond the Poke” panel. No, it’s not about how to ask for a real date after poking someone (which is a weird thing to do, btw), but about “The Social Impact of Social Networking”. The panel description asks: “Does Web 2.0 provide the necessary platform for…causes to continue to develop and grow well into the future?”. Well, having spent time as a Product Manager at MySpace (a social-networking site still popular outside of the Valley), as Director of Marketing for Kiva.org (Bill Clinton’s favorite non-profit*), and as an advisor to / team member of a few other causes, I can tell you the answer is [omitted…sorry, you’ll have to attend the panel to find out]. In all seriousness, social networks are a powerful platform for causes to organize, involve and empower; beyond awareness lies action, and it’s my personal belief that social causes that can effectively leverage the social graph stand to accelerate their mission of changing the world (for the better!). See you tomorrow.

(*Okay, it’s probably not his favorite non-profit, but he’s definitely a big fan)

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