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

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!

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!

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”

Book review: “Made to Stick”

Book: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Summary: When marketing anything, keep these six concepts in mind if you want your message to shtick: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories; yes, my friends, that spells SUCCESs. If it sounds like too much work, these two concepts also work: Free, Sex (noooo, that’s not in the book…but it works I tell you!).

Recommended? Si. It’s a quick, fun read full of interesting anecdotes and examples that make the book’s message more *concrete* (a-hem). If you’re never going to pick it up, at least read a breakdown of the six principles on the book’s website.

One(ish)-liners for each of the six principles:

  • Simplicity – boil it all down to the core message you want people to walk away with….the one thing they should know/do…the key takeaway….the essence of your point…the singular (okay, I’ll stop).
  • Unexpectedness – generate interest and curiosity by being counter-intuitive or using surprise/some other technique. Oh, and you should send me money (see? that’s called “surprise”).
  • Concreteness – explain ideas “in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information”; people think in pictures, so paint a picture. For example, I’m sitting at my desk in my room typing this on my Dell laptop, sipping water and eating green curry chicken over rice. If you make it to the end of this post, I bet you’ll remember what I ate, but you won’t remember all six principles.
  • Credibility – it’s only what is said because of who says it; make sense? If you can’t get a spokesperson (Oprah), be vividly detailed; “sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials”.
  • Emotions – get people to care about your idea by evoking a feeling around your idea, and keep in mind that “we are wired to feel things for people, not for abstraction.” You make me happy by reading this blog post. (Don’t you feel happier knowing that, mom?)
  • Stories – wrap the idea with context and it’ll be remembered as associated with that context; sometimes, analogies work great here as they ground the idea in a story or context folks are familiar with (analogies also allow you to check off “simple” and “concrete”; for example, “my blog is the Pinto of the blogosphere” says a lot about my blog. And me, unfortunately.)

Key takeaways:

  • Think about what YOU would respond to if YOU were your target audience (make sense?). First this means understanding the frame of mind/perspective of your target audience (note: this is HARD). Then, it’s asking questions like “what would make me take notice?” Throw off what the authors affectionately refer to as the “Curse of Knowledge” (corny, but true) and go from there. How does your target audience views the world? What’s important to them? (Which raises some good questions…who are you people? And what’s important to you?)
  • Make ideas interesting in some way/shape/form. Sounds incredibly obvious but it’s in fact hard to do (think of all the crap advertising you see these days…clearly, if it were interesting it wouldn’t be crap…I’ll bet you had a hard time remembering explicit crap ads precisely because they were crap). Playing into people’s curiosity can be a powerful way to make things interesting (guess what color boxers I’m wearing).
  • When pitching something, emphasize benefits, not features; people want to know what’s in it for them (self-interest), or how what you’re offering supports something they believe in (identity). If you can nail both, you’ve got a winner (this whole “organic” craze, for example).
  • Final excerpt from the book. “For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:
  1. Pay attention
  2. Understand and remember it
  3. Agree/Believe
  4. Care
  5. Be able to act on it”
  6. Think free. Or sex. Or both.

Okay, without looking, what are the six principles? And what did I eat? And how much money are you sending me?

Book review: “Love Is The Killer App”

In an effort to (1) better retain what I read in non-fiction because my mind is like a friggin sieve, and (2) help save some of you from buying/plowing through books not worth their weight in cheetos, I’m going to write mini-book reviews on this blog; hope you like.

Book: Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends

Two sentence summary: Invest in your network and you’ll reap intangible rewards. Read a lot and share the learnings from what you read with your world.

Eh. Sorta. Nothing revolutionary in here, but that’s because this is how I’ve tried to approach my “network” from the beginning. Do what I can for people in my network without expectation of anything in return, and trust that when I need something the door will be open to ask. Right guys? You’ll hook me up when I need ya…right?? Also, the author clearly thinks I don’t read enough. Or maybe he reads too much. Waay too much.

Key takeaways:

  • After I read a book, exit a conversation, see a good movie, enjoy a good slice of chocolate cake, etc., take a minute to summarize the “Big Thought”, and then think about how to apply it.
  • Actively apply the learnings from the books I read shortly after reading them (yes, that’s where the idea for book reviews came from). Also, think about past experiences where they could have applied (explicit examples…yeah, the ones that make me go “doh!”).
  • Create a “personal university” of contacts/mentors that I can tap for input on an infrequent, as-needed basis. Bono, expect an email soon. You too Angelina.
  • Always have a joke or two handy. Or just look funny.
  • Prioritize my network (can’t wait to have a network to actually prioritize).

Questions I asked myself in reading this book:

  • Is there anything I’d rather be doing? Or anyplace I’d rather be? (As I type this, I’m IM’ng with my buddy Charles who’s chillin in Espana for two weeks. Sooo not fair to ask this question of myself right now…).
  • Am I truly going after what I want, all out? Am I pushing passed my limits to reach my goals? Am I really going to reach out to Bono?

Favorite lines:

  • “If you think you disappoint people with apathy, try disappointing them after you’ve committed yourself with compassion.”
  • “After my day ends I work on improving my conversational skills. Like a football coach, I run the tapes of the day’s game in my mind. I think about missed opportunities. I think about mistakes….” [I try and do this before going to bed each night…my days are boring enough that I fall right asleep.]
  • “Having permission to get close to people is everything.” [I think he means in business.]
  • “By expressing compassion, you create an experience that people remember. When people remember you, it’s good for your business.” [See “look funny” comment above.]
  • “The act of listening is absolutely critical to the act of connecting….” [Listen for what people do/offer and what they want/need…sounds great in theory but I have trouble just remembering names; see “friggin sieve” intro above.]
  • “Alan Kay, father of the personal computer, says that perspective is worth fifty IQ points.” [If you’re in M&A at a big company with deep pockets, you should know that our startup has loads of perspective.]