Monthly Archives: February 2012


We are hardwired to seek out authenticity – the “real” thing.

We look for it in our personal relationships, in our business relationships, in the things we buy, and in the things we treasure. We care about provenance, because it’s a promise of security in an uncertain world. But sometimes we get fooled – hoodwinked, bamboozled, fleeced, swindled – and that can cause pain and loss. Think the Trojan Horse. Think Bernie Madoff.

Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, has done fascinating research into how & why we value authenticity. He calls it Essentialism. Watch this video and have your eyes opened.

Moral of the story – authenticity, provenance, back-story…these are huge drivers of consumer behavior.


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Filed under Risk Management

Inside Jokes

Our 9th president, William Henry Harrison, won by a landslide in 1840. His campaign was the first-ever to use a campaign slogan – “Tippycanoe and Tyler Too.” There were buttons, posters, pamphlets, songs and copious mud slinging on both sides, just like the modern campaigns we know and love today. But here’s that fascinating part – it was an inside joke that propelled him to office.

Opposition newspapers accused him of being too old for the presidency and suggested, “Give him a barrel of hard cider and … a pension … and he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.” Harrison realized this was an insult to the majority of voters and he gleefully transformed this slur into an inside joke. He poked endless fun at the “patrician snobs” sitting in Washington who drank fine wine while honest men drank cider. His team organized “log cabin raising” events in most major cities to rally the agrarian base. And his entourage shared barrels of hard cider at every speech and whistle-stop. He won by a landslide.

Moral of the story – be as one with your base. Build trust with stakeholders by demonstrating you are “of the tribe” through thought, word, action, and humor!

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Filed under Sense of community

Get Cozy with Google?

I’ve been online since 1995 and have rarely read online privacy policies in detail – think Facebook, Google, Ebay, etcetera.  I just check the box and click “I Agree.”

Turns out I’m not alone. Recent research suggests that the most of us skip over these policy statements. Net – they are too long, too technical or sometimes understood as a promise that security measures are in place. Behavioral economists call this type of behavior “future discounting.” It’s when we ignore potential for negative consequences in favor of an immediate payoff.

By now you probably know that Google is rolling out a new Privacy Policy that links your user information from across Google platforms. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Privacy advocates are crying foul and negative press is building – Orwell’s 1984 in 2012. Google has anticipated the negative buzz and launched an info campaign to turn things around – includes easy-to-read policy documents, video explanations, cartoon icons to humanize the story, and a folksy tonality that leads off with the line “This stuff really matters.”

To be honest, it’s working for me. I’m going to continue to use Google apps and ignore their privacy policy. And now I also get a warm, cozy feeling from how Google handles privacy. Fingers crossed their intentions are honorable…

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Souring the Collective Mind

Carnival beforeCarnival after                                                                                                                                                                                          You can tell a lot about what consumers are thinking by playing a bit of word association – what thoughts, feelings and ideas link together in their individual heads. Then look at this in aggregate – using social media monitoring tools like Sysomos – and you get a snapshot of what’s on their collective mind.

The example above is pulled from research done by the Digital Influence Group. It shows a “2 weeks before” vs. “2 weeks after” view of web chatter  linked to the Costa Concordia disaster. Note that the explosion of negative press transformed the consumer narrative around cruising in general, and Carnival in particular, from good to bad. And industry sales have plunged 10%-15% vs. year ago.

Moral of the story – yet more proof that bad press is bad for business.

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My Car…My Self

A Hummer…like nothing else.

Actually no. In my mind a Hummer is a lot like Arnold Schwartzenegger and post 9/11 patriotic values. Pretty amazing how we create this invisible social codification based on car models. Democrats drive Saabs, lesbians drive Subarus, Gen Yers drive Scions, aging Boomers are piling into the new Camero. And guess who is driving the Maybach.

Cars are the modern totem – something we wear around our neck that reminds us who we are, and signals to others our tribal values and status. Take a look at this psychographic segmentation – what your car says about you – published by Forbes.

Moral of the story – we have a visceral attachment to cars and a powerful, irrational drive to buy the model that suits us best. Cars define our personal style, reinforce our social standing and, for females interested in propagating the species, they can signal strong genes. Gasoline, of course, is the great equalizer…

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Filed under Sense of identity

Mistaken Identity

rear end of Nissan QuestQuick – what make of car are you looking at? No, it’s not the new Mercedes GLK model as I thought today when pulling up behind it at a stop light. It’s the 2012 Nissan Quest.

This  car seriously overhangs the market in the design department. It’s got features I’ve either never seen before, or have only just begun to see on the street. Things like radically sloping front hood, massive logos peaking out from the grill, front and rear brake lights that look suspiciously like bug eyes. Fasten your seat belts, another design revolution is underway and I for one am lost in America. Some design elements are absorbed into a shared vernacular. Others become distinctive brand identifiers – to name a few old and new:

  • Floor mounted ignition/key (Saab)
  • Rear mounted engine (original Bug)
  • Side panels that look like shark gills (Land Rover)
  • Headlights designed to look like owl eyes (BMW)
  • Headlight frames with a row of mini lights stretched to look like eyelashes (Audi)

Moral of the story – automobile designs come and go like hemlines, but some design elements stick in popular consciousness and come to define specific brands. For better or for worse, it’s all a matter of personal taste and tribal identity…but that’s for another post!

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Filed under Sense of community, Sign of Quality


mitt keeperFrank Bruni’s editorial in yesterday’s NY Times touched on a fascinating subject. Why does Mitt fall so flat? He describes Romney as “missing magic” and the “gravitational pull” needed to create political momentum. Compare that to Obama, “W” and Clinton in prior elections. These three had serious magnetism.

Here’s an article from the American Psychological Association journal that frames out some of the physiological and behavioral science behind charisma. The thinking is that charismatic people have the following qualities:

  • High Emotional Intelligence that lets them build rich and rapid emotional connections
  • Ability to intuitively mimic the mannerisms and tone of those around them
  • Ability to speak and gesture in sympathetic cadence that captivates those around them
  • And, tellingly, the must do all this naturally/instinctively to have the proper effect – if it is forced, people see through it immediately

These concepts link nicely to current thinking about building strong brands – understand your target consumer and then weave a narrative around the brand concept that speaks in consumers’ natural language and to their needs. And, whatever you do, avoid being fake or inauthentic – they will sense it immediately and lock you out of their heart!

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Filed under Search for leaders