Episode 60 | Posted on

The Science (and Art) of Neuromarketing and Persuasion with Roger Dooley

Roger Dooley co-founded the extraordinarily popular College Confidential and now writes a regular Forbes column, Brainy Marketing as well as his own blog, Neuromarketing. If you have any doubts about its validity, though, you need only look at Roger’s accomplishments to see how well it works. After you’ve heard today’s conversation with him, check out his book, Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing for even more of his insights.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Marketing Speak! I’m your host Stephan Spencer, and today I’m super excited to have Roger Dooley with us. Roger is an expert on nnneuromarketing; in fact, he’s got a blog named Neuromarketing and a book that’s got neuromarketing in the title. His book is Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. His blog Neuromarketing is very popular. He also writes for forbes.com and has a column there called Brainy Marketing. He’s the founder of Dooley Direct, a marketing consultancy, and he co-founded College Confidential, the leading college-bound website. That business was acquired by Hobsons, a unit of UK-based DMGT, where Dooley served as VP of Digital Marketing and continues in a consulting role. Actually heard of College Confidential. That’s not a small site. That’s pretty cool.

No, it does a lot of traffic. In part, even though I’m not in the SEO space like you are, Stephan, I owe part of the success of that site to doing some sort of good, basic SEO architecture early on. That really helped it go forward.

Yeah, awesome. Looks like you’ve got an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee, so you’re well-schooled. I’ve got a Master’s in Biochemistry, which I don’t use. I’m imagining you’re not really using your engineering degree?

No, not in many, many years. Although I think that one thing you do get from an engineering degree or a business degree is often you develop a methodology of thinking about things and a methodology of problem-solving, so it’s not totally wasted even though, thank goodness, I’m not using differential equations or fluid mechanics these days.

Yeah, I know. I actually started in Chemical Engineering. I’m like, “Oh, I hate this,” and I switched to Cellular and Molecular Biology. It was just as hard.

Not exactly the easy way out.

It wasn’t quite as mind-numbingly boring to me. Welcome, Roger. Let’s start by talking about what exactly is neuromarketing?

Different people have different definitions of it, but I think at the most elementary level, it’s using the tools of neuroscience to gauge people’s reactions to ads, marketing, and products – tools like fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging that shows 3-D images of which areas of people’s brains are lighting up, say, as they view content or a product), EEG (that measures brainwaves externally, a lot cheaper and simpler than fMRI), and there are other tools of sort of neuroscience but maybe not exactly, things like biometrics and implicit testing. All these are designed to get below the consumer’s’ conscious and into their non-conscious beliefs, preferences, and so on. Actually, I prefer a broader definition that really encompasses any use of our understanding of how people’s brains work to do better marketing. In addition to those heard neuroscience and biometric tools, I’ll bring the tools of persuasion psychology and behavior research into the mix, too.

Okay, brain research and persuasion influence, but also some really high-end technology like functional magnetic resonance imaging. Do you have a lab that you work out of? Are you bringing people in and hooking them up to devices?

I don’t do my own neuromarketing research. I basically have been chronicling the industry since its very early days. I registered my domain neurosciencemarketing.com back in 2004, when keyword domains were actually a good thing. Just the fact that that was available then tells you that there wasn’t that much activity going on. I certainly didn’t invent the field. There were companies who were using the tools of neuroscience to market better, but it was still very much in its infancy. Most people considered it sort of a pseudoscience somewhere on a level with parapsychology or UFOs. I’ve been writing about it since 2005.

Okay, cool. Let’s talk a bit about the non-conscious mind. I’ve heard it called the subconscious or the unconscious, but I don’t normally hear it called the non-conscious. Can you differentiate these different terms for us?

In general, they mean the same thing. It seems like in the consumer neuroscience industry, which is what some people have branded neuromarketing these days. Because of some of the early negative connotations of neuromarketing, some practitioners began calling what they were doing “consumer neuroscience.” They tend to prefer “non-conscious” to “unconscious” or “subconscious.” But basically what all those terms mean is the processing in our brain and decision-making processes that we’re not aware of consciously. In other words, if you say, “Okay, I’m going to open the door,” and you reach your hand out for the doorknob consciously. That’s pretty obvious, but a lot of our decisions are made non-consciously in fact, so there’s some really fascinating research showing that our subconscious or non-conscious mind makes that decision seconds before we’re actually consciously aware of it. That’s really kind of startling. They tested this by measuring people’s brain activity, and they could tell when the decision was made. They also asked some people to press a button; that was how they signaled a decision was made. That was as many as multiple seconds later that they pushed the button, so the decision had been sort of – to use a computer analogy – the decision was made in background. It took a while for that to be pushed to the foreground so that they could push the button. The different neuroscientists and psychologists have all kinds of different numbers of how much of our brain activity and decision-making processes are conscious versus nonconscious, but the one that I use is from Gerald Zaltman of Harvard who estimated that 95% of our decision-making processes are non-conscious. Only 5% are conscious. There’s no real absolute way of determining this number, but I think that at least for me, qualitative standpoint, that really shows how much is going on underneath the surface and how as marketers, if we’re solely focused on rational arguments, facts, figures, specifications, and so on, that we’re really only addressing only a very small part of our customers’ mind.

A lot of our decisions are made non-consciously in fact, so there’s some really fascinating research showing that our subconscious or non-conscious mind makes that decision seconds before we’re actually consciously aware of it.

The amount of bandwidth that goes through the unconscious or nonconscious versus our conscious mind is staggering. The stat I heard was something about equivalent to like an 8-bit computer. Our conscious mind, where we have gigabytes of bandwidth traveling through our non-conscious or subconscious.

I’m not familiar with that comparison, but I think that no matter how you slice it, there’s a whole lot going on below the surface. A.K. Pradeep in his book The Buying Brain – his number was something like 99.9998 was nonconscious, and other folks have put it at 90% or 85%. There’s not any real statistic, but the important thing is that this is happening. I guess I could throw out another way that our thought processes are divided not exactly in conscious and nonconscious, but Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner, author of a really good book Thinking, Fast and Slow – to me, anybody who wants to understand how to work with the brains of consumers really needs to read Thinking, Fast and Slow. He divides our thought processes into system 1 and system 2. System 1 is that non-conscious part, but it’s fast, intuitive, emotional, rule-based, and very energy-efficient. Our brains consume a huge part of our body’s energy, at least in proportion to their size and weight as a percentage of the body volume and mass, and so our brains are always trying to be very energy-efficient. The other kind of decision-making thinking is system 2, and that’s the rational, analytical, logical thought process. Say when we’re gonna think about a problem, that’s what we do, but that is an uncomfortable mode for our brain. It’s energy-intensive, and so our brains will generally try and always default to system 1 if they can. What that means is if in your marketing, you are really using facts, figures, statistics, and so on to buttress your case, you’re forcing the customer into a mode of thinking, that system 2 thinking, that is not comfortable for them and that they’re trying desperately to get out of. Obviously at times, you need that information, but it should never really get in the way, if possible, of a faster, more emotional decision or rule-based decision like, “I bought that once. It worked for me. I’m just gonna buy it again.”

That more intuitive decision-making – that’s what you want the consumer to make. That’s the system 1.

Right. You know, I think we just had a great example of that. I don’t know when this will air but we’re just a week after the surprise election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. I think their messaging exemplifies those two modes of thinking. I look at the immigration policies of both candidates and Hillary Clinton had a very nuanced approach that looked at passed citizenship for folks who weren’t documented but had appropriate precautions in place. She had nine points overall, including elimination of some 3-year and 9-year bans or something. I don’t even know what those were. There were a couple of acronyms of policies that had been implemented by Obama that she was either gonna continue or not continue. The point is that anybody looking at that stuff would have to analyze it in system 2. It’s all facts, acronyms, complex policies, and weighing factor a against factor b. That’s not to say that these policies were wrong, but they were presented in a way that would force the voters into system 2 analysis of what she was saying where Donald Trump promised to build a wall. That’s something that could be processed in milliseconds by voters’ brains. And again, whether that is a good policy or a bad policy, the fact that his messaging was very simple, very memorable, yet was, I think, more powerful. Again, not to weigh the two in their merits, but I think that his was a much more brain-friendly approach.

That’s an interesting way to frame it. I hadn’t heard that, but it makes so much sense. I really do need to read that book. So many people keep recommending it to me, the Thinking, Fast and Slow book. Any other great books, by the way, since we’re talking about books that are musts for our listeners?

Well, I think that probably the starting point for most folks in this space is Robert Cialdini’s Influence. That’s been a continuous bestseller for 30 years. It’s sold 3 million copies. It’s perhaps the bestselling business book of all time. That’s a starting point where he introduces his six principles of influence, things like social proof. If you see other people doing something, you’re more likely to be persuaded to do that yourself, so that’s why folks – if they’re trying to get you to subscribe to their newsletter, they’ll tell you they already have 50,000 subscribers. Or why you go to the restaurant with a line out the door, instead of the one that has mostly empty tables. Reciprocation – if I do something for you, you’re more likely to do something for me in return, particularly if I did that first thing for you without any expectation, otherwise it wasn’t a quid pro quo. “I’ll do this for you if you’ll do it for me.” But if I do something for you with no expectation of returned favor, that makes you likely to actually do something for me in return, perhaps something of even greater magnitude than I did for you. His work really underlies an awful lot of what marketers do these days. Then just recently, about maybe two months ago now, I think, he came out with his first solo book in 30 years which is called Pre-Suasion, and it introduces quite a bit of new research. It introduces a seventh principle of influence “unity,” which is a sort of shared identity, and it goes deeply into: if you and I can identify as being part of the same group in some way, the same tribe if you will, any persuasion attempt will be much more effective. The other big underlying theme in Pre-Suasion is the importance of timing, that what you do right before you attempt to persuade somebody or influence somebody can have a big impact on that outcome. It relates to the concept of “priming.” There’s all sorts of scientific literature on how exposing people to various cues, often things they’re not aware of, perhaps an image that’s on a screensaver in the room they’re sitting in or in the picture on the wall – that can actually influence their behavior in the moments immediately following that exposure. The classic, therefore, priming, as John Bargh experimented, he had people decode little word puzzles. Some portion of the people, the word puzzles had words like “wrinkled,” “Florida,” “grey,” and so on in them, which they were very innocuously sprinkled in these little sentences, but all of them related to age. They all had sort of this implication of age. Then the real experiment wasn’t how long it took them to decode the puzzles or whether they did it successfully, but as they left the experiment, they walked to the elevator. The researchers timed how long it took them to walk the elevator, and the subjects who had been exposed or primed with these elderly words walked more slowly to the elevator. Very interesting experiment. Cialdini doesn’t get into Bargh’s work too much, but he has some great examples of his own. In the introduction, he talks about: he was going to do a sabbatical or a semester at another university and had planned to spend that time working on his new book that eventually became Pre-Suasion. Before he headed out to the university, he got a call from the dean who gave a really glowing description of the office that he was going to have, the staff support, all the things that have been laid on to make his time with that university special. This was very flattering for Cialdini because it was like, “These guys must really like me.” As it turns out, that itself is an important persuasion technique or influence technique. It’s mixed in with “liking,” one of his original six principles, and perhaps a little bit of “reciprocation” there, too. He was getting favors that he didn’t expect, and then immediately after that, the dean popped the question. One of the professors at that university was ill, and could Cialdini possibly teach one course in the business school, which Cialdini realized would totally screw up his plans for writing and researching because it was a new course that he never taught. It was for business school students, who were typically hyper-competitive and very sharp. In that moment, he said “yes,” that he would do it. In reflecting afterwards, he realized that timing had been everything there. If the dean had called a few days earlier and simply asked that question, he would have said no. When I talked to Cialdini on my podcast, he actually said that had he just waited a day – if the dean had called the following day, Cialdini probably could have mustered the gumption to say, “No, I really can’t. I’ve got to work on my book,” but in that moment, he was persuaded. The timing of these cues, whether they’re a “liking” cue or “reciprocation” or something else, is important. I recommend Pre-Suasion, but I would certainly read Influence first.

Awesome. Great advice. I’ve heard of this thing called the “critical faculty” that keeps your guard up from stuff going directly into your subconscious or non-conscious, like all these subliminal messages on the screensaver. If your critical faculty isn’t noticing or somehow you bypass the critical faculty to get right to the consumers’ non-conscious mind, that is gonna give you a great deal of influence, whereas if it gets picked up by their critical faculty, you don’t get in. Could you elaborate?

Yeah. I don’t actually use that term, but I think that is true to a limited degree. If you are aware, for example, of various persuasion techniques and you’re on your guard against them, you’ll probably be a little bit more resistant to those being effective. But at the same time, even then you aren’t always gonna be effective. There’s some research on flattery that demonstrates that flattery has been shown to make the person you’re speaking with or flattering like you more and remember more of what you tell them. If you’re in sales, it’s a good idea to find something that you can legitimately compliment your customer about as you’re interacting because it’ll make you a little bit more persuasive. The interesting thing when the researchers studied this, they found that even when the subject had reason to believe that the flattery was insincere – in other words, say, it was a salesman talking to them, where you might suspect, “Okay, this person’s just buttering me up so they can make a sale.” Even under that condition, the flattery still made them like the person more, and their message was more memorable. Even when we’re on our guard, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these techniques are 100% ineffective.

What would be some of the techniques that you would recommend our listeners employ to improve their marketing, improve their level of persuasion and influence?

I think that one thing that almost anybody can do is – of course, it depends on your business, your products, and so on, but one of the easier things to invoke is “liking.” Basically what that means is pointing out attributes that you share with your customer. Now in one-on-one sales situations, this is fairly straightforward. If you’re in somebody’s office, you can look around and realize that you’re both interested in golf or you’re both fans of University of Alabama or whatever. But of course on a website or in the digital marketing situation, you can’t really look at your customer and find those things. What you have to do is go with those things that are very likely to be shared attributes. For instance if you are selling pet products, showing pictures of the owner or the CEO or the staff with their pets would establish that “liking” effect with customers who are all themselves going to be pet owners. One example that I use in my speeches is PetSmart where they do a really nice job on their “About” page, where you’ve got those executive photos that are usually just images of sober looking, stiff people staring at the camera with kind of a stern expression. In this case, each of their executives is holding up a pet. In most cases, these are big dogs, fluffy cats, and they’re all smiling. The executives are all smiling, so it looks as if they’re really enjoying this. What they’re doing with that imagery is showing that “We are like you. We have our own pets. You can trust us to take care of your pet.” The only thing I would criticize them for is that this is buried. You’ve got to actually hunt down the “About” page and then click on the – I forget now – “Team” page or something to find this. What I would do if I were creating a website or a Facebook page or whatever is put that kind of imagery front and center. It should be on the landing page. It should be on the homepage, because that’s where it’s actually gonna have some influence. Something else that PetSmart does too is even their frontline employees – the people in the store who work the registers or assists you with products – many of them have an image of their pet right on their name badge. Instead of just the usual, “I’m Nicole,” you’ll see “I’m Nicole,” and a picture of Nicole’s dog on the badge. To me they’ve got the right idea, and they’ve got it partially implemented pretty well.

That’s pretty cool. I never noticed that. I guess, right to my subconscious, I am of course a PetSmart customer, but also Petco. I’m sure they’re doing all the subliminal messaging, and I’m just not picking it up on a conscious level. That’s really cool.

I think that that’s a pretty obvious one. If you’re selling industrial products or something like that, even there, there’s probably something that you can do to show – if you’re dealing mainly with engineers, then showcase the fact that the managers are engineers or the CEO’s an engineer or whatever. Find those things in common. It can be a regional thing. If you’re dealing with people in one state, then highlight your presence in that state and the fact that you’re actually part of that state. I think a good example of that is a supermarket we have here in Texas, HEB – oddly, they are only in Texas. They also have some stores in Mexico, but of the 50 states, they’re only in one state. But they’re huge, and they are extremely successful. They do consumer research on how much people like their supermarkets. HEB, I think, is near the top. I think Wegmans might be the top, and HEB is right up there with them. Of course, as you might expect, Walmart is somewhere near the bottom. They do a lot of smart things. I wrote a blog post in Forbes about that. One of the things they do constantly in all of their messaging is emphasize Texas. As you probably know, Stephan, people from Texas tend to be unusually proud of their state and of their affiliation with it. I’ve lived in various states around the country, and this is the only one where you see people putting emblems of the state, like either the outline of the state or the Texas star on their house, on their car. They have it cast into their driveway. They already feel that they’re part of Texas. HEB very wisely, in my opinion, plays up their Texas roots. Throughout the store, you will find messages – their coffees are all named after Texas cities. Their house brand products are called Hill Country, which is a region of Texas that includes Austin. They just use that imagery everywhere. They have chili festivals. They have everything to play up their connection with the state. To me, that’s very effective and probably one reason why consumers prefer them so much to some of the more impersonal big store brands that we have here.

Find those things in common. It can be a regional thing. Click To Tweet

That’s very cool. How would somebody use some of these techniques in their website if they can’t see who the person is that’s coming or what the potential relatedness is? Let’s say you wanna use flattery, but how do you use that on a website, if you don’t know who’s coming exactly. I mean, you could have kind of a persona developed, but there’s no guarantee that’s the person that’s coming to your website right then and there.

If you have really, totally random people that you’re dealing with, in other words, you thought about it, and you can’t find a common element in their characteristics be it regional or special interests or education or anything like that, shared attributes doesn’t make much sense. Although one shared attribute is often an interest in the product line itself. If you’re selling boating products, you know that you’ve got people who like boats, so show that you and your staff like boats. When I was in Indiana, I had a chance to meet the folks from Tire Rack who is I think probably the biggest direct marketer of tires now. I knew them back in the days when the original founders were running the company, and they went through a great process of training all of their customer service reps to really know cars. They chose people who really liked cars. They had them read car magazines in their downtime, and periodically, they’d have monthly fun get-togethers where the reps would compete to see who could answer trivia from that month’s car magazines. What they really did was cultivate this group of very knowledgeable enthusiasts. When a customer called in, they realized they weren’t just talking to somebody in a call center somewhere. They were talking to a car person like they were. Often, just the product itself is the tie, but if you’re selling a million different kinds of products, then maybe that won’t work.

Let’s talk through some of these other principles. Social proof – how do you incorporate that? I have some thoughts about that and incorporate that into my website. I have multiple websites, but if you look at stephanspencer.com for example, you’ll see that I have testimonials. I have “as seen in” or “as seen on,” logos. I’ve been on TV, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, etc., so I’ve got those logos. I’ve got logos of major conferences and universities where I’ve spoken, like Stanford. That’s all social proof, and then I have a “Praise” page with a great deal more in testimonial quotes. I have done some unique things like yellow highlighting of different bits of the text, and I try and use videos whenever possible for the testimonials. That’s my approach, but what are some of your best practices?

You’re hitting a lot of good buttons there, Stephan. Also you’re sort of verging on one of Cialdini’s other principles, which is “authority.” You spoke at Stanford University there. That is even less social proof and more of an “authority” appeal because presumably Stanford is very selective about whoever they might associate themselves with because they’re one of the top universities in the world. They would qualify as an authority. In the same way, if you had a very famous marketer endorse you, then that sort of goes beyond social proof and ends up being an “authority” appeal. But the way you’re doing that all makes a huge amount of sense. The most common way that you see is are people just talking about how many other people have done what you’re asking them to do. “My newsletter has 30,000 subscribers” or “We have 850,000 customers globally for this software,” those are still pre-potent, and people can get a little bit inured to them. Nevertheless, if I’ve never heard of a company before, I’m thinking about buying their software or installing their plugin or something, and if I see that, wow, they’ve got a million users worldwide, that gives me some additional confidence that they maybe know what they’re doing, that they might be around for a while. That’s I think by far the most common implementation of social proof. Testimonials of course are good ways to use social proof. While on the topic of testimonials, I think one way to make them more powerful that I see very few people doing is turning a testimonial into a story, because stories are much more memorable than mere text. They really engage the reader’s brain. If I visit a website somewhere and I see a few pictures of people and how much they like the product, I pretty much skim over that and probably tune it out. It’s good that they’re there because it gives me some level of confidence particularly if they’re identified. When you see one of these testimonials with no photo and it’s from J.K. or something – that doesn’t have a high degree of specificity and as a result doesn’t have much credibility compared to if there’s a photo, a name, and maybe even a company affiliation there. I’ve seen, for instance, weight loss sites do this, where instead of just a testimonial from somebody who lost 65 lbs. using their plan or their product, that person actually tells their story of how they were overweight as a child, how their teen years were difficult, how they were often rejected in highschool, and then even after their life continued, they had problems with relationships and so on, until finally they began to use the product and so on. For somebody who is actively looking for that kind of a solution, a story like that can be much more powerful than simply a statement. Also too, it boosts the credibility by adding more detail and richer detail than just, “Hey, I used this, and it works!”

The storytelling – I think that’s really powerful, and in fact, what I do with my testimonials page on stephanspencer.com is with the yellow highlighted bits of each testimonial, I arrange those in order so that it kind of tells a story, if that’s all you read, ‘cause typically that’s what people are gonna read. They’re just gonna scan through. They’re not gonna read the entire testimonial if each one is like three paragraphs long. But if you highlight little bits, they’ll probably read that. Then if you arrange it in order so it does tell a story, instead of being just kind of random, that’s pretty cool.

It sounds like you’ve made your site really brain-friendly, Stephan.

I tried. I eat my own dogfood. I teach my clients not just SEO but also conversion techniques. That’s important that you take care of your own website and not just say the traditional excuse of, “Well, I’m the cobbler who doesn’t have time to make shoes for their own kids.” It’s like, “Wow I’ve heard that one before.” You gotta eat your own dogfood.

Yeah, for sure.

Speaking of which, how do you eat your own dogfood? How do you apply all this wealth of knowledge and expertise in brain marketing, in neuromarketing in your own practice and in your own marketing?

Well, mainly these days, I’m an author and speaker. I do a little bit of consulting, but I don’t generally seek it out. It generally finds me. I guess I’m not usually in high persuasion mode, but I do use some techniques in a very gentle, ethical way. For instance, if I am trying to reach out to an influencer to be a guest in the podcast or perhaps to interact with me in some other way – right now, I’m not looking for book blurbs, but that will be coming along at some point in the hopefully not too distant future. The way you approach that can make a big difference. That’s why in fact, I’m getting a lot of influencer outreach things myself, some of which are kind of ridiculous – people offering to write guest posts in fractured English and so on. But others are a little bit smarter. Generally, some of the better written ones will begin by telling me how much they’ve enjoyed something that I’ve written, and of course, being more specific is much better, because then it indicates that at least it’s a personalized message, not, “Hey, first name, I love your stuff.” Instead they’ve actually taken a moment or two to research me. They’re beginning with this flattery, and there might be some reciprocation where they also begin with, “I’ve shared your article/s on our Facebook page and Twitter and LinkedIn or something like that.” Immediately I now said, “Oh! Hey, they did something for me.” Then they’ll get into the ask mode of “Hey, would you be interested in…” somebody being a guest on your podcast or perhaps a guest post or something like that or “Do you wanna write a guest post for us?” That’s a smarter way to approach that kind of thing. These are very gentle. They’re not deceptive in any way, unless you’re totally lying. Like some of the context that I’m sure you get to are just ridiculous in the way they’re worded, whether have no credibility, despite the fact that they’re trying to flatter you in some way. The better ones I think are actually reasonably effective because you are then disposed to this person. The other thing that you can do is find those commonalities. If you glance at somebody’s LinkedIn page, you may find that you have a geographic location in common, that you both lived in the same city, or that you went to the same school. If you look at maybe their Facebook or Twitter feed, you’ll find out that you have some shared hobby interests or sporting team interests and so on. When you can incorporate that, “Hey, like you Stephan, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan!” It’s not an extremely powerful tool, but those little things actually make the difference because not only are you pointing out that you have something in common but you’re also showing that you actually did some homework. This is a more personal contact, as opposed to just a mail merge.

In your own practice of using persuasion, you do a lot of speaking, so do you incorporate any of these techniques in your speaking so that you are more persuasive? ‘Cause I’ve seen you speak, and you do a fantastic job. You just spoke at PubCon, as did I, and I’m curious what techniques you’re using there.

One thing I don’t do is I don’t think I do enough storytelling, and I’m working on incorporating even more. I do a few stories, but I just had an author Paul Smith on my podcast. He is an expert in storytelling, particularly in the sales process. He has some great, very well-organized tools and techniques that aren’t just, “Hey, you should tell stories,” but actually how to construct a story and different topics for stories for different situations and so on. I do use a little bit of storytelling. I like to actually incorporate some demonstrations of these techniques. One thing that I do is a “liking” demonstration in many of my talks where I just start off by showing folks a picture of my dog when he was a little puppy, telling a little bit of the story of how he’s a rescue, grew up, and got really big and goofy and so on. Then, I’ll show the fact that in maybe 30 seconds or so of telling that little story, all of the folks who are pet owners in the room – before that, I usually do a show of hands to see who owns a dog or a cat or some other pet – that I’ve created a “liking” effect. It’s kind of a fun thing because first of all, it breaks things up a little bit to rather than just I tend to be sort of informational. In other words, I’m conveying knowledge and techniques to people as opposed to emotionally motivating them. It’s just kind of my style and technique, so this breaks up the flow of information a little bit. At the same time, it produces something that they will probably remember. After the factual content has vanished from their heads, they’ll probably remember, first of all, my dog and the story that went with it, but also that that represented a means of generating a shared attribute “liking” effect. I think the best thing a speaker can do sometimes is ensure that key points are indeed memorable. Because especially when you go to a conference like PubCon. PubCon is amazing. The number of speakers, there’s like 9 tracks going simultaneously there over three days and counting their master’s training. If you’re there for the entire conference and you attend sessions most of the time that you’re there, and most of the time, sessions are running, you’re gonna have just a phenomenal amount of information thrown at you. By the time you get back to your home base, an awful lot of that is probably gonna be gone from your head. So to me, if you can make some key points memorable in a way that even when your audience gets home, it’ll stick with them, that’s something that is really good if the speaker can accomplish it.

For sure. I really did enjoy that little exercise you did. I remember it now. It was a little while ago. We did have a lot of presentations and a lot of content at PubCon. I do remember now the picture of your dog and the story and the whole process. That was really cool. A good technique. What about incorporating urgency and scarcity into your presentations or into your messaging?

I don’t really use that very much. I think it’s extremely effective though for businesses of all kinds, particularly for many kinds of websites. When you visit sites like Expedia or Hotwire or any travel site, every listing that you see is going to have multiple scarcity cues. They’re gonna show that there’s only two rooms left at this price. They’re gonna show you that they booked 90 rooms at this hotel in the last 24 hours and that right now, there’s six people looking at that hotel. All of these are really powerful scarcity cues that make you want to act now.

It’s also social proof too, right?

That too. These folks are very good behavioral science marketers. If you see in Expedia doing something on their website, and it sticks around. It could be an A/B test, but if it’s there time after time, you can be pretty darn sure it’s there because it works. Of course, you have to use scarcity in an ethical fashion. I recall one site for home automation products. This was some years ago. I arrived at their website, and this was a really loud, in-your-face website with headlines or an inch-high in red. It was like, “Our 24-hour sale ends at midnight tonight that you can only get these deals.” Immediately, you got this big thing there. You’ve only got 4 hours to go, and a lot of these prices look pretty good. They’re half-off. It definitely makes you want to decide immediately. But if you went back to that same website the next day, you would find the same deals expiring at midnight that day, and so on and so on. At that point, it may get you that first sale, but it also convinces your customers that maybe you are not the most truthful and ethical company in the world, so I don’t recommend doing that. But you can create scarcity, even if your product isn’t scarce. Obviously if you only have one left of something, then that’s a good scarcity motivator. But if you’re selling, say, a digital product that you can create a million of it if you need to, you can still have a sale that actually expires at a certain time. Doesn’t mean you can’t run the sale on a future date, but you can have a sale that finishes so you can do it that way. Or you can sell a certain number of the product at a certain price or in a certain timeframe and limit it to that. You can do your own scarcity. All in all, it’s very powerful. One of the classic research projects that demonstrated the effect of scarcity involved chocolate chip cookies, of all things. Subjects were asked to evaluate chocolate chip cookies either from a jar with ten in or a jar with two in. Of course, the cookies were identical, but what the researchers found was that the ones from the jar with two (the scarcer ones) were rated as tastier and more desirable. Another way that you can invoke scarcity on a website is any kind of a countdown timer. There was one experiment that I saw, WhichTestWon, which is kind of an interesting place to check out where they publish A/B test results that often you can learn something from; sometimes, maybe not, but they have some good stuff there. An ecommerce website that was selling apparel, I think, increased results just by adding one tiny little line of text. What that little line of text was – it had an indication of how many hours were left for next-day delivery. That was it. Nothing to do with the price or when it will be available, but just this little timer showed that you had to order within the next 2 hours and 37 minutes to get the product the next day. That alone increased sales.

They do that on Amazon, don’t they?

Yeah, they do. Speaking of smart retailers, Amazon is probably the smartest one out there. You think of Amazon as being a very left-brain, logical, rational kind of retailer because their pages really don’t look particularly well-designed. There’s a lot of information there. It looks like it’s all facts and figures and stuff, but just in the above the fold area of the screen, they use social proof by having reviews and star ratings. They use scarcity because if the stock is getting low on an item, they will show you that there’s only 14 left in stock. Of course, as you just pointed out, they show you how much time is left to order so that you get it by two days down the road, whenever the delivery is. They use authority because they show expert reviews or reviews or testimonials from bestselling authors, and they put those fairly high up on the page. They hide most of the description after a certain point, and the reason they don’t show you the entire product description is because there’s – at least, this is why I believe they do it – there’s research showing that if you present consumers with too much descriptive information, it kicks them into system 2 thinking where they perhaps would have made a more emotional decision. Once they really start thinking about it, in a sort of analytical fashion, they may end up making no decision at all. Something else that Amazon does too is use the word “free” in a few places, even where you wouldn’t expect it. For instance, on most books, the price of the Audible version of the book will be listed as “free.” It’s not actually free “free,” but it is free if you are a new customer and you sign up for Audible. There’s a lot of research, a lot of it by Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, which is another book I highly recommend to marketers. It’s not a business book per se, but it really gives you some insights into how people think. He’s shown that “free” is much more powerful in its effect on our decision-making than the mere dollar savings or monetary savings would imply. He did some really interesting experiments involving, for instance, a chocolate truffle, which is a pretty nice piece of candy. It’s one of these things that’s wrapped in foil and has a chocolate exterior, and it’s filled with some kind of creamy goodness inside. Chocolate kiss is basically a lump of bulk chocolate formed into a little droplet. The truffle’s a desirable piece of chocolate, and the kiss is an okay piece of chocolate. If you’re like me, there’s no such thing as bad chocolate. So the experiment involved giving people the choice of a chocolate kiss for a penny or a chocolate truffle (would normally perhaps sell for a dollar at the convenience store by their checkout) for $0.16 – $0.15 differential between the two. In that case, almost everybody took the truffle option. That was more desirable. But then he dropped the price of both items by just one cent, so now the kiss was free and the truffle was $0.15 – the exact same price differential. They even took some steps to be sure that it didn’t have to do with the difficulty of making change and so on by the way they structured the payment. What they found then was that most people chose the kiss, even though the difference in price was the same. “Free” just sort of grabbed onto people’s brains and said, “Oh, this is free. This is a great deal.” So Amazon wisely uses “free” in a couple of places, where it’s not deceptive, but they’re figuring out how to get you to evaluate that option in more detail. That too is very powerful. I’m often really surprised when I see a retailer saying, “Buy the first one of these things, and we’ll give you the second one for a dollar or the second one for a penny.” To me, that totally flies in the face of the research where they don’t really need that extra penny; they increased their sales significantly probably if the second pair was free and they used the word “free” in big letters in the ad.

Yeah, that’s a great point. Speaking of being deceptive and trying to avoid that and being ethical, what are some of your recommendations or thoughts around ethics and staying completely above board in this world of neuromarketing?

Stephan, that’s a question I get asked a lot because you talk about some of these techniques, and the thing that jumps into many people’s minds is that you are manipulating the customer. This is unethical. You’re tricking them, deceiving them, and so on. Probably the first thing I would say is I would quote Zig Ziglar, who was a master salesperson – probably the most famous salesperson and sales trainer of all time. He used a lot of very specific techniques. I think he wrote a book Twenty Ways to Close A Sale or some number like that. Clearly, these things, like the presumptive close and the option close and all these – these could be manipulative or viewed as manipulative. He said that the most important tool of persuasion that you have is your own integrity. What he meant by that, I think – never had a chance to ask him personally – is that if you are getting your customer honestly to a better place, then using some of these closing techniques is perfectly fine. If the customer won’t wake up the next morning and regret the decision or feel that they’ve been duped, that you somehow did a little reality distortion and got them to do something that they didn’t wanna do – if they feel good about it, then there is no problem in assisting their decision-making process with some of the techniques that he taught. On the other hand, just about anything can be deceptive. You could use some of these persuasion techniques in a manipulative manner, but you could just outright lie in your ad, too. You could use false advertising or leave out really important information that might affect the customer’s decision, and none of that is good because it’s going to result in the customer making a decision that is not good for them, that they may regret. It’s certainly not the way (a) to be an ethical person or (b) to build a long-term relationship because most successful sales relationships extend beyond that first order. If you’re looking for a one-shot order, you’re gonna have to keep finding new customers everyday. After a while, that gets tiring, gets expensive. It’s not a way to build a business. The way you build a business is by strong customer relationships, having customers who trust you, who appreciate you, and ultimately if they have good experiences and they learn they can trust you, they will turn into loyal customers. And loyalty is really the holy grail of most businesses.

Loyalty is really the holy grail of most businesses.

I agree. Speaking of loyalty, one of the great authors on loyalty wrote the Loyalty Effect was Reichheld.

I have not read that book.

I forget his first name, but the book is called the Loyalty Effect back in maybe 1996. That’s something worth checking out.

I have actually written about loyalty. I think companies have loyalty programs, they’re really sort of rewards programs. They can be a means of encouraging repeat business and building loyalty, but you can’t really confuse a successful rewards program with successful loyalty building. I basically only fly United Airlines, and I do that because of their rewards program. I’m “elite” with them so they treat me really well whenever I fly, and if I fly any other airline, I get treated really badly. I would appear to be a very loyal customer, but I don’t really have a loyalty in my bones for them. If Americans say, “Hey, we’ll do everything for you that United’s doing and add 10% more,” I’ll probably switch. I’d hasten to add that in the last year or so, I’ve actually seen some good things coming out of United so maybe there’s some hope with me becoming truly loyal going forward. But I think that what that rewards program can do is encourage repeat use to the point where the customer does build that trust and confidence in you, and they do find that they enjoy your product. I would say at Amazon, I am a loyal customer. A few years ago, in Texas, we were subjected to what was in essence an 8% price increase from Amazon because as a result of a negotiation with the state, they began charging sales tax here. I expected my buying behavior to change; I was already a pretty good customer of Amazon’s for most of my routine needs of stuff that I would buy online. I thought I’d probably start shopping more elsewhere, but because their service is so good, their product interface, their reviews, and everything else, Prime of course with the free shipping and other benefits, I stayed largely loyal to Amazon with my purchases despite that price increase. To me, they earned my loyalty. They didn’t just buy it by giving me golden handcuffs. They, by continuing to be so incredibly responsive and consistent in everything they do and by keeping their prices very competitive, there’s no real reason for me to not do business with them. That’s the true loyalty that we’d like to create in our customers.

Yeah. I think the bottomline for both of these last couple of discussion points here with regards to ethics and with regards to loyalty is intention matters. If you have a good intention for the customer or the client, not only will you operate within ethical bounds probably, but you’ll also create a much more long-term loyal relationship.

One thing I’ll throw out too while we are on the topic of loyalty, Stephan. A couple of books I have read are from an author, Noah Fleming, who’s a loyalty expert. Evergreen came out two or three years ago, and he’s got a book that is just coming out as we’re recording this next week. A brand new book called The Loyalty Loop. The thing I like about his stuff is that he incorporates a strong science component. You and I both think not just about, “I’m gonna do this because I know it works,” but actually looking at the underlying science. He’s done a great job of combining very practical information because he has a consulting business that works with both very large and smaller customers, but incorporating that knowledge and combining that with science for some really contemporary stuff on loyalty. I would definitely recommend Noah Fleming’s books.

Of course there’s your book which I hope all my listeners will buy, rate, review, and get a lot of actionable tips and techniques out of that they’ll put in their business. That’s Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. Also your podcast, I hope that listeners start checking out your episodes. You’ve had some amazing guests like Cialdini and so forth. Do you have a website for the podcast show? Where would people go to subscribe to your podcast and learn more about all the cool stuff you do?

Probably the best launching point, Stephan, is rogerdooley.com. That’s where the podcast lives and also I’ve got links to my books and other content. Basically, that’s a good jumping off point for all my stuff. The way I tend to connect with folks in social media is through Twitter, where I am @rogerdooley.

Awesome. Thank you, Roger. This was awesome! I always enjoy talking with you. You’re a wealth of knowledge and experience in regards to marketing and influence and just good business operations. You’ve built some great businesses like College Confidential. That gets quite a lot of traffic. A lot of traffic, right?

A good month is 40 million page views.

Holy cow! That’s impressive. Well, thank you, Roger. Thank you, listeners. Be sure to go to the website of my show to catch the shownotes, the checklist that we’ll make of action items to take, and we’ll catch you on the next episode. This is your host, Stephan Spencer signing off.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Buy and read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Its information about the two types of
thinking systems will help you understand how to approach systems.

☑ Read Robert Cialdini’s books Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade to learn the seven principles of persuasion.

☑ Flattery makes you more persuasive — even if it’s insincere. To get used to thinking on your feet,
compliment two strangers a day for the next week.

☑ If you have a website, reevaluate it. Does it adequately express your social proof and authority in a way that will persuade viewers? If not, revise it so that it does.

☑ Roger explains how much more powerful stories can be than simple testimonial statements. If your
website incorporates testimonials, transform several of them into stories.

☑ Incorporate the strategies you’ve learned into your professional contact attempts. Work on using two or three of these techniques each time you reach out to a new contact.

☑ Emphasize the scarcity of your products or create a reason for there to be some urgency around
ordering. Pay attention to whether this increases your customers’ interest

☑ “Free” can be an incredibly powerful word. Incorporate some kind of free element into your business
model to persuade potential customers.

☑ Implement a rewards program as part of your business. These can build the invaluable traits of trust and confidence in your customers, and encourage repeat business.

☑ Read Roger’s book Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. In it, you’ll find more of the types of tips and wisdom he’s shared with us.

About Roger Dooley

Roger Dooley was one of the earliest proponents of neuromarketing; he began writing about it in 2005, long before it was widely accepted as a valid field of study. He co-founded the extraordinarily popular College Confidential and now writes a regular Forbes column, Brainy Marketing as well as his own blog, Neuromarketing.

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