I heard a great story on talkback that I would like to share.
Picture a busy underground metro station in Washington DC. People rushing about their business, hurrying to get to get to where they need to get to. Against a pillar stands a busker. From a shiny black case he produces a beautiful violin. He tunes the instrument, and begins to play. Minutes pass and not one person has stopped to listen. Eventually a woman has throws a couple of dollars into his case, without pause. A child stops to listen, mesmerised by the sound, only to be pulled along by his mother. Finally the busker counts his change: $32.17.
The busker was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest and award-winning classical violinists. He was playing his Stradivarius violin valued at $2,000,000. People pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to see him perform at one of his sell out shows.
Moral of the story? Joshua Bell shouldn’t give up his day-job? The moral of this story is obvious – if you do zero marketing with even the best products and services in the world you will reap the rewards of this – sweet f-all.
As marketers we’ve all heard about social proof, “Jean lost 10 kilos in just 3 days, you can do it too!” or even as simple as “100,000 satisfied customers”. The reason that social proof can work so well is because we look to others in uncertain situations to see what their behaviour is and then we follow their lead. We do this because we like to make life as simple as possible for ourselves. With the majority of our actions we rely on fixed behavioural patterns and often respond in a ‘mechanical’ way rather than create a new response.
What is really interesting though is when a group of people are confronted by something they have never experienced before. How should they react? What should they do? Social proof does come into play, but in a way most marketers are unfamiliar with. Rather than motivating people into action, it reinforces inaction. As noone has experience in that particular situation, noone knows how to act and predictably they don’t. Everyone stands around watching each other do nothing, which in turn reinforces that doing nothing is the appropriate behaviour.
This phenomenon is called ‘pluralistic ignorance’ and has been most noted in emergency situations. There are a number of documented cases where crowds of strangers take no action as someone lies suffering in front of them.
I thought about this the other morning when I turned up to my bus stop to find that the trees surrounding it, the garbage bin and the seat had been wrapped in fabric. Progressively, as people turned up at the bus stop they did nothing out of the ordinary, everyone just stood around like every other morning (admittedly they did look bemusedly at the scene, and I took a photo!).
It started me thinking that maybe we marketers had it all wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to motivate people into action. Maybe in this fast paced world of hyper connectivity we should be using our brands to actually give consumers the luxury not to act.
Is this what the fabric wielding guerrillas had in mind? Let the busy commuters stop, do nothing and enjoy a smile looking at the gum tree wrapped in purple, plush fabric. They clearly understood human behaviour and knew that noone would act to remove the fabric, in fact two weeks later even the council hasn’t removed it.
So next time someone asks you to get your customers or prospects to act, stop, maybe giving them the opportunity not to act is the answer.
When I was a journalist on street press, I experienced almost daily negotiations with advertising sale people over advertisers’ expectations of editorial influence. Editorial for street press back then (late 80s/early 90s) was directly linked to advertising — a venue or promoter paid for an ad for their event and in turn we were meant to conduct ‘friendly’ interviews with the star performers. Nothing vague about that.
Newspapers — that report actual news — though, are a different story. There is meant to be a clear line between ad and ed teams.
Not so for a journalist called George Gombossy, who was recently ‘let go’ from a newspaper called “The Courant” for doing his job as a consumer advocate.
Gombossy’s apparent mistake was to dare write a negative story about one of the paper’s biggest advertisers:
I’m all for collaboration. There’s a good buzz to be had from sharing ideas, experiencing novelty, snapping old rules in half…
…though I’m a little perplexed that ‘brainstorming sessions’ are still popular.
(These sessions seem to me to be more about consensus than creativity.)
I was never a fan of them, preferring to mash ideas with one or two other people in an open space.
I can work under pressure, though when all synapses are firing, it’s almost painful to enter the fray in a stiff/stale meeting room booked for a specific time slot and full of people who may or may not have done much deep thinking about the current challenge/topic but are eager to offer an opinion.
Eventually, after much flexing of embouchure, waving of whiteboard markers and deep chested ‘hmmmmms’ brainstorming participants are meant to reach some kind of agreement…
…so they can go back to their teams and say they’ve created something.
Imagine designing an animal this way. A group could brainstorm key elements and soon agree that it will, for example, have four legs, a tough grey hide, a big mouth, cute little eyes, a swishy tail and pointy-bits out front…
But, but, but…
How does it work? What’s it for? And what IS it, really?
a) A hippo?
b) An elephant?
c) A rhino?
d) Or just a dirty unicorn?
Maybe the answer is to mash ideas in groups of two first (three’s a crowd, right?) and really go deep before trotting something out for critique.
So, how do you involve more members of your teams in sharing ideas?
If you really want to draw on multiple brains all at once, what are some better ways to do that?
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