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Marketing at the Speed of Human Nature

If you get a chance to go back and do it all over again, be sure you start early and become an expert at human nature. As an expert in human nature — which means you both understand it and are able to capitalize on this knowledge — you’ll be an excellent marketer, excellent salesperson, excellent manager, excellent CEO/CFO/CXO, excellent owner, excellent partner, excellent supplier, excellent client, etc.

Now you might think that because you are human, you are automatically an expert at human nature. Probably not. It’s like that whole “forest for the tree” analogy. I think we’re all just too close to the subject!

However, a good understanding of human nature will make you a better marketer. Why? Well, at the very least, by understanding it and making allowances for it, you will no longer be fighting it — which many companies do.

For example, it’s human nature to think about what others think about you — self-perception. In certain situations, I care what other people think of me; how they perceive me. This little tidbit drives a lot of brands. Take Belvedere Vodka for instance. Much of their brand strategy is built around this interesting aspect of human nature.

Belvedere Vodka sells at a 75 percent premium to Absolute Vodka (who was the market leader when Belvedere entered the market in 1996). When you order a Belvedere martini, you distinguish yourself and make a statement about your sophistication and your taste. It’s fashionable to drink Belvedere. How did they become so fashionable? How do you get your brand of vodka “called out” at the bar? You can read the whole story in Trading Up by Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske (pg 173), but briefly, their strategy and tactics went something like this:

  • develop a truly superior, highly differentiated product;
  • create the self-perception (they use the term signaling) cues of authenticity and specialness;
  • launch the new brand; and
  • build brand equity

In order to capitalize on the self-perception nuance of human nature, they used customers to give them feedback on the concept of “luxury” vodka and to improve the product in exacting, tangible ways. They recruited a combination of vodka consumer experts and 350 professional bartenders to serve as experts on tasting panels (a brilliant move!).

Through these efforts they not only had a better product, they had experts out there who could tell/sell the story — Belvedere Vodka not only has a smooth, subtle and complex taste, its distilling process removes hangover producing “cogeners” (bits of amyl, propyl, and isopropyl alcohol and other impurities).

They then focused on the brand story. A story that romanced the origins, authenticity, and heritage of the vodka. Belvedere Vodka is a “six hundred year old brand in terms of origins. The name itself represents the historical residency of Poland’s presidents and royalty, dating back to the seventeen hundreds.” They created beautiful, distinctive packaging and the bottle is corked finished (the first of its kind in vodka).

To launch the brand they pioneered a brand-building model called “discovery marketing.” Discovery marketing focuses on identifying and converting brand apostles, early adopters who are influential in creating trends in a category. They wanted people to “discover” them vs. selling the brand to them. Prior to the launch, they ran small teaser ads in the “Tiffany corner” (the upper right corner of page three) of The Wall Street Journal. “We didn’t want to hit people over the head with advertising for our brand. When they came across the ad, they had the sense that they had been smart enough to discover something special, as opposed to having a new brand forced on them.”

Next they set out to create a buzz for the brand:

  • Sent prominent celebrities and leaders (Robert Redford, Bill Clinton, Jack Smith {CEO of GM}) a beautifully packaged bottle along with a personal note.
  • Converted influential bartenders by including them in the product development (discussed above). When the product came out, they felt like it was their brand.
  • Going further with the bartenders, they held events for bartenders around the country to teach them the fine points of Belvedere luxury vodka — enabling the bartenders to be a source of good information to their customers. “If a bartender can tell an interesting story that makes the customer happy, their customer sees them as knowledgeable, and that becomes a feather in our cap,”
  • Focused on the finest white-tablecloth restaurants in the country. They taught the staff the technical tasting points and explained to management the attractive economics of trading up their customers to a $15 Belvedere martini.
  • They were vigilant about managing the brand equity — not growing too quickly, staying true to their heritage, avoiding brand dilution.

Did it work?

Belvedere Vodka is a $1 billion dollar business.

See, it pays to pay attention to human nature.

I admit it, we here at The Business Lab, are not “experts” at human nature. However, now and then we do run across some interesting insights about human nature which help us and which we list here. This is one of those lists which can never be complete. It will continue to grow, but, it’s a start and we would love your help in expanding it. With your help, who knows, maybe we can both become experts in human nature and rule our own little piece of the universe.

Insights on Human Nature

In certain situations, people care about what other people think about them. People will go out of their way not to look stupid or wrong. They will often bypass great potential benefit not to look bad. If you ever have an opportunity to help your client “not look stupid,” take it immediately. This means things like... Not using industry jargon or acronyms. Regardless of how long they’ve been in the business or whatever... your client may not understand these terms and will not ask. This is bad for you. It puts an invisible wall between you and them. Honor their knowledge and expertise but don’t use short cuts. Get good at educating — in a respectful, innovate way.

It’s the “no one ever got fired by choosing IBM” scenario. Many people will buy from the leader in the industry — not because their products are better or less expensive or are even a better value. They buy because it’s safe. If something bad happens with the purchase, the boss isn’t going to come back and question the decision to go with the market leader. Become an expert at risk reversel. Do what ever you can to take the buying rish out of the transaction.

It’s also the self-perception scenario discussed above. “I carry a Coach purse.” Not necessarily because that purse is any better than another (though I’m sure Coach fans will argue this), but because it says Coach.

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We tend to desensitize to things that are too familiar. If something is familiar to us, we are hard wired to pay less attention to it. Our brains are geared to be ready to detect and process the new and unfamiliar and so we filter and file away things we are already familiar with.

Have you ever driven to work and once you arrived, have no idea how you got there? Perhaps it’s time to think about innovation and re-inventing yourself? Or at least try a different route to work!

Now, one good thing to know about this is, because we will desensitize the familiar, we are able to quickly detect irregularities. So, if you haven’t changed things up in a while — things that your clients see over and over (invoices, voice mails, newsletter, office décor, your logo/stationery, your packaging, the part of your website they log into, etc.) maybe it’s time to take another look. You can get people’s attention by interrupting the familiar.

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Humans make decisions based on emotions and they make decisions based on the expectation of the positive reward they will receive.

This is about understanding what your client wants to experience, then giving that experience to them.

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For the most part, people want/like /need to be led. They are grateful when you can lead them to a conclusion. This is another really good reason to become an educational marketer. Suppose I tell you — “Our widget is the highest value widget on the market.” Will this lead you to a conclusion? Will you know what to do next? Will you even care?

No. No, no, no!

Now, instead, if I explained to you — “This widget is one of a kind. No other widget on the market goes through what ours does. Every component is made out of platinum and has been tested to withstand 1630 degrees Celsius. We further ensure the accuracy of the fit because every single hole is measured by our patented PreciseTool Technology which means that every hole must measure within one half on one eight of a percent to a specific measurement.”

With this type of information will you have a better handle on what direction you’d like to take next? Won’t you feel more comfortable about making a decision. Isn’t the information helping you down a path? By giving you reasons why, aren’t you more engaged in the process? Let your clients “discover” your greatness by giving them all the information and letting them become involved with you, your company, your products and services.

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Humans like habits. They save us a lot of time and energy. We are comfortable with the familiar (but be aware of the familiar — see above). We do not like change or conflict. This is great news if your product/service is the one the masses habitually use. Not so great if you are the one trying to compete with this habit. In this case, you almost have to block the habitual path to get them to take notice. Disrupt (in a good, positive, progressive way) the familiar and you can get attention.

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Though you cannot tell this by going to the grocery store to buy antiperspirant or a myriad of other products, humans do not like too many choices. Too many choices can lead to anxiety and non action. Our reactions are pretty much... one choice, two choices, three choices... a zillion choices. It’s hard for us to make the comparison — it escalates quickly. It’s best if you can lead your client. Help them make the choice by educating them and reduce your own choices as much as you can.

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We like consistency. Once we’ve made a decision or a commitment we need to remain consistent to that decision. It’s super important that we feel we made the right decision. We really don’t like cognitive dissonance — conflicting thoughts about something. We see or experience this often as “buyers remorse.” One of the best things you can do to ensure this doesn’t happen or alleviate it if it does, is to quickly follow up all sales with a personal phone call or letter. Re-sell and re-assure your client that they made the right decision. Show them how they are being consistent with their original decision by reassuring them. In fact, many creative marketers will tell you, right after the initial purchase is the very best time to get them to buy again and/or upgrade. Once they’ve made that initial commitment, the time is right to sell them any other products or services that will truly benefit them.


Well, this page is already crazy long. If you’ve read this far you must be pretty interested in the subject so let me recommend a great book: Influence — The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini


Note: We are putting together a little eBook on Marketing at the Speed of Human Nature. If you are interested, please complete this snappy little form and we’ll let you know when it is ready.

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