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What can this joke tell us about developing communication ideas?

A duck walks into a bar and asks the barman for a portion of fish and chips.

The barman responds that they don’t serve fish and chips and the duck leaves.

The following day the duck returns and makes the same request, again the barman states that they don’t serve fish and chips.

Each day after, the duck returns and the same scenario plays out.

Finally, in exasperation the barman tells the duck that if he asks for fish and chips one more time he’ll nail his beak to the bar.

The next day the duck walks into the bar and the barman says “what do you want?”.

The duck responds “have you got any nails?” to which the barman replies “no”.

“A portion of fish and chips please” says the duck.

Why is it funny?

I was at an event the other day watching Iain McGilchrist, (psychiatrist, philosopher and one of the world’s foremost authors on neuroscience and what makes us human) talking about his new book “The Matter with Things”. At one point John Cleese, another speaker, tells the above joke and gets a huge laugh, but why?

No part of the joke makes any sense alone, it blends the absurd and the surreal into the traditional “X walks into a pub” trope. And yet, holistically, it works. It’s also very memorable. Most of the audience would have been able to repeat that joke with all its main elements remembered. There’s the familiar “x walks into a bar… and the barman…” framework, and the absurd elements, the duck, the fish and chips and the nails.

This joke almost certainly existed this way since its creation.

At no point did anyone check if it would be funnier with a swan or a grebe, what if we switched screws for nails, should we modernise the setting – maybe a coffee shop, could it be a barista instead of a barman. What if some people don’t get it, how do we make it accessible for them?

The joke was conceived and told to an audience. Most of them laughed and this was the acid test – did the audience respond in the desired way?

Thanks to digital advertising options we are perfectly placed to do the same thing. We can conceive communication ideas (check them for gross errors/regulatory compliance) and expose audiences to them. We can then effectively gauge their reaction – did they do what we expected as a result?

If the answer is yes, then we have an effective idea. If we wish, we can optimise from there. If the answer is no then no amount of optimisation will make it effective. This is even more the case when we try to optimise an idea, often using iterative approaches, before audiences have even been exposed to the idea in a natural environment. How do we know if our starting point is any good?

Want to find out more?

If you are interested in rapid development and live testing of ideas, from overall brand concepts to interesting tactical executions, get in touch.

 


 

Interrupting people is way harder than it sounds.
Just ask a Boston cop.

Here’s a little story about how hard it is to get the attention of people who are thinking about something else.

In 1995, 29 year old Kenneth M. Conley, a cop in Boston, was in hot foot pursuit of a suspect. As he chased the man, he ran past a group of his colleagues who were savagely beating another suspect. It turned out that the suspect taking a beating was an undercover cop – who was so displeased with his colleagues that he pressed criminal charges against them.

Conley was called as a witness at their trial. Under oath, he stated that he hadn’t seen anything. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t believe him. He was later convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, sentenced to nearly 3 years in jail and fined $6000.

But is it possible that Kenneth Conley was telling the truth? There is growing evidence that he may well have been.

Human beings (and other animals) seem to bring two types of attention to the world:

  • the first is a narrow-focused attention to things that we already know to be important. When in this mode we can abstract the object of our attention and ignore everything else.
  • the second is a much broader focus which is alert to the unexpected, the new or the incongruous.

The real kicker though, is that we appear to only be able to bring one type of attention to anything at once.

Why? It may be an energy-saving mechanism. Brains are expensive to run in terms of energy. They may only represent 2% of our body weight, but they take up around 20% of the energy we consume. Saving energy here would be an evolutionary advantage!

This effect has been demonstrated numerous times by authors like Chris Chabris (the invisible gorilla guy) who carried out an experiment based on Kenneth’s experience and discovered that around half of people didn’t see the fight.

Happily for Kenneth, he was exonerated in 2005 and awarded $647,000 in back pay – without ever going to prison.

So, if we are trying to interrupt people who are doing other things, we need to try pretty hard. Predictable, familiar approaches are simply not going to cut it if we want people to see something new.

How being distinctive helped a new chocolate company enjoy run-away success

You just might have heard of Tony’s Chocolonely – a relatively new chocolate company. And you might be wondering how its success relates to healthcare.

Tony’s was set up in 2005 by a Dutch journalist who was determined to make chocolate 100% free from the use of child labour. To raise attention to the issue, he even took himself to court for knowingly buying chocolate made with slave labour.

Now, with a turnover of €70 million, Tony’s Chocolonely is the biggest chocolate brand in the Netherlands. It has a market share of around 19% and growth of 27% compared to last year.

Clearly, the purpose of the company has been key to its success. For consumers, an association with a worthy cause means a great deal. But we all know that purpose alone is not enough for an unknown brand to make this scale of impact.

What else drove the success?

Well, Tony’s Chocolonely blatantly ignored the rules of what chocolate bars should be like. Their first bar was red – a colour that few other manufacturers have ever chosen for plain milk chocolate.

Furthermore, the chocolate itself is divided into a random pattern. So it looks unlike any no other chocolate bar. This unequal pattern is deliberate – it represents the inequality at play in the global cocoa production industry. The flavours are unique too – including Milk Caramel Sea Salt, Dark Milk Pretzel Toffee and White Raspberry Popping Candy.

So what can healthcare learn from this?

There are several key take-outs for brands looking to get noticed by healthcare professionals.

As with all brands and sectors, your story really needs to mean something to your audience. Tony’s did this by being authentic. Remember the old adage: No sound bites without substance.

Most importantly, however, is the need to be distinctive. Being distinctive allowed Tony’s to penetrate a mature market packed with numerous “stronger” competitors.

By being distinctive, brands in any industry can draw the attention of customers and influencers and open their eyes to the reasons to choose us over the competition.

Why do customers sometimes seem blind to your new messaging?

Ever wondered why customers haven’t noticed new information about your brand? Why it’s so difficult to change an established position in their minds?

Maybe it’s not because they won’t, it’s more that they can’t.

Our evolutionary history has always been about us as a species, learning and trying new things. But if that had been done without limits, the sheer number of failed experiments would have killed us all off long ago. That’s why there are guard rails built in to prevent this.

Once we’ve found something that works for us in a particular scenario, we tend to use that as our default position. This reduces the need for repeated risk taking, which could be prejudicial to our surviving long enough to reproduce.

Enter the uncertainty principle and negative transfer.

The uncertainty principle (not the Heisenberg one) states that people will pay more attention to stimulus that’s unfamiliar to them. They don’t recognise it and can’t predict what it means. So they will continue to pay attention until they feel that they know what it means.

At this point they not only stop learning about this particular stimulus, they are actively inhibited from doing so through negative transfer.

A common example of this is drivers who learned to drive in an automatic car. They often struggle more with a manual car than those drivers learning to drive for the very first time.

This concept is incredibly useful from a marketing perspective. If you are a major market leader, having your customers in a state of negative transfer is perfect as they aren’t looking to learn anything new about the problem you are solving for them.

So, if you want to communicate something new about your brand, you’ll have to do it in a way that your customers notice in order to push them back into uncertainty. Beware though, introducing the uncertainty principle at this point could destabilise your whole position, allowing your competitors to gain attention.

Find out how wethepeople can help you to use these principles and improve your communications whilst avoiding some of the pitfalls.

Implementing the reward mechanism to encourage behaviour change

As grown-ups in the 21st century, we are all patently aware of what we should do to live a healthier life. So why is there still a large proportion of the population that seems unable to do the right thing and make the correct decisions for their health?

A couple of things in this statement bear further scrutiny.

First is the vaguely judgemental tone employed by those of us involved in the healthcare industry to express our frustration. We tend to do this when large swathes of the population don’t take their medication, won’t increase activity, won’t eat the right food and won’t quit smoking. However, our judgment is often based on what we would do. This assumption makes us victims of what’s known as the false consensus effect. This is an attributional cognitive bias where we believe that our own personal beliefs, opinions, behaviours, likes and dislikes are also normal for most other people. Unfortunately, that bias is often reinforced by reflection from our friends and colleagues in our industry. The reality is very different.

The truth is that only a small proportion of the population actually spends its waking and working hours thinking about its health. Now let’s look at it from another, incredibly obvious, point of view. A lot of positive health behaviours, especially those that many people REALLY need to adopt, aren’t particularly attractive. Why? Simply because they often involve doing less of stuff that people like and more of stuff that they really don’t want to do.

Which brings us to the second thing.

Rewards are only rewards if they feel good to people. Again, from a healthcare industry perspective, what could feel better than a new personal best on a Strava segment, or smashing my 25,000-step record on Fitbit? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Non-health obsessed people (i.e. most of the population) are constantly expected and encouraged to replace things that have a built-in reward with something for which the reward is completely and utterly intangible. Reducing the odds of something bad happening at some unspecified time in the future does not get those dopamine juices flowing in quite the same way as a nice carb and fat laden meal, a drink, a cigarette or a Victory Royale in Fortnite. Tragically however, none of these aforementioned delights will do much to improve anyone’s type 2 diabetes, for example…

The key to making differences here is to make rewards for healthy behaviour relevant to the audience in whom we are interested, rather than to us. Harnessing the reward mechanisms in our brains is very helpful here. The interesting thing is that the way we process reward doesn’t appear to differ for real or virtual rewards. Creating surrogate, virtual rewards that are immediate for healthy behaviours is a powerful way to reward behaviour change. The most important thing to do here is to define rewards that our audiences find attractive and to keep changing and adding to those rewards over time to maintain interest.

So you’ve set yourself a New Year’s resolution…

So, you’ve set yourself a New Year’s resolution… That’s great, but how do you turn this expressed desire into a real, lasting improvement? The evidence for successful adoption of New Year’s resolutions isn’t encouraging. According to Forbes overall success is about 8%. However, before we abandon any hope of self-improvement let’s look at ways we can change our habits. Erasmus wisely said that “A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.” This view is supported by our increasing knowledge in neuroscience.

Why we form habits

We form habits, essentially, to save precious energy. The brain consumes energy at 10 times the rate of the rest of the body per gram of tissue. Even at rest it uses around 20% of the total consumed energy of the human body. So, anything that automates processes and reduces that demand is of great evolutionary benefit. Habits are about short cuts. The more often we repeat them the more likely it is that we will do it the next time without even thinking about it. They are automated processes that, with each repetition, are wired further into our neurones. So how do we form good habits?

  • Step 1:  Understand what triggers your current habits. To change a habit, you first need to recognise what triggers that response? Does receiving a deadline for a major project trigger immediate procrastination?
  • Step 2:  Decide which behaviours you would like to become your new habit. For example, would you like to replace the procrastination with an immediate period of outline planning? Be very specific.
  • Step 3:  Decide how you are going to reward yourself for each successful deployment of your new behaviour. Rewards are important. The establishment of habit is closely linked to dopamine reward, which is often how we get into bad habits. Problem gambling is strongly linked to this mechanism. Augmenting the brain’s reward system helps establish the new habit.

So, try this. Imagine you’ve received a deadline. You’ve immediately done some rough planning and role allocation. Try going out and getting a coffee or having a 5-minute walk… or something else simple that you enjoy doing. Repeated often enough, your brain will rewire your neurones to create a new habit to replace the old one, giving you the best chance to be one of the 8% who succeed over time. Good luck!

Book review by Gabriella Rose – “When breath becomes air”

Paul Kalanithi sought to understand one thing, the meaning of life. He wanted to grasp what it is that defines our existence and endeavoured to explore the boundary between life and death. This book is a beautiful memoir in which Kalanithi shares with the reader his own personal journey into discovering such meaning. You experience his shift in perspective of the world in which he lives and the decisions he faces once being diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 36. Kalanithi was an impressively intelligent and high striving individual who, as a chief resident of neurosurgery at Stanford, was just months away from completing 10 years of hardest and most gruelling training of any clinical fields.

His journey there was not a straight road. From an early stage Kalanithi’s fascination with the inevitable interaction of science and mortality, he strived to learn about “what makes a virtuous and meaningful life”.

He began this mental exploration with two B.A.s and an M.A. in literature combined with human biology at Stanford, but gave up the pursuit of a full-time career in writing by doing a Masters in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge. Unsatisfied with philosophical reasoning, Kalanithi looked to the most critical place for human identity; the brain – he pursued a career in Medicine at Yale before returning to Stanford for a residency in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience.

Having led a fascinating life, Kalanithi did not want to leave it unrecorded, in his inspirational memoir he expresses his insights and emotions, without a hint of self-pity, of being a doctor, a patient, a husband, a father and the strains and gratifications that came with them. He invites you to become entirely emotionally invested in his journey, and the issues that he faces during his shift from the all-powerful doctor to the helpless patient, you share his pain and anguish. He soldiers on writing the book through his weakest times, a real representation to his commitment and dedication to the cause.

Kalanithi’s wife writes the afterword posthumously about his last few days and his inspirational outlook on his short but successful life. He was a man that had so much to contribute to the world.

A beautifully powerful book. Truly thought provoking and eye opening, it will most likely leave you sobbing at such a tragic loss of an unbelievably talented man whose words will change your perspective on the world we live and die in.

We just need to know one more thing…

Ever seen a boss, a colleague or (heaven forbid) yourself behave in a way that, however seemingly rational, is incredibly obstructive? Before they’ll approve or support a project, there is always one more fact they need.

Chances are that they are in the grip of a cognitive bias called the “information bias”. This is what drives us to look for information about a situation long past the point that this information has any bearing on the decision being made. Worse still, if you play along hoping that you’ll eventually get what you need, you could be stuck there until you get to a point where the question can’t be answered and they’ll never approve it.

This was illustrated best by Baron, Beattie and Hershey (organizational behaviour and human decision processes 42,88-110 (1988)) in their fictitious diseases diagnostic problem. In essence, a patient presents with symptoms suggestive of one of three conditions, one of which, globoma, at a probability of 80%. There is a test, the ET scan, which would certainly rule in or out the other two diagnoses but would give a 50/50 for globoma.

In spite of the fact that the probability of the patient having globoma (80%) was unchanged before and after the ET scan, and the patient should be treated for globoma irrespective of the result, a small but significant number of subjects insisted on the test before treatment.

For these subjects it took a significant amount of questioning about the usefulness of the test before they realised their mistake.

When faced with this situation, it’s probably best to approach the person after the meeting (it’s always in a meeting, right?) and ask specific questions about what and how the extra information will change the decision. Otherwise, when you spend precious time and resources getting the answer to this question, the chances are there will be another.

Trying to influence someone? Offer them lunch or ask for a favour?

This would seem like a stupid question with a pretty obvious answer. But, as with many things involving human beings the most likely answer is pretty surprising. There is a behavioural bias at work here which makes asking a favour more likely to be successful.

Asking someone, who you’d like to create a positive impression with, to do you a favour probably seems a bit strange, even counter-intuitive. But there is a good psychological basis for doing just that. There is a great deal of evidence that supports the idea that doing favours for people disposes us more positively to them and makes us more likely to do them another favour.

A simple example would be sending your “target” an article you wrote and ask their opinion prior to your first meeting. Or you could ask them to contribute to your thinking by sharing what they believe to be important new products, trends etc. arising in the market place. The important thing is that you are asking personally. Asking favours like these have a very low barrier to fulfilment (people love sharing what they think) and are likely to be more successful than asking if you can borrow their Aston Martin for the weekend.

The “Ben Franklin effect” posits that a person who has already done you a favour is more likely to do you another than someone for whom you have done a favour. He described it as an old maxim in his autobiography:  “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” He then also described how he had practically used this maxim on a hostile rival in the 18th century Pennsylvania Legislature.

“Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death”.

This effect has been connected with cognitive dissonance theory. We try to avoid conflicts between what we do and what we believe. In this instance, the behaviour drives the belief: “I did that person a favour, so obviously I must like them”.

It’s useful to know in many situations. Who wouldn’t want a new customer, your boss, or a key opinion former feeling positive about you? As a strategy for dealing with more people who may be less well disposed to you, asking them to do something for you that will help you solve their issue is particularly powerful.

If you are stuck with an approach strategy to a particular person, it may be worth stopping thinking about what you can do for them, and think of what they can do for you.

Is your brand a few bars short of a symphony?

How music and sound can help to capture the hearts of more customers

Is your brand fit for the fight? Of course it is.

I bet your mission, vision and values are all nailed, glued and velcroed down and that your brand promise will never ever be broken. I’m equally sure that key tints of the colour palette are in place, there’s a crystal-clear tone of voice and an x-height demilitarised zone around the logo. (I’m guessing it sits in a corner and is never reversed out of a full-colour image. Right?)

All good so far. But can you describe to yourself, your colleagues and your customers what your brand actually sounds like?

If not, why?

Visual consistency and tonally-compliant writing are your table stakes – critical yet necessary.

However, marketers looking to make meaningful connections know that well-developed sonic attributes can help their brand perform at its brilliant best.

 

Beethoven’s Dopamine Symphony

The last two decades have given us endless sonic brand triggers and a plethora of brand sound designs wide enough to make Phil Spektor’s wig spin.

But research has proven that hearing songs that we like triggers a dopamine release. And, as we all know, dopamine = pleasure. But, interestingly, even the anticipation of hearing likeable songs, or upcoming parts of songs, is enough to release dopamine in some people.

Beethoven, it’s reckoned, used anticipation expertly in many of his scores. He would define the tonic chord (look it up, don’t guess or assume), then never actually play complete versions of the tonic until the very end…finally fulfilling audiences’ expectation and letting loose a commensurate deluge of dopamine in the run-up.

Clever huh?

Now, imagine a pleasurable song happened to be your brand’s sound. All of a sudden, you’re engaging with customers on a very different, multi-sensory level. You’re making them happy. They want to hear from you. They feel positive about your brand. So they’re more likely to tell others. What’s not to like?

 

Bespoke means a better ROI

Music is beautifully abstract, yet very powerful. It’s pure escapism, guiding emotions effortlessly through major and minor tones. And it’s memorable. Why else would we claim to suffer from ‘earworms’ or use phrases like “the soundtrack of my life/year/day”?

In practical terms, music and sound can make a congress experience more memorable; they can help an edetail or other face-to-face sales piece create a more vivid experience by supporting the tone of the piece as the story develops.

So it’s amazing that marketers still randomly dive into the stock sound vault only to emerge with an unstructured cacophony which does nothing to enhance their brand. You’ll get a much better return from commissioning you’re a bespoke, tailored and unique piece of work for your brand.

There’s also the added advantage that pure sonic assets are excused the rigorous scrutiny of our friends in legal and regulatory.

 

Four watch-outs when creating sonic branding

With this in mind, creating the right sonic landscape for your brand could be the best commercial commitment you make this year. But it’s wise to beware the pitfalls. Wary treading is essential, as is the need to follow these recommendations:

  1. Commit to making sound an integral part of your brand’s architecture and devote concerted energy to getting it absolutely right.
  2. Determine the role(s) that sound will play in your brand’s presence – do you need it to support content, help lead the conversation, introduce innovations?
  3. Think carefully about the character of your brand and decide how best to reflect this in a brief.
  4. Diversify the talent you involve in your brand’s sound creation. Don’t be afraid to mix creatives, planners, colleagues and music professionals.

 

If you need any further help, my Bontempi organ is plugged in and ready to go! You hum it, I’ll play it.