The Non-Obvious Insights Blog. Non-Obvious Insights
The Non-Obvious Insights Blog.

Dedicated To Helping Readers
Be More Interesting
Since 2004.

As Featured In:

What 7 Masters Of Persuasion Can Teach You About Behavioral Marketing

This past weekend one of the first ever conferences on consumer psychology and behavior focusing on marketing, sales and business strategy quietly took place in Stamford, Connecticut.  Before the September craziness of business events and corporate summits … Behaviorcon was intentionally different.  Created by best selling author Ramit Sethi and marketing and branding advisor Michael Fishman – the event brought together a renowned collection of marketing experts, academic researchers and entrepreneurs to focus on a single question …

Why do people make the decisions that they make?

Through two days of panels and educational sessions, the conference brought together a wide range of speakers (including myself) to tackle this question from multiple angles.  As I sat in the audience listening to the speakers, I found myself in the rare situation of taking notes so fast that I was filling page after page without pause.  This article is the result of some of those notes and my chance to share some of the most insightful pieces of advice I took away from the conference.

1. Help them do what they already want to do. (@bjfogg)

“At Stanford, the Professors compete for students.”

That was just one of the insights that emerged in this powerful opening talk for the event from B.J. Fogg, the Founder and Director of Stanford’s noted Persuasive Technology Lab. Sharing examples from his years of research on undergrads and through consulting with companies like Nike, Weight Watchers, eBay and others – Fogg made the point that marketing works best when you are enabling people to do what they already want to do.  So many products, services or ideas fail when they try to change behavior.  Instead, if you want to form habits and change behaviors, you need to find a way to align your message with someone’s prexisting motivations.

2. Make them wait. (Michael Norton)

“Locksmiths are either really good or really bad.” 

When interviewing a locksmith about his profession, Harvard Professor Michael Norton uncovered an interesting fact: happiness is inversely proportional to time.  People happily pay the locksmith who took an hour, but protest if a more skilled locksmith opens a door in 30 seconds.  The solution, Norton shared, is to find ways to “show your work” so people are happier about the end result because they felt like you had to work for it.  Interestingly, this principle also applies to websites – where research showed that people prefer a search engine like Kayak (which offers more transparency as they are returning search results) than Orbitz, which just using a progress bar with no context.

3. Choose words wisely. (@michaelfishman)

“When the ego is more prominent than the message, trust goes away.”

Words make a different in selling, but not in the way you might think.  Of course the words you use for your pitch matter for people, but as Michael Fishman shared in his presentation – words can also have a repelling effect.  In every industry there are key words NEVER to use unless you want to lose attention or respect.  Fishman advised to be sure and “remove words that intimidate” and be mindful of the words you choose for anything.  This even applies to using time tested “rules” or even grammar.  As Picasso said in a quote that Fishman also shared,  “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” Good advice.

4. Prevent sales. (@marieforleo)

“Most people today are starving for a little attention and recognition.”

To describe Marie Forleo as a force of nature probably gives nature a bit too much credit.  She is the popular host of MarieTV and has built a passionate community of fans who RAVE about the experiences she offers.  In her tip-filled and practical talk, she challenges many of the stereotypical pieces of advice you often hear about building a community.  One of the most provocative was her plea to prevent sales.  In her community, people purchase education programs to help jump start their businesses, and one of her early challenges was an industry average refund rate of close to 20%.  To battle that, she tweaked her usual 100% refund policy slightly … in order to get a refund, you had to simply turn in your completed homework as well.  Once people publicly knew this was a requirement, they would do the homework, and almost every one would then opt to keep the program and complete it.  The insight?  Weed out people from the beginning by NOT making it too easy to get a no-questions-asked-refund.

5. Name your dictator. (@jonathanfields)

“What if people embraced your product as they would a mass movement?”

Revolutions and mass movements of people offer intriguing lessons for marketers, but when you tackle a thought as big as this – you need someone like Jonathan Fields to make sense of it.  Fields made my (and many others) list of people from Behaviorcon that we’d most like to have a beer with afterwards.  But aside from being an interesting guy, his 16 point analysis of what really makes revolutions happen was frustratingly engaging.  Engaging because of the great thinking behind it, and frustrating because you knew after listening to his presentation for just an hour, there was so much that you probably missed.  One of his most powerful lessons that stood out was a technique the Hollywood producers have been using forever – naming a bad guy.  In business, “naming your dictator” as Fields called it allows you to rally all of your supporters against someone or something.  Having a “dictator” raises the stakes and is an early requirement of any movement.

6. Look at the past. (@adamferrier)

“The greatest predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”

As the founder of one of the most awarded communications agencies in Australia (Naked Communications), Ferrier has learned a thing or two about human motivation.  When it comes to creating online videos, for example, a key element that his team always looks at before creating video content is what type of content is already working and what are people passing around.  If a video has gone viral in the past, chances are a similar video featuring similar content may do the same thing.  This is almost an insanely simple tip, but it is stunning how many brands and campaigns don’t take this one simple step.  And then they are surprised when no one watches or shares the videos that they have produced.  Bottom line: if it already works, it might keep working.

7. Learn why people DON’t do things. (@hnshah)

“I don’t like calling things bootstrapped. I don’t have boots. I don’t have straps. And I don’t pull myself up by them.”

When anyone comes to a stage describing themselves as an “analytics guy” – I am always interested to see how they will take their insights and translate them for audiences that know they need it but generally dread hearing advice about it.  Hiten Shah, founder of KISSmetrics, is one of the few people who understand how to turn real data into non-boring insights from a stage.  One of the biggest lessons I wrote down from his talk was the importance of learning why people don’t do things like follow through on purchases or share content.  It is a question that most marketers are dramatically bad at answering – but the insights you get from finding out why something didn’t convert often make all the difference in improving almost every metric you may be measuring.

Final Thought …

There were other insights from Day 2 of the event, which I sadly had to miss after sharing my own presentation on the impact of likeability and personal connection on decision making … but the event was good enough that I’ll be bookmarking it in my calendar for 2014.  You should too.


5 thoughts on “What 7 Masters Of Persuasion Can Teach You About Behavioral Marketing”

  1. Excellent round up Rohit! Such remarkable contrast between these great minds and you captured their singular perspectives beautifully.

    I definitely had to Evernote this as a checklist for my next campaign 🙂

    Many thanks and see you at the event next year!



Leave a Comment

The Non-Obvious Insights Newsletter. Non-Obvious Insights
Layer 97
The Non-Obvious Insights Newsletter
Layer 118

Skip the obvious and anticipate the future with our weekly newsletter. Join over 25,000 subscribers and start receiving the stories (and insights) you’ve been missing.

All Books

#1 WSJ & USA Today Bestselling Author

Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


Have a Question or Inquiry?

Just fill out this form, and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours!


About You

What Are You Contacting Us About*:

Your Message