How politicians, celebrities, and brands get you to “like” them

A paper sign on a lamp post that says "Be the first of your friends to like this post" below it has the facebook thumb's up icon so people can tear one off.
“Like This Post” by Bernard Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During a recent online discussion, a colleague posed a question about the Persuasion Principle of Liking (Robert Cialdini). Most of the examples in literature are at an individual scale, meant for 1:1 interaction. He was interested in how this does or could scale.

For my contribution to the discussion, I decided to focus on politicians, celebrities, and brands and how they utilize the Principle of Liking to encourage the general public or their target markets to “like” them at scale.

Similarities

The first example of this that came to mind is how people will say “They talk like me,” or “They tell it like it is,” (which, in my opinion, actually means “this person has the same opinions as me”) about why they like particular politicians. If you’re curious about this and don’t mind a very dense read, I recommend The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, as he breaks down the moral structures and topics (which then you could deuce wording and phrases) that appeal to different subsets of the public.

Another way I think brands, celebrities, and politicians foster similarity this is through origin stories. A brand for a protein bar will tell you the story of how it all started with an avid fitness person in their kitchen who wanted a better option than the ones currently on the market. Or a politician or celebrity will tell the story of their humble beginnings. An underrated example of this, in my opinion, is Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block” song, which highlights her “regular” upbringing.

Brands also highlight similarity by featuring people who look like you in ads. When I was looking for a new car a few years ago, I was shocked that I subconsciously added the Cadillac brand to my online search, as I’ve always associated Cadillac with “my grandmother drove one of those.” But when I thought about it, I’d seen several Cadillac ads recently where they showed women who looked like me owning and driving them. While I’m yet to find proof, I’m also convinced Cadillac may have had a marketing agreement with Carrie Underwood to create her song “Two Black Cadillacs” to market to younger women.

Compliments

Politicians and performers on stage tend to give these compliments outright. I’ve come to dread the part of concerts where they shout “We love you New Orleans!” because I’m sure they say that in every city. And I wonder if it’s written somewhere where they can see it so they don’t say the wrong name, but I digress….

Politicians tend to say things like “Detroit, you are amazing. You’ve had a tough few years, but you are coming back because you all are incredible.” Arguably, the more the politician or celebrity genuinely believes this, the more genuine it’ll come across.

Brands are usually more subtle. The one that immediately comes to mind is the Dove campaign for real beauty ads. They are celebrating women’s bodies and saying “You are beautiful no matter your size, shape, stretch marks, etc.” Although it’s worth noting that their parent company also owns Axe body spray, which as a brand has a vastly different commentary on women and beauty.

Cooperation

I joke that you could channel-surf on TV by which commercials are on (Subway ads = Simpsons, Family Guy, or American Dad mostly). I think that’s especially true on Sunday mornings during the intellectual news and financial market commentary. The ads during these times are highly environmental and cooperative-focused. They tend to have a theme around, “We’re working with you to protect and sustain our environment” and are run by oil companies and the like.

While I could also argue it’s reciprocity, Chick-Fil-a’s marketing strategy of sponsoring a tremendous amount of community events, in my opinion, is a great example of, “We’re a part of this community cooperating with you to make it a better place” cooperation.

Ethics consideration

With scale, you cross an ethical line if you lead the person to believe there is a direct or personal connection when there isn’t. I get emails that have my name in the subject area and are addressed to me, but I realize that it’s a form letter. But if they sent an automated email that made me think a particular person (such as a politician or celebrity) themselves wrote to me when they didn’t and/or made me think the message was sent to just me when it wasn’t, I think that’s unethical. And, it risks ruining the relationship of the person discovers it.

Verizon, unlimited data during Hurricane Barry, and increasing brand loyalty

Reading a book at my husband’s hunting camp, my phone dings with a new text message. Not surprising right now, we live in New Orleans and a lot of very caring people are checking on us to make sure we left due to Hurrican Barry.

“Oh, wow. That’s amazing,” I say and show my husband the text.

It’s from Verizon Wireless, our cell phone carrier, letting us know that we have unlimited domestic talk, text, and data for the next few days because of Hurricane Barry.

Text message from Verizon Wireless that says "Verizon Msg: We've got your back, we've got your usage. To help you during this challenging time, active customers in the affected areas will received unlimited domestic talk, text and data from 7/12-7/12. For more details visit vzw.com/featured/relief.

This message is also timely. Just the day before, we were researching libraries and other places nearby that had wifi access and then wondering if we’d be able to get to those places if need be.  It’s a small worry, but small worries can add up.

So, Verizon Wireless, thank you.  As my husband commented, you just earned even more brand loyalty from us.

Examples of digital marketing fails (broken windows)

The last time I gave a workshop on the Broken Windows Theory and how it related to marketing, a participant gave me feedback that I needed to include more web-based and digital examples. And, she’s absolutely right.

So to fix that, I’ve started collecting digital examples of broken windows. Taking inspiration from one of the blogs I read for fun, McMansion Hell, I’ve added parody comments to the photos.

Without further adieu, enjoy!

Priority Pass website with residence spelled incorrectly

Another fun fact about this one: I was nice and emailed their support department over a month ago and let them know about the typo. I got a standard, “thanks for your feedback” macro response. But did they fix it? Nope.

Cooking light recipe missing ingredients

So much for wanting to make this recipe

Branding to millennials web banner where millennials is spelled wrong. It also shows only white men and they are using their technology in ways that looks like work. There is only one woman in the photo. She's white, and taking a selfie

Thanks to a friend for sending me this one. Beyond the typos, my friend pointed out that the graphic is also problematic; it only shows white millennials even though millennials are incredibly diverse, and the only woman depicted is using her technology to narcissistically take a selfie.

Linked in notification, saying I haven't connected with a coworker for 2 years, even though I work with him every day

Let’s be real here for a minute: We really know why this came up. Phil hasn’t had a need to get on LinkedIn in a few years and they want him back, because eyeballs mean ad revenue. So it’s more about getting him back than doing to me a favor. But to me, it feels like that ex who tells your friends to tell you that they “just hope you are well” in hopes you’ll take that as a cue to contact them.

To give LinkedIn credit, this may be helpful at a large organization where you don’t interact with almost everyone every day. So, for this one, it could be a simple change to the algorithm; only show these messages if it’s an organization of x (200?) employees or more.

Screenshot of a law firm website where the photo of the lawyers is pixelated in a way that gives them a weird halo/aura around their heads

Two ideas of how this might have went down:

Option 1:

Web designer: Can you send me a high resolution version of the photo of you in the courtroom?

Lawyers: Sure. Here you go.

Web designer: Um, that’s low resolution. Can you send me the high res file?

Lawyers: We sent you the file.

Web designer: Yes, I know, but you sent me the low res file

Lawyers: We sent you the file!!!! Just do your file.

Web designer: (sigh) Fine. I give up (or a stronger version of this)

Option 2:

Web designer: We need high quality photos for the website

Lawyers: How much is that going to cost?

Web designer: (gives number)

Lawyers: What?!? That’s too much money. Ted’s kid does a great job taking photos. We’ll just have him do it with his phone.

Web designer: Those won’t look good

Lawyers: They’ll look fine…

On another note, the reason I ended up on their website in the first place is because of some entertaining billboard replacement.

A billboard for a law firm that represents drunk driving cases. Below it is a billboard for Miller Lite

Moving on…

A screenshot of an email promotion from a gym advertising a pizza and beer party after a new workout class

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the hypocrisy of gyms serving pizza and beer. This one is especially fun because the fitness center is tied to a hospital.

An iphone screenshot of Jason's Deli's website with the words "Access Denied" when I tried to click on their nutrition information

Actually they are right, I don’t want to see the nutrition info. I’m happy being blissfully unaware in this case.

iphone screenshot of a website with an error message that says "email not exists"

There, I fixed it.

Fair use disclaimer

All screenshots are used in this post under fair use for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107.

Don’t forget packaging

And yet, what people are mostly buying it for is the packaging, the idea of a luxury product, or a personal relationship.

An in-store display of honey in glass jars next to cheese
Yes, glass jars cost more, but in this case, they also communicate “high quality” so they can charge a higher price. Note the placement of this display is near produce to communicate freshness and next to high-quality cheese, to emphasize the luxury of the product.
Honey in small glass jars that's been labeled for specific purposes, such as
Honey for various purposes? I doubt there’s much of a difference. And $4.49 per small glass jar communicates these as a luxury good (and potential gift item)
A round container of honeycomb with the honey still in it.
Honeycomb included in honey takes a gift to a whole new level of interesting and luxury, with a hefty price tag. Question: How many people know what to do with raw honeycomb?

The past few years, I’ve become very familiar with bees, and everyone’s favorite product from bees, honey.

As my fiancé, the beekeeper, would tell you, you can’t judge the quality of honey by the color or what it says on the package, you judge it by “the bubble test,” essentially turning a jar of honey upside down and watching how fast the air bubble moves to the now-top of the jar. The slower the bubble, the better the honey.

And honey supposedly purported to be from only a single plant (i.e. clover honey or lavender honey) isn’t always accurate either, as bees go where they please and like variety.

Now that you know all of this, you can see my amusement when I walk into a food store and see the varieties of honey available and the pricing related to them. The vast majority of the price differential is the packaging.

  • Honey in glass and/or special shaped bottles looks more expensive (and thus can command a higher price)
  • Including honeycomb greatly increases the price
  • Marketing honey as single source means smaller amounts for more money
  • Honey from far away feels exotic and special, resulting in an upcharge
  • Labeling honey for special purposes (such as “honey for cooking” and “honey for tea”) encourages people to buy more for these various purposes
  • Honey that seems special encourages people to give them as gifts

And yet, what people are mostly buying it for is the packaging, the idea of a luxury product, or a personal relationship. I recently purchased from thredUP and received my “used” clothes very prettily wrapped in paper, trying to emphasize their quality (vs. buying from Goodwill). Similarly, when Molly & You (formerly Molly & Drew) sends your order, it always includes a personal note and sometimes even a gift.

I’ve noticed similarly how many products I avoid, not because the product isn’t good, but because the packaging is terrible, such as a greek yogurt that I no longer buy because the lid is cheap and breaks too easily.

An opened shipping box of Molly & Drew bread mixes with a handwritten note that says
Molly & You (formerly Molly & Drew) orders come in a plain box, but includes a personal note from the person who packaged this. And, in this case, a surprise of a free pancake mix. Hopefully they can continue this personal touch as they continue to grow.

My challenge for you: Take a look at your packaging, whether it’s actual product packaging and shipping or packaging of your service.

  • Think about how your messaging is or isn’t extended through your packaging.
  • Do your customers like your packaging.
  • Are you losing/gaining customers due to your packaging?
  • What can you do to improve the packaging experience for your customers?

 

Entrepreneurs and effective marketing

We worked on increasing the effectiveness of their marketing through understanding the Broken Windows Theory for marketing and how it can increase the effectiveness of marketing for their business. 

Last night I had the pleasure to work with 25 entrepreneurs/small business owners as part of an Idea Village workshop in New Orleans. We focused on increasing the effectiveness of the marketing of their businesses through understanding the Broken Windows Theory.

Thank you to everyone who came to the workshop. I look forward to continuing dialogue with you all (y’all)!

Further reading about Broken Windows Theory for marketing:

Effective marketing using the Broken Windows Theory

Addressing the question: Why is branding so important

Your employees can make or break your marketing

The small touches in your business ensure success

Broken Window: TOO nice of a vehicle

Broken Window: Bad drivers in company vehicles

How social media changed corporate branding and marketing

Different colors of chalk ends with the logos of the main social media sites (facebook, twitter, etc.) on the ends
“The Art of Social Media” by mkhmarketing, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“If you create good branded content, they will come,” sums up the philosophy that was championed during my masters degree courses on social media marketing. At the time, that was the prominent thought, and still continues to be in most organizations.

The reality, however, is much different. Brands have spent billions to create content and haven’t garnered the massive loyal following they thought it would.

But Douglas Holt will tell you that crowdcultures are better at producing content, and for a lot less money and time, that resonates on social media. He demonstrates by highlighting brands who have spent billions to create amazing content on sites such as YouTube, Instagram, etc. are getting trounced in the rankings, by individuals with limited production ability.

Instead, he’ll tell you not to focus on the crowdculture. In the March 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review (Branding in the age of social media), Crowdcultures, according to Holt, are digital crows that serve “as very effective and prolific innovators of culture.”

As examples, he highlights:

  • Pre-industrial food culture: Those individuals who are concerned about, and challenging, our industrial methods of producing food.
  • Lad culture: A tongue-in-cheek form of sexism stemmed from frustrations of over-sensitivity by feminists
  • Body-positive culture: Those frustrated with the unrealistic ideals in media, especially of women

Conventional marketing would tell you to find your target market along demographic and benefit lines and promote to them, or to highlight your organization’s core values that best along with the largest segment of the market. Following the crowdculture philosophy, instead you’d identify a specific crowdculture that is a good fit for your organization and focus on them.

So back to the crowdculture examples to see how this alignment works:

  • Pre-industrial food revival: Chipotle’s branding around local and non-industrial food sourcing
  • Lad culture: Axe body spray’s over-the-top ads of bikini-clad “ideal” women chasing after men
  • Body-positive culture: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign focused on emphasizing that women are beautiful in their natural form (and, for fun, Dove has the same parent company as Axe)

There’s a lot more to identifying, aligning and maintaining this type of marketing strategy and Holt goes into some details in the article along with having a book on the subject, How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding.

Is this the correct strategy moving forward? That’s yet to be seen. What is clear is, the “If you create good branded content, they will come,” strategy isn’t working.

Stop putting your building in ads! Features vs. benefits in marketing

A while ago, I watched a local business give a presentation to the local chamber of commerce about their law firm. And they talked about…their building.  Apparently they had just finished a remodel of their offices and wanted to show them off. Slide after slide after slide was photos of the inside and outside of their building. It was beautiful, but a complete waste of the audience’s time and a complete missed marketing opportunity for the business.

Features vs. benefits

Because businesses are empowered by computer programs that allow them to design their own fliers, brochures, and webpages (although I recommend against this), it’s important to remember features vs. benefits.

Features describe something. Usually they describe something about your business or your product.

Benefits are how those features benefit the customer.  Basically, they describe why the customer cares.

An easy way to tell the difference between your company or product’s features vs. benefits can be done with a simple sentence:

  1. Start by naming something about your business or product.
  2. Now, pretend that you are talking to your potential customer and finish the sentence by saying “so you can…” and adding an ending.

Examples (remember you are talking directly to your customer):

  • Our coffee is only made with the freshest beans (feature), so you can be sure that every cup of coffee will be a great sensory experience (benefit).
  • The homes we build are made to withstand hurricane winds (feature) so you can be free of worry because your family will be protected when the next storm comes (benefit).
  • Our lawn tractors last twice as long as any of our competitor’s lawn tractors (feature) so you can save money in the long-term by purchasing one of our lawn tractors even though it is more expensive (benefit).
  • Every plumber that works for us is certified and has a minimum of 10 years of experience (feature) so you can be sure that the problem will be fixed the first time and you won’t have to worry about it again or take another day off work to fix it (benefits).
A photo of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous waterfall house, Fallingwater
“Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright)” by brian donovan, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Features vs. Benefits in Marketing

Your final marketing message doesn’t have to be in that format. It can be delivered in a wide variety of ways, which is where the beauty of good advertising comes in. But, the point that is absolutely critical is that your marketing should focus on them (benefits) and not focus on you (features).

With the constantly increasing number of advertising messages that your potential customers are exposed to every day, in order to stand out, you must speak directly to your customers in a way that resonates with them. You must explain or show them that your product or service benefits them in some way that will motivate them to act.

It’s Not About Your Building!

Going back to our law firm example, this is the biggest features vs. benefits mistake I see a lot of businesses make is to focus on their building (although poor facilities can affect your marketing effectiveness).

If I were advising the law firm, considering that their audience was primarily small business owners at that meeting, I would have recommended that they focused their talk on how their services benefit small business owners by saving them money, protecting their business, etc.  By doing so, they would be focusing on how they can benefit the people in the room and they would have had a much better chance of walking out with some new leads.

Take a Fresh Look

So I challenge you to take a fresh look at your marketing materials and review tapes of your past presentations, and ask yourself if you are talking about features or benefits.  Are you talking about yourself or are you talking about them? Are you focused on what comes after “so you can…” in your marketing? If not, it’s time to start rewriting.