If you have a product, a service, a lifestyle or even a concept that you want other people to buy (or buy into), influencing them can soon become an obsession. How do you demonstrate the value of your gadget? How do you convince the customer that your range is the ‘must have’ this season? How do you nudge people to make the right choice, or do the right thing?
As an Operational Excellence Coach these are questions that I am profoundly interested in and exercise my thinking every day as I try to influence people’s behaviour and thinking in reducing waste and improving the way we do things. But I am not alone. In fact I would argue that every manager, sales person, marketing executive or entrepreneur spends much of their energy and time thinking about how to influence others, be they customers, clients, members of their staff, fellow managers, regulatory bodies, politicians or members of the public.
So how do you do it? There are no easy answers of course but the key is to recognise that people are social creatures and that the decisions we make are made within this context. This means that whilst our product might be the highest quality or have the most features, or that our concept is the cleverest or have the most robust research behind it, our potential customer will not buy into it if it does not fulfil some basic social need. William Glasser, an American psychiatrist back in the 60s developed ‘Choice Theory’ which basically stated that people’s choices are motivated by a desire to increase pleasure and reduce pain – no surprise there then – but importantly he stressed that pleasure could only be derived from social needs being fulfilled such as through love and enjoying a sense of belonging.
The importance of tribes
What this means for those of us in the influencing game is that simply focusing on the features of our product or concept or even the quality of the materials is not enough. Seth Godin talks about the importance of tribes and this is a good way to practically apply this theory. A good example is the rise of the Punkt Dumb Phone, a gadget without internet connectivity, with no Facebook or Twitter apps, no torch, no calculator in fact no apps at all, all it does is allow you to make and take phone calls and send text messages. At £220 it may be less expensive than the top end smart phones but it’s not exactly cheap so what is the attraction?
Firstly it speaks to a practical problem, that of feeling overwhelmed by technology but the really big breakthrough was when socially highly significant people started to be seen with them. In fact if you visit the Punkt website the home page proudly states that “Eddie Redmayne reveals he is a big fan..”. What this product is really saying is “come on over here with us, with the cool people who want to unplug, to get the most out of life”. Maybe there is also an ironic twist which suggests that this phone is for people who don’t want to try too hard to be connected or to impress with the latest tech whilst at the same time making yourself interesting and slightly dangerous by seemingly rejecting the current orthodoxy.
A sense of belonging
So the Punkt phone is a case study in appealing to a sense of belonging that sits neatly with Glasser’s choice theory but a further factor has to be recognised, the use of stories and discourse as a way of creating a new way of seeing the world. Go back a couple of years and the sight of your Dad clinging onto his dumb phone would have raised a condescending smile but now he’s on-trend so how did this happen? The answer is that through people talking about the issue of feeling bombarded by over connectivity and by perpetuating a narrative about experiencing the present a new way of talking starts to gain traction. And through stories about famous and successful people adopting it the way we see and construct our reality changes so what was charmingly old fashioned before becomes cool and a statement against the danger of losing our humanity.
Where all of this gets us is that in order for us to influence people, whether that be to eliminate wasteful behaviour, to get someone to invest in our idea or simply to buy our product or service it’s important to identify the social need, it could be a sense of belonging, a need to be respected, a desire to be admired or liked.
Even more important however is how you generate the story, how you get people repeating the phrases, telling the narrative and seeing the world in a different way.