I Don’t Know How This is Legal

Do you mind if I rant for a minute?  I promise to make a point eventually.


Take a look at this full page ad from the October 2015 issue of Architectural Digest:

Natural American Spirit organic marketing

What do you notice?

1) Natural/Organic. The market for organic products is getting bigger and bigger. Now you even can buy 100% natural lung poison.

2) The feel of the ad itself. The visual elements have a light feeling. The fresh baby tobacco plant (which look strikingly similar to a sprig of mint), the rustic table the cigarettes are sitting on, the color palette and smooth sans serif typeface all gently whisper “clean,” “pure” and “natural.” Maybe even “wholesome.”

3) “Additive-free.”  At first glance, you may think it says “Addictive-free.” That’s exactly how the first few people I showed this page to read that “headline.” Misleading, right?

4) Disclaimers that essentially destroy the story the rest of the ad is telling. “Additive-free” organic tobacco does NOT make a safer cigarettes.

5) Oh, and a strong front-end offer. A pack for $2 is a steal these days!

It’s crazy how much creative energy spent is spent fabricating a disingenuous marketing statement. If only these admakers were using their powers for good!

(Note: In August, the FDA began pursuing regulatory action against 3 cigarette manufacturers, including the one that makes Natural American Spirit brand, for these marketing tactics.)

Fighting the Tide

You’ve seen those “Real Cost” TV commercials, right?

Recent statistics show that ad campaigns like “The Real Cost” and “the Truth,” as well as other factors have decreased smoking to an all time low in the U.S. That’s the positive power of marketing at work.

(Interestingly, sales of Natural American Spirits have increased 86% since 2009, even as the tobacco industry is shrinking. The power of marketing at work.)

What you may not have seen are the warnings on cigarette boxes in Thailand. They’re a lot stronger than Surgeon General’s warnings. The images show the long-term effects of smoking RIGHT ON THE PACKAGING. You have to see it to believe it. Warning: these pictures are very unsettling, so much so that I’m not going to put them here. If you’d like to see some examples, click here or just Google “Thai cigarette warnings.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Scary stuff. But they’re are honest and realistic. What’s really scary is that something like 40% of the men in Thailand still smoke.

What Gives?

Everyone knows smoking is bad for their health. And that truth is increasingly “in their face.” So why doesn’t EVERYONE quit?

That’s an important question to ask because these are the forces you have to face as a business owner/service provider trying to persuade people to buy from you.

Normalcy bias – If it hasn’t happened yet, people often don’t believe it will ever happen. “It” can be anything. Our brains are designed that way. It’s good for maintaining our sanity, but it makes changing customer buying behavior more difficult.

If you rely on fear-based marketing or sale messages, you need to be aware of this bias.

Force of habit – Most of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are habitual. Our buying behavior is very much impacted by force of habit. Convincing people to change their routine, or even getting them to realize they’re not consciously thinking about that routine, is no easy task. Even if it’s bad for them.

You really have 3 choices: attach yourself to your potential customer’s already-established habit, come up with a way to make him turn off autopilot and choose you (a really good front-end offer can be a great way to do that) or approach him where he hasn’t developed a habit.

Social proof and peer approval – People care what other people think about them. How are you using that to your advantage?

Contrary/competitive messaging – You need to say something uniquely valuable, and you need to say if often enough to grab some real estate in your prospect’s mind.

Plain old disbelief – According the Mark Schenk “if you assert something as a fact – even if it is a fact – less than half of the people listening will believe you.” (Mark gives his remedy for that reality in this article.)

What’s the point I’m getting at? It’s this: Marketing can be powerful. Use it responsibly and honestly.

I know, this is all pretty surfacey.

But hey, what did you expect from a rant?


Expect Resistance and Overcome It

Selling is hard.

Rather, selling can be hard.

Each of us has certain built-in psychological resistance to “being sold.” The challenge marketers and salespeople face is circumvent that resistance.

In a 3-part series on the Diamond Website Conversion blog, I’ve gone into detail about several specific forms sales resistance takes on, and more importantly, ways you can bypass it.

No matter what you sell, no matter what field you work in, these obstacles exist in all of your prospects to varying degrees. Do you know how to overcome them?

Overcoming Your Prospects’ Hard-Wired Conversion Obstacles
Part 1: Skepticism
Part 2: Inertia and Reactance
Part 3: Cognitive Biases
(confirmation bias, normalcy bias, etc.)


Cognitive Biases: Overcoming Your Prospect’s Hardwired Resistance, Pt. 2

In Parts 1, of this we talked about how you can write copy for your website that overcomes the skepticism, inertia and reactance that naturally work against your sales message.

Another set of psychological phenomenon applicable to business and marketing is in the realm of cognitive biases.

The brain is not — and cannot be — completely objective in perceiving information. You can become a much more effective communicator and persuader by understanding the angles and spins that our minds apply to every bit of information we consume.

Let’s examine how cognitive biases and think about ethical ways we can use the brain’s predispositions to strengthen our marketing messages.

Confirmation Bias

We are wired to look for evidence that supports what we already believe to be true. We tend to interpret data in ways that agree with our positions. We value people who are on our side of an issue or debate – we have an automatic kinship with them.

The opposite is also true. We tend to reject information that contradicts our opinions. That’s known as the Semmelweis reflex. In fact, information that disagrees with our preconceptions has been shown to strengthen our original beliefs. That’s called the backfire effect.

Our brains need consistency and predictability, so we automatically find ways to support the paradigms we hold. Information that contradicts our ideas about the world is often discarded out of hand.

That’s why it’s difficult for a Democrat to become a Republican, or a Yankees fan to start rooting for the Red Sox.

You need to present your product or service and your message in a way that agrees with what your audience already believes. Confirm their suspicions about themselves and the world around them.

Normalcy Bias

You have to relate to the members of your audience right where they are. People have a hard time spending money on solutions for issues that haven’t “hit home” for them yet. We’re inclined to think:

That could never happen here…”

I’ll never be in that situation…”

Even if we logically understand the possibility, we don’t feel the need commit to anything that seems far removed from our everyday experience. Our brains can’t contemplate every conceivable occurrence that might come to pass in our lifetime. So the status quo becomes our default mental setting and we don’t give much thought to other scenarios.

You’ve probably noticed how hard it can be to convince people that danger may be on the horizon if it’s outside their personal “normal.” That’s one of the reasons disasters like Hurricane Katrina wreak as much havoc as they do. That same bias is present in all of your customers.

Are you selling a vaccine or a pain killer? Ibuprofen is almost always easier to sell than flu shots.

Knowledge Bias

People tend to choose the option they know best instead of the best available option. (This is another reason why “building a better mousetrap” doesn’t guarantee people will beat a path to you door.)

This raises 2 important questions:
1) Are you building valued relationships with your audience
2) Are you providing enough information as your prospects need to feel confident in choosing you?

You can see how important transparency, honesty and credibility. This cognitive predisposition is the one of the psychological reasons behind the Know-Like-Trust concept.

In Jack Trout and Al Ries’ 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Law #1 says that it’s better to be first than it is to be better. Law #3 states that it’s better to be first in mind than first in the market.

How well-known are you in your arena? What can you do to improve that?

Selective Perception

This is all about framing your message properly.

When you properly set expectations in the mind of your potential clients, you affect their how they perceive the topic you’re discussing. You can make them see what you want them to see, just like a magician…

Education is a wonderful selling tool. You can use it to shape your prospects’ opinions about how to shop in your industry, which gives you the upper hand over all of your competitors.

When people we trust share information with us about something, it has a huge impact on how we experience that thing in the future. For example, when I was young, my mother told me that I didn’t like cranberry sauce, even though I don’t remember having tasted them before. I can’t tell you how many years I missed out on eating them, without ever trying them for myself.

When we’re not experts on a particular subject, we usually take what the “real experts” have to say at face value (unless it contradicts our current worldview). They define how we think about that topic. Parents, doctors, mentors, etc. have tremendous influence because of this fact.

So, how are you framing your marketing conversations? What expectations are you setting?