MEAN PEOPLE SUCK: A Christmas Marketing lesson

[This article first appeared on LinkedIn]

On Christmas eve, my wife Theresa and I were walking through the Christmas village that pops up every year around Philadelphia’s City Hall. A homeless guy walked up to me and thrust a bumper sticker into my hand. It said ‘Mean People Suck’.

“I agree” I said. I mean, after all who would disagree? Mean people do suck. Plus it was Christmas eve, and the guy said he was homeless.

So I gave him $5.

On the way home I stared at that black and white decal (which apparently retails on Amazon for $4.25 so I am not as big a sucker as you might think).

What a brilliant marketing move. Get somebody to emphatically agree with an incontrovertible statement, then nudge them into taking action. Mean people suck, what are YOU going to do about it?

Any marketing professional can learn something from this. After all, if something didn’t suck, your business wouldn’t have purpose. Just figure out what sucks and get your potential clients/customers to agree. Then show them how to take action.

Healthcare? Being sick sucks. Insurance? Having your house burn down and not being insured sucks. Tax adviser? Paying more taxes than you should sucks. Cable provider? Slow internet and unreliable service sucks. The world is full of sucky things.

As for taking action, once you have agreed with the basic premise of what sucks, just provide a solution.

A few years ago I was fortunate to work with a great businessman called Paul in Sydney, Australia. He runs a successful professional services business. At the end of every engagement, Paul asks his client to give him a reference or referral – in writing or by literally connecting him with other potential clients.

“I don’t necessarily need referrals.” Paul told me, “But there is a well proven psychological effect. If somebody writes me a recommendation or refers a new lead to me, I am pretty much guaranteed that person will give me another contract within the year.”

Why? Because once they agreed to give a positive reference, they feel the need to double down on the positive statement they made, and take action to prove it.

“It reinforcesĀ confirmation bias” said Paul (who happens to have a degree in psychology). “It both alters their recollection of our engagement towards the positive aspects, and makes them want to commit to take action to prove they were right.”

So I hope this spurs a thought for your business. Figure out what sucks and give your clients or customers an obvious and friction-free first step in proving to the world – and to themselves – that they can do something about it.

I gave a guy $5 not to buy a sticker, but to prove to the world I was not a mean person. It was worth every penny.

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