Last year I attended a talk from Ogilvy & Mather vice chairman, Rory Sutherland. I’d sum it up as an insightful presentation from a passionate, experienced and knowledgeable strategic marketer discussing many aspects of business and marketing, human nature and psychology. I returned to the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) buzzing, and two months on I’m still thinking about what he said and how it applies to our work in the ASE. Here I talk about just a few of those thoughts…

The London tube map is so good, sometimes it’s bad 

Designed by an electrical engineer, the London tube map is an iconic image of the City. The problem with it? It is about a system not an accurate map of the territory. It leads the reader to extreme confidence in the route they take. The challenge? Most people don’t realise that it is quicker, easier and far less stressful to walk between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. They take the time and the expense of the tube*.

Decisions that are easy to defend vs decisions that are the right decision 

No decision has a single right answer. To assume people have perfect information and perfect trust is flawed. Marketing wouldn’t exist if it was true. This means when making a choice the subconscious decision is about minimising risk rather than maximising the expected outcome. People choose stuff because they are more certain it is not bad, not because they think it is the best or highest quality.

Rory was discussing how marketing needs to spend half its time looking at the negatives. What are people afraid of? How can we make them certain our offering is not this?  He used the example of Uber to explain this point. Uber is not revolutionary; we have always been able to use a phone to order taxis, but what it does is give us certainty. Watching our taxi arrive gives us the certainty which our brains crave. Boring standard decisions are safe and defensive decision making colours everything we do.

Building trust

Amusingly Rory discussed how Red Bull is a pretty vile drink. I can really relate to this because the only time I’ve drunk it without vodka was as medication to keep me awake when motorcycling long motorway stretches to Russia.  His point? Red Bull chose that taste because consumers wouldn’t trust Red Bull to work (at keeping you awake) if it smelt or tasted nice. In the same way as you wouldn’t trust Paracetamol if it was pleasant to take.

The challenge for anyone in business is proving you are trustworthy. However doing so may help change the perception of that tube ride being the most efficient mode of transport, or your idea perhaps isn’t too risky to invest in. Of interest, Rory’s take on behavioural science is that we trust messages in proportion to the cost of generating and distributing that message. Signal you are playing the long game of trust, not out for one off wins and you’ll reap the rewards.

Clever use of language or manipulation

We take language very seriously in the ASE, we’ll anguish for hours over the right words to use for instructions or presentations. We know about framing, positive language and eliciting responses. Rory took it a step further and discussed structuring wording to elevate status, e.g. ‘I wonder if you can help me’ vs ‘Would you do me a favour?’ instantly implies status and trust on your part. Helping to develop that relationship with others. It is interesting how easily we are swayed by such simple language use.

Say we wanted to change the behaviour of people in London to consume less energy and be a little less sedentary, perhaps by walking more. How could we change the tube map for ultimate effect, considering the need for simplicity, the ‘least risky’ decision and instant trust from the tourist just arrived from Heathrow?  Now that would be an interesting ASE…

Our maps of the world are skewed towards simplicity, not fact, our minds subconsciously choose the less risky option instead of the best, we trust no one easily but can be easily manipulated by the right wording. That’s a whole set of interesting variables to consider whether you be a business leader, a marketer or an ASE Practitioner.

*I have started to see maps with walking distances labelled but this is only the last year of being in London and I’d say they are certainly not common place. Our default is to ‘jump on the tube’.