Sunday, August 15, 2010

Early To Rise - Rewarding Yourself

(By Micheal Masterson)

When I was first getting into the business of selling educational programs, a famous zero-down real estate guru asked me, "Do you know the thing people who take my courses want most?"

I had a sneaking suspicion I was about to get it wrong, but I gamely answered, "To be successful real estate investors?"

He laughed. "You've got a lot to learn, my friend."

I took the bait. "So what do your customers want?"

"They want to avoid taking action."

I told him I wasn't sure I understood. He was kind enough to clarify. "Most of the people who take my courses and who will be buying your programs want to feel like they are on the road to success. But they don't want that road to end. They like the journey. They fear the destination."

"And why would that be?" I asked.

"To tell you the truth," he said. "I don't know. But I can tell you this. After our real estate students have gotten the knowledge they need to succeed, few of them get out there and get to work. Most of them just buy more programs. If they don't buy them from us, they will buy them from someone else. So we sell them extra programs."

"That's sort of depressing," I said.

"If you give one of my customers – someone who has completed his real estate education and is fully prepared to start investing profitably – a choice between actually getting to work and buying another course to learn more, he will buy the course."

"Are they afraid of failing?"

"Could be that," he said. "Could be they're afraid of success. As I said, I don't know."

Since then I've thought a lot about this failure-to-get-started problem. I've read dozens of books and talked to many of my colleagues and posed the question to hundreds of my customers. The theories as to why people don't take action are many and varied. The three that make most sense to me are:
  1. Lack of Confidence: People who haven't yet been successful in life don't believe they can be, even if they are fully prepared to succeed.
  2. Fear of Pain: Some people see taking action as work and work as a form of pain. These are usually people who have never experienced the pleasure of working on something they value.
  3. Laziness: Besides the fear of work, human beings are programmed to be lazy. Being lazy means trying to get what you want with the least amount of effort. Some people don't take action because they want to find an easier way.
If these are the main reasons why so many people don't take action when they are ready, what is the solution?

There's no mystery to that. Behavioral scientists know that the way to change a person's behavior is by motivating them through positive reinforcement. This is what B.F. Skinner had to say about it in A Brief Survey of Operant Behavior:

"It has long been known that behavior is affected by its consequences. We reward and punish people, for example, so that they will behave in different ways. ...

Operant reinforcement not only shapes the topography of behavior, it maintains it in strength long after an operant has been formed. Schedules of reinforcement are important in maintaining behavior.

If a response has been reinforced for some time only once every five minutes, for example, the rat soon stops responding immediately after reinforcement but responds more and more rapidly as the time for the next reinforcement approaches. ...

Reinforcers may be positive or negative. A positive reinforcer reinforces when it is presented; a negative reinforcer reinforces when it is withdrawn. Negative reinforcement is not punishment. Reinforcers always strengthen behavior; that is what ‘reinforced' means."

Positive reinforcement is a big part of my life. I reward myself constantly and for almost any sort of accomplishment, big and small. By attaching rewards to my desired behavior, I increase the likelihood that I will repeat that behavior in the future.

When I "master planned" my life for the first time, I had to spend some time thinking about how to reward myself. I gave myself all sorts of incentives for all sorts of objectives. Some of them worked. Some of them didn't.

Some success coaches suggest big rewards for big accomplishments. You might, for example, reward yourself with a sports car when you make your first million dollars. Big goals like that never worked for me, because they were too far off in the future. What motivates me are short-term goals. And I have a feeling that short-term goals will be better for you, too.

Over the years, I developed a reward system that works very well for me. Here it is:
  1. As I mentioned earlier, when I complete a task on my daily task list, I cross it out (or change its color on my screen) to "signal" that I have accomplished it. This little gesture is like a tiny shot of adrenaline. It picks me up and gives me energy to attack my next objective.
  2. While working at the office, when my egg timer goes off, I get up from my chair, walk outside, and spend a minute or two stretching out my back. I've found that 30 to 60 minutes flies by – especially when I'm writing – and so these half-hour or hour-long periods seem very short.
  3. After I sprint in the morning, I reward myself with 10 to 15 minutes of yoga. Doing yoga might seem like more exercise to some, but to me it feels like a reward since it is so much more relaxing than sprinting.
  4. After training in Jiu Jitsu at noon, I treat myself with a tasty protein shake.
  5. At 6:30, I take my laptop to the cigar bar down the street, and work on my writing there for another hour or so. When I walk in, they have an espresso and water waiting for me. I look forward to this. I'm still doing work, but it's a reward because I'm doing it in a new place.
  6. After an hour of writing at the cigar bar, I reward myself by going home, breaking open a good bottle of wine, and having dinner with K.
  7. If I do any work in the evening, I reward myself afterward by reading a good book or watching a movie.
  8. I reward myself every evening by climbing into a great bed with silky sheets and a pillow that fits my head perfectly.
These rewards, as you can see, are pretty mundane. But that's the thing about rewards. They don't have to be big or even special. They need only be enjoyable.

It would be easy for me to consider these little things – the stretching, the protein shake, reading a good book – as simply an ordinary part of my ordinary day. But by looking at them differently, by seeing them as pleasurable rewards for specific, desired behavior, they motivate me.

I think that is the key – identifying little pleasures you already have in your life and using them as behavior-changing rewards. It's very easy to do once you recognize that these little pleasures are blessed gifts. Truly speaking, you are lucky to be able to enjoy them. Be happy about that. Use them pragmatically.

P.S. [Note from the original Editor: This essay is an excerpt from Michael Masterson's new book, The Pledge: Your Master Plan for an Abundant Life. The book, to be published by John Wiley and Sons, won't be released until November. But you can get an early look. And sign up to get first chance at buying The Pledge. Just go here, give us your e-mail address (so we can give you exclusive book updates and a special deal when the book is officially released), and you'll download an excerpt from The Pledge instantly.]

Monday, August 09, 2010

Random Thoughts - Indifference

(By Elie Wiesel)

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

P.S. Elie Wiesel was a Romanian born American writer who was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind", noting that through his struggle to come to terms with "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps", as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace", Wiesel had delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Early To Rise - The Empty Restaurant

(By Michael Masterson)

Entering the piazza, we saw that we had the choice of four restaurants: one that was very busy, two that were moderately busy, and one that had just one couple sitting at a table in the back.

Which do you think we picked?

Here was our thought process:

We couldn't bring ourselves to consider the nearly empty restaurant. If it were any good, more than two people would have been eating there. We scratched that one.
Then there were the two that were half-filled. One had plastic chairs. That one was out. The other one was cute -- a contender.

So it was between that one and the crowded restaurant.

They both had attractive table settings. They had similar menus and pricing. There was no significant difference between the two except that one was crowded and the other wasn't.

In the less-crowded restaurant, the waiters would be less rushed, the kitchen less pressured. That being the case, we figured we would probably get better service.

But we also assumed that the crowded restaurant must have been crowded for a reason.

There was now only one table left. We grabbed it and felt lucky to be there.

How did we decide?

On the face of it, you might say we made a logical decision. But I don't think that's what we did. Our logic, such as it was, was more a rationalization of deep-seated impulses. Neurobiologists say that such impulses were implanted in the human brain millions of years ago.

If you want to be a master marketer, you must become an expert at understanding those impulses. Because when it comes to decision making, they are just as important as logic. Maybe more important.

In his classic work Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini showed how successful marketers play on these impulses to persuade prospects to buy.

When K and I made our decision, it involved some rational thought. But that rational thought supported what we knew, deep down inside, we already wanted to do.

Cialdini would say that our decision was based on a combination of "urgency" and conforming to "social proof."

And that's what I want to talk about today: why you need to include adequate urgency and social proof in your advertising efforts.

When we mention that Early to Rise has 400,000+ subscribers... or when McDonald's says they serve 52 million people around the world every day -- that's social proof.

Urgency you've seen during one-day sales or when a supermarket offers a specially priced item "as long as supplies last."

I have written about these concepts before. And I have coached a hundred writers about them. But I find that in many of the promotions I review, they are inadequately presented or absent entirely.

What's more disturbing to me, I have noticed that I sometimes neglect them myself when I write sales copy.

I'm taking the time to discuss them again today because I am guessing that you, too, may give social proof and urgency short shrift. If you do, your copy is not as strong as it could be. And I'm hoping to convince you to make it a habit to emphasize them in your marketing.

I'm also hoping that by writing this essay something will click in my calcified brain and I'll remember to employ them in all the marketing campaigns I work on in the future. That will be good for my clients... and it will beef up my consulting fees.

When K and walked into that plaza, we had only one piece of prior knowledge about those four restaurants. K had read that one of them was excellent. And so that was the one we meant to go to.

But guess what?

That was the restaurant that was nearly empty. Seeing it so -- surrounded by three restaurants that were doing good business -- gave us serious doubts.

The review K read had said the food was excellent but the pricing was a bit high. So why didn't they have more customers -- people like us who were willing to pay a little more for good food?

Since there was no one there but two people at a back table, we were scared to try it. Perhaps the management had changed since the review was written. Perhaps someone had died of ptomaine poisoning the night before. Who knew?

We had reliable evidence (the review) that the restaurant was good. But we ignored it because our instincts made us fearful.

Cialdini would have said that was the effect of social proof -- in this case, the negative social proof of its being nearly empty.

In his chapter on social proof, Cialdini says:

"The principle of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer."

Cialdini cites a psychological study in which children with an extreme fear of dogs were cured of their phobia by watching a video of other children playing happily with dogs. After watching the video for just four days, for just 20 minutes each day, 67 percent of the children were able to interact comfortably with dogs. And the results didn't dissipate over time.

As examples of social proof in action, Cialdini also mentions canned laughter on TV sitcoms and the incessant naming of donors during public radio pledge drives.

Now consider how social proof might play out in an advertising campaign.

You are selling a product that happens to be very good. When you create the promotion for it, you say that it is good and you talk about its benefits for your prospects. But you provide no social proof.

Reading your promotion, the prospect is initially intrigued. But because there's a lack of social proof to back up your promises and claims, he doubts what you're telling him. He begins to read everything you have written as potential fluff. He wants to believe you (as all prospect do) but his inner brain (the part of the brain that controls emotional intelligence) is skeptical.

What does he conclude?

My guess: that you have given him no proof of your promises and claims because you have none. And if you have none, that must mean the product is unsatisfactory. So he decides not to buy from you. He has plenty of other similar offers to choose from.
Back to our restaurant experience...

We had eliminated the one restaurant that already had us sold because of a lack of social proof.

Now there were three to choose from. We eliminated the first one because of the plastic chairs. This, too, I would argue, was a decision based on emotional not rational intelligence. It's been our experience that a restaurateur who thinks a plastic chair is adequate is likely to be one who thinks mediocre food is adequate.

So then it was down to two: one half-filled and the other nearly full.

Both could have had great food. We could have asked people dining there what they thought of it -- thus gathering social proof ourselves. But the restaurant that was nearly full was filling up fast. There were a half dozen other couples milling around. If we took too long to make our decision, we wouldn't have the option of choosing the busiest one. So we opted for that and took the one remaining table.

What, then, was behind our final choice?

It was "scarcity" -- one of the factors that creates a feeling of urgency. The fact that there was only one table left made us worry that we would miss out. So we yielded not to logic but to an instinct we had that scarcity equals value.

Again, from Cialdini:

"The idea of potential loss plays a larger role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. For instance, homeowners told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.

Collectors of everything from baseball cards to antiques are keenly aware of the influence of the scarcity principle in determining the worth of an item. As a rule, if it is rare or becoming rare, it is more valuable."

To illustrate the impact of scarcity, Cialdini cites a study in which the owner of a beef-importing business uses one of three prepared sales pitches with his regular customers, wholesale buyers for supermarkets: (1) his standard sales pitch; (2) his standard sales pitch with a bit of information about an upcoming shortage of imported beef in the next few months; or (3) both of the above, as well as an aside that this information about the shortage was not well-known.

The buyers given the second version of the sales pitch bought twice as much as those given the standard spiel. And the third group bought six times as much.

After ordering our meal, we asked our waitress why our first-choice restaurant was empty. (It was now completely empty.) We expected to have our suspicions confirmed -- that since that glowing review was published, something had changed. But that is not what she told us.

She said, "I don't know. But that's the way it goes here. One night we are very busy and the next night it is someplace else."

"What do you think accounts for it?" I asked.

"The one that gets the earliest customers usually is the one that fills up," she said.

So there it was.

Our first choice probably had the best food, but it was now empty because everybody but one couple had come to the same conclusion we had. Like us, they probably made a decision based first on a lack of social proof and second on a feeling of urgency created by scarcity.

If I were the proprietor of any of those four competing restaurants I'd make sure that my place was always full by doing three things. First I would rope off all of the back tables and leave them unset.
  1. Then I'd let my regular customers know that if they came by early in the evening, they could eat for half price.
  2. And then, as the tables started to fill up, I'd gradually open up more by moving back the rope.
By taking advantage of the principles of social proof and scarcity, I would ensure that my restaurant would attract a continuous stream of customers.

As expert marketers we have an obligation to do the same with our advertisements.

We must, of course, make sure that every promise and claim we make is backed up with factual proof -- the results of scientific studies, statistics, that sort of thing.

But we must provide social proof as well. That would include endorsements by trusted authorities and testimonials from satisfied users.

And don't forget urgency. Urgency can be created in many ways in an ad -- but the strongest way is based on scarcity. You must let the prospect know that if he wants the product you are offering at the price you are offering, he must act now.

So there you have it: two extremely important advertising principles. Make yourself a promise that you will pay them heed. I am making that promise to myself as I write this.

P.S. Additional Notes from the Editor: Social proof, urgency, and scarcity are key psychological motivators that every marketer must understand. But you can't fake them in your advertising. They must be real or they won't be believed. And they won't work if you don't "back them up" with: Quality products desired by the market
  1. A way to build your customer list
  2. Procedures for testing products, marketing channels, and advertising messages
  3. Good copy that stirs buyer emotions
And the list goes on...