Click, Whirr, Buy

Blog Triggers

The proprietor of a Native American jewelry store in Arizona was having trouble selling her inventory of certain turquoise pieces. Despite the fact that the jewelry was of high quality, and it was the peak of the tourist season, the stuff wouldn’t sell.

The owner had priced the jewelry reasonably. She had placed it in a central display location. She’d even asked her staff to point it out to browsers.

Nothing worked.

Finally, the owner gave up. She was going to unload the pieces, even if it meant taking a loss. On her way out of town for a business trip, she dashed off a note to a member of her sales staff – “Everything in this display case times ½.”

So it was no surprise when the owner arrived back at her shop to find that all the turquoise jewelry had sold. What puzzled and pleased the proprietor was the fact that her staff person had misread her hastily-scrawled note (deciphering the “½” as a “2”), and doubled the price of each piece rather than cutting it in half.

This story kicks off Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice. Cialdini, a Regents Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, uses everything from the maternal instincts of turkeys, to the willingness of students to administer strong electric shocks to fellow human beings, in order to demonstrate the amazing power of influence. Caildini refers to the tendency to mechanically react to one piece of information in a situation (rather than doing a thorough analysis) as “click, whirr” responding.

So what was going on with those Arizona tourists? Well, when you consider that most people aren’t really qualified to evaluate jewelry (especially of the turquoise variety), these well-to-do travelers were simply relying on a mental shortcut that had served them well throughout their lives – expensive equals good. This kind of shortcut is termed a judgmental heuristic, and we all depend on them to navigate through life each day without suffering from analysis paralysis.

Derived from our experiences, most of the time these shortcuts serve us well. Occasionally, they lead to mistakes (in this case, the tourists paid twice the reasonable value of the turquoise baubles). Understanding and catering to these psychological triggers, while following through with great value, is the key to good business.

Whether you’re trying to sell something or build traffic to your blog, connecting with people is the key. So from here I’ll continue with a series of posts entitled “Blog Triggers.” We’ll examine both psychological studies and time-tested tactics from powerhouse marketers in order to learn how to connect with people at a deep emotional level that prompts action.

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Reader Comments (21)

  1. says

    I just wanted to leave a note to let you know that your blog is very very good indeed. Your series on effective copy, and now this series on “Blog Triggers” are informative and actionable. I particularly appreciate your bringing in studies by cognitive psychologists — I’m always happy to see things move at least partly out of the realm of “I think” and into “results show.”

    I have you bookmarked, blogrolled, and subscribed, and I pass along your posts to friends and collegatues. Thank you.

  2. says

    nice post Brian. Its like you can’t charge the same to service a Rolls Royce as you would a Ford, even if its the same job.

  3. says

    Yep, cars are a very good example of the same phenomenon, Dave. Like when you pay Lexus prices for what is essentially a spruced-up Toyota.

  4. says

    It’s also a bit of the L’Oreal ad thinking, “Because I’m worth it.” Good stuff Brian.

    PS. I assume this is the blog, CP was doing for you. Please tell him I think the design perfectly fits the audience and the content. You guys did a great job on it. Elegant and simple. Really nice.

  5. says

    Wow, it’s shocking that when the price was doubled, everything was sold because it said it was half off.

    Stores use that trick all the time. The employees tell people to come back the next day for certain items because they’ll be on sale. Then they RAISE the price, and the customers still buy it!

    I can only imagine how many times I’ve fallen for tricks like that.

  6. says

    Daniel Johnston,

    You, like the employees, misread the intent of the shopowner. She wanted everything in the case to re-priced at half of what she was currently asking. The employees misinterpreted her intent and doubled the price. They did not label it as “half off.” There was no deception.

    What the shopowner learned is that the expectations of the buyers were completely different than hers. She knew t-q jewelry inside and out and knew the value of her pieces relative to other pieces out there. That is a great strategy when your customer base is as knowledgable as you are.

    Tourists, as noted, do not have this knowledge base. They only know what the price point seems to tell them: “Expensive = good.” If they were really desirous of lower prices, however, they should take Ramit Sethi’s advice and remember that EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE.

  7. says

    Great article.

    I find myself in a similar situation to the turquoise seller with wedding photography. Having lowered prices to the level and even below the competition, I’ve noticed no change in bookings – despite offering better packages IMHO.

    Guess the next move is to increase prices. But I keep having a nagging thought in the back of my mind from a recent “the business of photography” marketing seminar when the guy said about not selling pizzas when the crowd wants ice cream.

    Maybe I’m trying to sell artistic photography to a crowd that REALLY wants a bunch of competent snap shots.

    Sorry for rambling but this has kicked off my thought process, which I need to test somehow.

  8. says

    Great post on Robert Cialdini. His book was fascinating.

    Price is an important part of positioning. In many people’s minds there’s only 2 types of businesses – fast food and gourmet meal. If you’re in the middle you’re confusing and that means you’ll soon be dead.

    If you want to be gourmet meal you must price accordingly and offer plenty of evidence to support the high value of your offering.

  9. says

    Amazingly, I find myself using the same judgement when buying things for me and my family. I always think that the higher the price, the higher the quality it offers. Thanks for the new perspective.

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