Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Motivated Reasoning

Prejudice is a great time saver.
You can form opinions without having to get the facts. 

— E. B. White 

Beliefs we’d label “stupid” don’t necessarily result from stupidity.

More often than not they’re the products of a phenomenon research psychologists call “motivated reasoning.”

While authentic reasoning recruits and weighs evidence wisely and independently, motivated reasoning is slave to a goal (usually a selfish goal) and ignores and distorts evidence willy-nilly.

Through the process you end up producing a patently biased belief.

It’s not that we’re blind to evidence, believing whatever the hell we want to believe (we want, in fact, to think we are rational creatures); but we’re content to make do with scraps of evidence, which we patch together to create a convenient and comfortable interpretation of reality.

We're lazy in that way.

Research psychologists who have studied motivated reasoning have identified and named a variety of unconscious mechanisms underlying it.

The Big 3 mechanisms are:
  • Biased information search—you seek and find only evidence that promotes your goal;
  • Biased assimilation—you give credence only to evidence that promotes your goal; and
  • Identity-protective cognition—you discredit evidence that causes you anxiety because it challenges your self-worth or contradicts the beliefs of your peer-group.
These three unconscious mechanisms explain why otherwise mindful people cherish biased beliefs—the kind of “uninformed” beliefs that propel them to smoke cigarettes; treat cancer with magnets or homeopathy; deny their kids the measles vaccine; donate to TV ministries; perpetuate vast-conspiracy theories; fear evil clowns—or vote one into high office.

But research psychologists have also found there’s a benevolent form of motivated reasoning: “accuracy-driven reasoning.”

When accuracy is made the goal of reasoning, we tend to expend more brain power on the gathering, sifting and weighing of evidence before forming any belief.

Unfortunately, we don’t reason in this manner spontaneously: we need to be prodded.

One of the most effective prods, researchers have shown, is to be told in advance of gathering, sifting and weighing evidence that you will have to justify your belief in front of a public audience.

Just imagine every Sandy Hook, Holocaust and climate-change denier having to face fifty people and justifying what they believe.

Good luck with that!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Event Shock

Brace yourself for Event Shock.

Working with event organizers, as my business partner and I do, I feel their anxiety.

They're constantly worried there's a glut of events. ("With so many events competing for audiences' time, will they pick ours?")

But we've entered uncharted territory.

Organizers once had to contend only with competing organizers.

Now they have to compete with every marketer.

This thought struck me when I received an email today from my neighborhood hardware store promoting an in-store educational event.

Marketerseven the one who works for my local hardware storehave learned that, if they want to seduce customers, sales pitches and discounts are no longer enough. 

They have to deliver educational content.

And their efforts are increasing the volume of eventsexponentially.

You thought there was a surplus of events before?

That was nothing compared to the innumerable iterations we're going to experience at marketers' hands in the coming years.

Event marketing has become the new content marketing

The event-flood may not rise to the same water-level, because marketers can't outsource events to India, like they can content; but it will feel like it.

The sheer volume of events will be unprecedented.

And overwhelming.

Event Shock is here.

HAT TIP to Mark Schaefer, who coined Content Shock to describe the "tremor" felt when content supply overwhelms content demand.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Artificial Intelligence: Now It's Personal

As the result of a podcast by consultant Mark Scheafer, The New Marketing Career, I'm inspired to deep-dive into the subject of Artificial Intelligence.

You might consider doing so, too.

AI is marketing's next big thing.

Experts insist AI won't make every marketing professional obsolete—not soon, anyway.

But my brief look into AI has already persuaded me otherwise.

London startup Phrasee, for example, is harnessing AI "to write better email marketing language than humans."

If accurate, that's bad news for copywriters.

Phrasee uses algorithms to generate "human-sounding, machine-optimized email marketing language that gets you more opens, clicks and conversions," the company's website claims.

Phrasee's software outperforms human copywriters because it evaluates "hundreds of emotions, sentiments and phrases" before recommending a line.

Human copywriters, if they could wade through hundreds of emotions, sentiments and phrases without soon falling asleep, couldn't assess them
unless they were wizards at Bayesian statistics (the algorithms' secret sauce). 

I don't know any who are.

If Phrasee's algorithms indeed outperform the human copywriters—and I have no reason to doubt they do—it's due to a computer's capacity to scrutinize vast piles of data.

There's at least some consolation in that for an obsolete copywriter. 

Scrutinize stems from the Latin scrutor, meaning "to search through trash."

I'd rather practice old-fashioned wordsmithery and leave the trash-sorting to the computers.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Square Pegs

Corporate cultures, by definition, restrict behavior. 

A few lucky workers find a corporate culture they can willingly conform to. The rest check their real selves at the door. 

But sooner or later (usually sooner) these misfits get detected and are forced out.

Severance is particularly grave for workers over 40, who are cursed by their age with experience.

Employers prefer inexperienced 20-year-old workers over 40-60 year-old ones, not only because they're less costly, but because they're more malleable.

Experience shapes you, robbing employers of the opportunity to do so.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Is Silence Golden?

Under attack, corporations used to hunker down.

Herbert Schmertz changed that.

Schmertz, who died last week at 87, as head of PR at Mobil in the 1970s pioneered use of the "advertorial” to confront critics of the company.

He bought space on the op-ed page of major dailies like The New York Times and used it to publish essays expressing his company's viewpoint.

Many of his peers said Schmertz took unnecessary risks by combating critics. 

Critics, they insisted, are best ignored; eventually, they go away; and, in the meantime, media reporting of their positions can be influenced privately.

But is silence golden?

No company wants to go on record at the risk of losing business. A slip can tarnish a reputation in an instant; customers sympathetic with critics' views can be alienated; and arguing in public can make management look callous.

But the lessons of PR failures today are plentiful. They teach that “no comment,” while a company's knee-jerk response to critics, isn't always the safe course.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Beat the Clock

If you don't think your performance is sharply rhythmic throughout the day—or that timing matters—consider the results of 26,000 corporate earnings calls.

Regardless of earnings and management's outlook—rosy or bleakwhen CEOs conducted the calls in the early morning, their tone was positive; but as morning progressed, their tone grew less so. Calls held around noon were again upbeat; but as the afternoon unwound, until the market's closing bell, the tone went steadily downhill.

The time of the earnings calls and the CEOs' tone affected investors' reactions and companies' share prices. CEOs who held earnings calls late in the day saw shares in their companies underpriced—at least temporarily.

It appears CEOs are "morning people." About seven of 10 people are.

Managing your internal clock for performance is the point of Dan Pink's new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

In WhenPink parses nearly 300 scientific studies (like the one about the earnings calls) and distills the findings into a long list of action items. He lists the items after each successive chapter in a "Time Hacker's Handbook" meant "to help put the insights into action." 

You can skip the science and only read the handbook, if you just want to improve performance. 

But that would take all the fun out of it. 

Pink is a delight to read (I like to read his books twice, because there's so much good stuff packed into them). He can popularize dreary science findings better than most business writers, and generally finds a practical lesson for the layperson in even the obscurest of research papers.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Safety in a Box

Customers' values have changed, and so has their definition of "quality," according to the travel and hospitality journal Skift.

Skift asked 5,000 people in five countries to describe three attributes of the word.

Authentic headed customers' lists. Products and services need not be opulent or expensive to be high-quality; it's more important they're "innovative" and "tell a good story." Customers crave relationships with "brands that deliver goods and experiences that help customers fulfill their desires to become higher quality people." To meet that need, brands must communicate a purpose beyond existing just to sell something.

Safety came next. In an age of anxiety, customers crave psychologically safe spaces. Comfort no longer comes only from stylish design and rich materials, but from knowing you'll receive "care and feeding" by a provider with meticulous standards. Brands that want to capitalize on customers' anxiety may find they cannot avoid taking an openly political stand on some issues.

Ease rounded out the list. Customers want to experience the world without seams. Where that once meant they craved superior craftsmanship, it now means they want simplicity, sincerity, and serenity. "Quality" now denotes "a state within ourselves, the actualization of our idealized self, which is both poised and productive, composed but committed, enjoying while excelling."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Americans and the Media: Disappointment and Distrust

Most Americans expect the media to inform them, but a majority (58%) think it's harder than ever to rely on the media for objective news, says a new study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

TV programs remain Americans' primary news source, relied on by two-thirds of the adult population. Websites are the next most-popular source.

Equal proportions of Americans (41%) rely on social media sites as rely on newspapers to stay informed, according to the study. Reliance on newspapers is most common among older Americans and Americans with graduate degrees.

Only a quarter of Americans are confident they can distinguish facts from opinions. Age, education and party affiliation affect that confidence. And a quarter of Americans admit they get their news only from sources with a clear political bent.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Only in Washington

CLOSE UP - KAY surrounded by the men. She winces... hesitates... clearly unsure about stating her decision.


Yes. Yes. Yes. Let's publish.

OFF SCREEN - Wild cheers erupt from the Cleveland Park audience.

* * *

I love living in DC. Constant reinforcement isn't required.

But Sunday evening's viewing of "The Post" at our local movie house reminded me why.

Where else would audiences cheer at a scene like that?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ad Nauseam

The oblique paradox of propaganda is that the lie in the throat
becomes, by repetition, the truth in the heart. 

— John Grierson

Not only is Obama's birth certificate fake, but Geico saves you 15%.

The statements exemplify the fallacy known as argumentum ad nauseamproof by repeated assertion.

As advertisers and birthers believe, by endlessly repeating a statement, you can drive audiences beyond the brink of caring to challenge it. They're too sick to contradict.

And when the challenges cease, hearts become vulnerable.

The argumentum ad nauseam becomes evidence of its own truth.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Facing Facts

The greatest American superstition is a belief in facts.

— Hermann Keyserling

Facebook is countering fake news by downgrading all news.

Beginning next week, users will see mainly the posts of friends and family in their feeds; publishers' posts will virtually vanish.

In the short term, the decision is harmful. 

Facebook's move will lower users' time on the social network, and lower the "referral traffic" publishers count on. The latter will force all publishers to scramble to make up for the lost eyeballs, and put a lot of them out of business, according to The New York Times.

In the long term, however, the decision is beneficial—to Facebook.

Under scrutiny for abetting Kremlin-backed trolls during the 2016 election, the company confronts the real possibility of government regulation, as it lacks AI's equivalent of a Walter Cronkite or Ben Bradlee to decide what's legitimately newsworthy.

Critics complain the company's move amounts to a news blackout, since nearly half of Americans get at least some of their news from the social network

But CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is merely "protecting our community from abuse and hate."

The decision signals a return by Facebook to its "college scrapbook" origins ("Look how my new brussels sprouts recipe turned out!")

Takeaway? Ten years from now, we'll chuckle to recall we once believed Facebook was a media company.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Empire Strikes Back

Ad blockers may appear the victors, but publishers are fighting back, "taking silent anti-ad-blocking measures," according to TechCrunch.

A new study by two universities finds nearly a third of the top 10,000 websites are using quiet techniques to fake out ad blockers.

The researchers repeatedly visited thousands of sites, with and without ad blockers added to their browsers.

By comparing the source code of pages visited with and without blockers, they could tell when page content changed based on the presence of a blocker.

The researchers found over 30% of the top 10,000 websites are retaliating against ad blockers; and 38% of the top 1,000 are.

Retaliation takes the form of source code that produces ad-like “bait” (for example, by including photos named "banner"). 

The bait triggers ad blockers, alerting the website to their presence; the site then deploys ads in ways blockers can't detect.

The researchers warn that a "rapidly escalating technological arms race" is on between publishers and ad blockers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Time isn't the main thing. Its the only thing.

— Miles Davis

My home sits across the street from the original campus of NIST, where a physicist invented the atomic clock in 1948. A bronze plaque marks the spot.

Physicists use the atomic clock to measure time and synchronize clocks worldwide. Without it, we wouldn't have mobile phones or GPS.

Physicists call the instants the atomic clock measures Atomic time

Naturally, there are many other forms of time, including:

Universal time. Universal time measures the duration of the Earth's rotation on its axis, which actually takes a bit more than 24 hours—and more time every day, because the earth's rotation is slowing.

Space time. Space time measures where instants take place. Einstein proved gravity causes space time to warp, particularly near black holes. Space time also warps at the DMV.

Quality time. Quality time measures the instants when spouses and parents enable silent mode on their mobile phones.

Eastern time. Eastern time measures the period when most of the work is performed each day in the United States (contrast this especially to Pacific time).

Miller time. Miller time measures the instants when beer and other alcoholic beverages are consumed. On college campuses, this form of time is frequently accompanied by Lost time.

Missing time. Not to be confused with Lost time, Missing time measures the instants abductees spend aboard UFOs, experiencing what physicist call "close encounters of the fourth kind."

Executive time measures the instants the President spends watching the Fox News Channel. Like Universal time, this from of time expands daily.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Did You Know Dashiell Hammett was Once a Copywriter?

Tuberculosis compelled Dashiell Hammett to quit his job as a Pinkerton detective in 1921.

Seeking less strenuous work, he enrolled in a journalism course at a business school in San Francisco, and began to write mystery stories for pulp magazines.

But by 1926 Hammett found mystery-writing couldn't earn him enough to live on, so he applied for a job as a copywriter with Samuels Jewelers. It paid a whopping $350 a month—nearly 10 times Hammett's earnings for pulp fiction.

He liked the new work; but he liked booze better. Before six months on the job Hammett was fired, after passing out in the office.

At the encouragement of a pulp magazine editor, Hammett began writing a "hard-boiled" mystery novel, Red Harvest. He mailed it—unsolicited—to the publisher Alfred A. Knopf in 1929.

Knopf realized it had received something unprecedented: a thriller that was "real art."

With weeks of the novel's appearance, reviewers were comparing Hammett to Hemingway. 

Hammett followed Red Harvest the same year with a second novel, The Dain Curse; and in 1930 published his most famous detective novel, The Maltese Falcon.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

How Copywriters Leverage the "Endowment Effect"

A study by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman shows we overvalue the things we own—an emotional bias he calls the "endowment effect." 
Propelling the effect is our a fear of losing those things.

Copywriters put the endowment effect to work all the time, helping prospects vicariously experience owning a product or using a service:
  • The writer for e-com platform provider Shopify helps prospects imagine owning an online store: "With instant access to hundreds of the best looking themes and complete control over the look and feel, you finally have a gorgeous store of your own that reflects the personality of your business."

  • The writer for event producer Age Management Medicine Group helps prospects imagine participating in a conference: "After attending this in-depth, four-day conference, you’ll walk away with what you need to add this 21st century medical specialty to your existing practice."

  • The writer for CRM provider Salesforce helps prospects imagine licensing a mobile sales platform: "Welcome to a new world, and a better way to sell. Where field sales sells only on mobile devices. It’s sales managers knowing which deals will close. And when. A world where lead and contact information is always fresh and complete. And everyone performs like an 'A' player."
Thanks to the endowment effect, ownership―even when vicarious―makes it hard for prospects to let go of your offer.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

What Happened?

A bombshell not unlike Fire and Fury hit bookstores 40 years ago.

Elvis: What Happened?, based on interviews with three of the rock star's private bodyguards, painted a tabloid-style portrait of the King as a self-indulgent child bent on "slow suicide."

Fans were shocked, and reacted by calling the book a con-job. They cited the author's many factual errors; his failure to reveal his sources; his failure to verify the sources' accounts with third parties; and his frequent use of qualifiers like "as I recall."

Elvis was also enraged by the book and spoke in private about contract-killing the three bodyguards.

But when Elvis OD'd two weeks after its release, Elvis: What Happened? gained instant credibility, and a steady stream of confidants began to speak out, confirming the book's allegations.

With Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseMichael Wolff, journalist and former editor of Adweek, has created the portrait of another self-indulgent child.

Trump's fans are reacting in the same way Elvis' did 40 years ago; and Trump's press secretary has dismissed Wolff's book as "trashy tabloid fiction." But unlike Elvis: What Happened?, Fire and Fury is based on interviews with 200 sources.

When the insiders―no matter their number―tell an essentially consistent story, only a fool cries, "Fake!"

Friday, January 5, 2018


"Lead-gen leaders" are twice as likely to use a multi-channel approach as "mainstream companies," according to a survey of 1,000 B2B marketers by Digital Doughnut.

You could say lead-gen leaders understand hedging.

They know that "no single class of content asset stands out as particularly effective for driving good-quality leads," as Digital Doughnut reports; and yet, at the same time, that every class―if used well―can drive good-quality leads.

The channels they find most effective? The answers below might surprise you.

Source: The State of B2B Lead Generation, courtesy Digital Doughnut

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Authority versus Authenticity

For sheer magnetism, nothing matches authority. B2B brands that show authority attract customers with ease, and always will: they're in a category by themselves. 

But lots of brands lay claim to authority without justification.

The word authority came into English around 1200 and stems from the Latin auctoritas, meaning "mastery." English speakers of the day believed an authority commanded trust, because he or she possessed demonstrable mastery.

Showing authority means showing mastery of certain theories, facts, skill-sets, and tool-sets. If your brand can show mastery, you're setcustomers will flock to you; if it can't, it can at least show authenticity―another advantageous category.

Authenticity came into English around 1300 and stems from the Greek authentikos, meaning "original." English speakers of the day believed someone who showed authenticity was an "original," and therefore "real" and "trustworthy."

Showing authenticity means being an original: an original in your approaches to thinking, problem-solving, and adding value. That won't by itself attract customers, but it will make pursuing them a lot more effective.

Showing neither authority nor authenticity puts your brand in a third category―the category of mehwhere only continuous hustling and discounting and perhaps sheer ubiquity attract customers.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

An Association Fights "the Enemy at Home"

During World War I, the newly formed American Social Hygiene Association campaigned to arrest the spread of venereal disease, an incurable "enemy" afflicting over 100,000 Americans soldiers.

The association teamed with the War Department to teach American boys how to avoid the infections, and worked with local civilian and military police to break up the prostitution rings that plied near military bases.

To convince soldiers of the wisdom of remaining disease-free, the association distributed pamphlets, posters, slide shows and films that relied on a mix of medical facts, appeals to patriotism, and moral suasion. 

One pamphlet depicted a patriotic mother fretting over the chance her soldier-son will catch VD. "She does not fear your death—your honorable death," the pamphlet said, "but the dread that you may become innocently contaminated pulls at her heart-strings.”

To break up prostitution rings, association members joined forces with local vice squads and the military police to round up and jail prostitutes and seal off red-light districts.

The Stars and Stripes proudly reported: “Mothers need have no fear that their sons are being dragged down to hell by vicious women.”

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Book for Every Man

When the US joined World War I, the American Library Association launched a fundraising campaign designed to provide troops leisure-time reading.

In only three months, A Book for Every Man raised $5 million, enabling the ALA to ship more than 385 thousand donated books overseas. Before the war's end, that number would reach 10 million. 

Books were delivered to camp libraries and hospitals; placed on transport ships and troop trains; and sent to German prisons housing American POWs. Many were how-to books that helped the soldiers master subjects like accounting, electrical engineering, plumbing, and carpentry; others helped them wage war against Germany; while still others helped them improve their scores in popular games like checkers, chess, poker, and dominoes.

Most of the books were escapist page-turners, meant to fill the idle hours. Among the most popular contemporary authors were writers we still read today, including L. Frank Baum, John Buchan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Willa Cather, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Zane Grey, H.P. Lovecraft and H.G.Wells.

Monday, January 1, 2018

How to Bust Public Enemy Number 1

Banner blindness is lead-gen's Public Enemy Number 1.

Ad blocking may be copping all the headlines; but if your ads don't arrest prospects' attention, they might as well be blocked.

Here are four things you can do to bust banner blindness:

Build better ads―follow tried-and-true ad-design principles and focus prospects' eyes on your call to action. HINT: Photos of smiling faces work wonders.

Help prospects―"contextually target" your ads to amplify the content on the pages where they appear. Help readers who may be searching for specific information or solutions.

Entertain―invest in high-end video. Testimonials are highly effective.

Go native―forget about banners and embed your ads in the editorial stream.
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