Sales technique : The four-letter code to selling anything by Derek Thompson

 Sales technique : The four-letter code to selling anything by Derek Thompson 

Image of Derek Thompson
Image of Derek Thompson | Image source: Linkedin

The four thousands of years some of the

smartest people in the world been asking

themselves versions of the same question

why do we like what we like is there a

formula for beauty for popularity for

human affinity and the ancient Greeks

said yes of course there is it's the

golden ratio 1.62 etcetera etc 2:1 and

then the enlightening kurz Enlightenment

thinkers said yes of course there is

it's it's consti of aesthetics but today

we don't have the golden ratio we don't

have philosophers we have Google and

Facebook we have advertisers and in the

advertiser formula the first variable is

always novelty this is a scientific fact

they actually went through several

decades ago all of the words they could

possibly find in all the advertisements

that were out there and the most common

word in all of those ads wasn't by was

it now wasn't risk-free warranty it was

new we are living in a cult of novelty

companies want us to like new things to

buy new things to crave new things but

the truth is that we don't like novelty

in fact we hate it

according to the mere-exposure effect

one of the oldest and most robust

theories in the history of psychology

the mere exposure of any stimulus to you

over time will bias you toward that

stimulus in English familiarity good and

indeed when you think about it we seek

out new songs but the songs that we most

reliably enjoy are those with familiar

chord structures and timbers we seek out

new movies but every year this century a

majority of the top ten films in America

have been sequels adaptations or reboots

familiar familiar familiar in fact maybe

the best proof of the power of

familiarity is that thing that is so

familiar to you

your own face it turns out that people

prefer the face they see in mirrors to

the face they see in photographs maybe

you have a friend who complains

constantly about how he or she looks and

Facebook photos but is often constantly

admiring his or herself in the mirror

well this is not pure vanity this is

mere exposure effect the face is

slightly asymmetric we see different

versions when we see a reflection versus

a photo and if you're not a celebrity

then the version you're most used to

seeing is not in a photograph but rather

in the most common reflection in the

world in a mirror you prefer that

version of your face not because it's

you at your most beautiful but because

it's you at your most familiar in fact

the power of familiarity seems so deep

that people think it must be written in

to our genetics the evolutionary theory

for the preference for the familiar is

that if you're a hunter-gatherer and

you're the trawling the Savannah of

Africa and you see a plant or an animal

and you recognize it that's a very good

sign that plant or animal has not killed

you yet so of course you should prefer

it but this creates an enormous problem

for creators for creative types because

I just told you that people only like

new things if they're just like old

things so the question before us today

is how do you balance familiarity and

surprise in such a way as to design hits

to design things that people love is it

possible to engineer a familiar surprise

and to begin to answer that question I

want to tell you a short story about a

man who was a hero of mine a hero of my

book but also a man that I would imagine

9 to 95 percent of this room does not

know his name is Raymond Loewy and he

designed the 20th century Raymond Loewy

was a French orphan who came over to the

United States after World War one and

his brother picked him up in a cab and

this is the 1920s where they drive

to downtown Manhattan where one of the

tallest buildings down there is the

equitable building which looks a bit

like a tuning fork with sort of two

large buildings rising into the sky and

Raymond Loewy takes an elevator to the

top of this building and he looks out

over Manhattan from this Vista and he's

expecting from his dreams in Paris to

see a world that is beautiful that is

round that is feminine but the New York

that infers in front of him is the exact

opposite its grungy its noisy it's the

Hulk enos of the Industrial Age and

lowly makes a promise to himself and his

brother he says I'm going to devote the

rest of my life to beautifying America

in my image and loi did just that

Raymond Loewy designed the most famous

car of the 20th century the 1953

Studebaker he designed the most famous

train and locomotive of the 20th century

the Pennsylvania Railroad gg1

he designed the modern Greyhound bus in

the modern tractor to modern coca-cola

fountain he designed that pencil

sharpener that looks like an egg with a

little spindle coming out of it that

you've seen in a hundred thousand

classrooms he designed the logos for

Exxon and USPS he basically designed all

of 1950s Americana and in fact one day

Raymond Loewy was hanging out with his

friend and he saw the president's plane

take off and he said it looks gaudy so

President Kennedy invited loi

to the Oval Office where they sat on the

floor and cut little papers until they

achieved the perfect design for Air

Force One and in fact the design that

Raymond Loewy came up with there on the

floor of the Oval Office with JFK still

adorns the most famous plane in the

world today so the question is what did

this man possibly understand about human

psychology that he knew what we wanted

from planes and trains and automobiles

this man was like Don Draper meets Steve

Jobs for the 20th century he understood

everything unfortunately for us Raymond

Loewy had a grand theory of everything

he was called Maya ma y a

most advanced yet acceptable Raymond

Loewy said that human preferences are

torn between two opposing forces on the

one hand there is neo philia a love of

new things and an appreciation for the

new a need to discover but on the other

hand there is neophobia a fear of

anything that is too new a deep

conservativeness and LOI said that in

order to make hits

you need to make products that live

right at that intersection of the

familiar surprise to sell something

familiar you have to make it surprising

but to sell something surprising you

have to make it familiar and LOI was not

a scientist but this theory has been

proved and validated by scores of

studies and meta studies since he died

it has been used to explain hits in

technology in academics in culture and

even in politics it start with

technology technologists are often in

the position of having to make something

new and then make that new thing popular

with an audience that doesn't understand

it this was the problem recently at

Spotify Spotify obviously the famous

streaming music company which was

developing its app which probably many

people in this audience have used called

discover weekly if you haven't used

discover weekly every single Monday

discuss Spotify will dump 30 songs onto

your phone and initially they wanted

those 30 songs to be entirely new so

that people had never heard the songs

and they had never heard the artists but

when they were initially testing it

there was a bug in the algorithm that

accidentally lets slip through some

familiar songs and some familiar artists

so they quickly fixed the bug and they

kept testing but what happened is that

when they kept testing the app once

they'd fixed the bug engagement with the

app plummeted it turned out that having

just a little bit of familiarity in this

discovery platform made it significantly

more popular to sell that which was

surprising they had to make it familiar

to academics I'd imagine that most

academics don't think of themselves as

hitmakers they don't think of themselves

as operating in a cultural marketplace

but in order to become a star in your

discipline you often need to be

published by the most famous publishers

and therefore you are essentially giving

up your research proposing your research

to people who are essentially your

audience so in 2014 a group of

researchers from Harvard University in

northwestern wanted to figure out what

is the formula for a hit paper they

wanted to figure out what sort of paper

was most likely to be accepted by the

NIH was it really really novel proposals

or was it extremely familiar ones so

they created a dummy list of 150 papers

and they coded each of them for novelty

and then they delivered those papers to

a group of 150 researchers who scored

their favorites and the graph of that

score looks a bit like an upside-down

you over here you have at most

familiarity over here you have utmost

novelty but it turned out that the

researchers who were evaluating these

proposals they too preferred that which

they called optimally familiar advanced

yet acceptable myah 3 identity in my

book hitmakers I spend a long time

trying to figure out this issue of why

do fashions exist indeed if the brain is

an organ of ancient chemistry then why

should we change our opinion of what is

good but of course we do guitar solos

are weird

in the 1930s extremely popular in the

1970s and then weird again in the 2000s

skinny jeans are unpopular and then

popular and unpopular and popular and

they followed the sign K the sign curve

so why does this happen well it's really

important to understand that for the

vast majority of human history fashions

really didn't exist people wore the same

clothes for centuries for millennia it

never occurred to people wearing togas

they should somehow change the look of

their toga from one decade to the next

but a really interesting way to look at

fashion is to say all right well let's

say people clearly do have different you

know clothing fashion preferences but

let's imagine a make-believe store and

at the store all clothes simply exist

they all cost the same price and there

is no marketing it's important to think

about this store sort of in your head

because as a as an economic writer I

often think all right well to explain

fashion I would think that it must be

explained explained by price or by the

fact that Jake who doesn't want you to

wear a certain kind of pant anymore so

they take it away or they want you to

wear a new kind of pants they market it

but imagine with me this magical store

where all of the clothes exist and

they're all the same price and marketing

is impossible well in fact that store

exists here in the real world it is the

market place of first names think about

it all first names exist they all cost

the same price and there's no direct

marketing Nike really really wants you

to buy its next shoe but there is no

advertisement in Nike history that has

ever said oh and after you buy your shoe

would you please name your baby girl

after the Greek goddess of victory and

speed it's never happened so why do

first names follow the same hype cycles

as clothes so the sociologist named

Stanley Levison investigated this and he

came up with a really interesting theory

that essentially just went right back to

Mya he found that people tend to prefer

names that are familiar surprises so

take a name like Samantha Samantha the

1980s was not a particularly popular

name it was about the 30th most popular

baby girl name in the country but just

enough young couples decided that that

was a perfectly popular name for their

baby girl that in 1992 222,000 couples

named their baby girl Samantha making it

the second most popular baby girl name

of that year but then thinking about

what happens five years later

all these little Samantha's go into

kindergarten together and the

kindergarten is suddenly just run amok

with Samantha Samantha Samantha when all

these parents thought they were giving

their daughter unique name and so since

most parents have a preference for names

that are familiar but also surprising

the name Samantha naturally without any

organization rises in popularity and

then Falls when a more interesting

proves for the fact that parents have a

specific taste for popularity is it

siblings tend to have similarly common

or uncommon names and this is

intuitively true if you meet the


Michael Emily and Sarah it's a little

bit strange if they say and this is our

sister Xanthippe II but if you meet the

siblings antha P prairie rose Esmerelda

is very strange if they're like also

here's our brother Chad parents have a

specific taste for familiarity but one

of the most interesting proofs of this

naming theory is looking at the

phenomenon of baby girl names for black

Americans for the vast majority of human

history for American history excuse me

blacks and whites had similar names but

starting about the 1960s there was a

great forking where some names began to

sound white and others and other names

sounded black and one of those markers

for a black name is the LA or le prefix

like for LeBron James or LaDainian

Tomlinson but this was basically unheard

of before the 1960s but Stanley Lieber

soon found it starting in 1967 eight

distinct baby a black baby girl names

peaked in popularity with a la prefix

and they peaked in the following order

Latonia Latonya Latasha Latoya the

Treece Lakeisha Lakeisha Latricia and

what's so fascinating about the sequence

is just how orderly it is every next

popular name is a play on

what came before it it takes the

familiar and it makes it surprising

fourth politics in this age of hyper

partisanship and polarization there is

an enormous demand to figure out how

people can talk to each other how we can

persuade each other but often when we

get into debates when we get into

discussions and we try to persuade

someone of our point of view we begin

with our code of ethics so if you're a

liberal you'll say you shouldn't like

Donald Trump because his policies are

cruel to Hispanics or if you're a

conservative you might say you shouldn't

like Bernie Sanders because he's trying

to turn us into Denmark now on its face

these statements are perfectly genuine

and sincere but they fail immediately as

articles of persuasion because if you

are a conservative who supports Trump

you probably like those policies that

are discriminatory and if you are the

liberal supporting Bernie Sanders you

kinda want to nudge the us toward

Denmark but imagine if instead we invert

the process and we begin with the code

with the code of ethics of the person

that we're talking about we piggyback

off of their familiarities so if you're

talking to someone as a liberal and

you're talking to someone who supports

Donald Trump you might say one of the

things that I've always respected about

the Republican Party is their emphasis

on patriotism putting country over self

and seeking service helped me think

through times and Donald Trump's

business career he's been a paragon of

these values now you might not create a

Bernie Sanders supporter on the spot you

might be slapped for insouciance you're

gonna get a lot farther following this

path then you are putting forth first

principles that the person you're

speaking to disagrees with the model

that I've just proposed is called the

moral foundations theory and it says

essentially that it's always more

beneficial when debating with somebody

else to begin with their first

principles to begin

with their code of ethics and then show

how slow walking those code of ethics

toward the center might make their

position leak into your position all

debate involves a form of ideological

advertising and in both polemics and in

products to make it Maya make it

familiar the last story I want to tell

takes us back to Raymond Loewy and it

takes us back to his last assignment as

an industrial designer Raymond Loewy was

told to design the interior habitat for

the first NASA space orbital the most

surprising and unfamiliar and exotic

environment you could possibly imagine a

human being in in deep space and lowly

conducted a bunch of habitability

studies and he made some tweaks here and

some tweaks there but his most famous

contribution to space history is that he

cut a hole in the side of the NASA Space

orbital he placed a sheet of glass there

and created a viewing portal for yes

that viewing portal that you have seen

in all of those movies that too is

Raymond Loewy ease innovation and I

cannot think of a more perfect

illustration for Maya or a more

beautiful inspiration to creators

everywhere because it says that a window

to a new world can also show you home

thank you

so Maya is just such an interesting

concept with so many unique applications

I'm wondering do you think that there

are ways to apply this idea to help

people from diverse backgrounds better

relate to each other yeah absolutely I

mean one of the ideas that comes up in

developmental psychology is this issue

of sensitive periods the people develop

tastes develop their particular

familiarities during specific periods in

their life which tends to be relatively

young people tend not to change their

taste in music or their taste in food

after the age of 40 or 50 so when

thinking about this question of sort of

of justice it's important sometimes to

not only focus on adults not only trying

to remediate adults but also realizing

that the way to get liberal minded

people the way to get people who think

multiculturally and embrace those of all

stripes and colors and creeds is

actually to have a kind of cradle to

grave strategy where you say we should

build neighborhoods we should focus on

neighborhoods and build neighborhoods

where you have a combination of

ideologies and colors and creeds and all

of this so I think sometimes we think of

justice as purely remedial and of course

there's lots of people doing very

important work there but it's also so

important that we think about taste

formation even on important issues like

politics as being a project that

involves the neighborhood level

absolutely thank you thank you


 Raymond Loewy, the father of industrial design, had a theory. He was the all-star 20th-century designer of the Coca-Cola fountain and Lucky Strike pack; the modern sports car, locomotive, Greyhound bus and tractor; the interior of the first NASA spaceship; and the egg-shaped pencil sharpener. How did one man understand what consumers wanted from so many different areas of life? His grand theory of popularity was called MAYA: Most advanced yet acceptable. He said humans are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a love of new things; and neophobia; a fear of anything that’s too new. Hits, he said, live at the perfect intersection of novelty and familiarity. They are familiar surprises. In this talk, I’ll explain how Loewy’s theory has been validated by hundreds of years of research — and how we can all use it to make hits.  Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, technology and media. He is a news analyst with NPR's afternoon show “Here and Now," appearing weekly on Mondays, and an on-air contributor to CBS News. The recipient of several honors, including the 2016 Best in Business award for Columns and Commentary from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, he is the author of the national bestselling book Hit Makers

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