Marketing Lessons From Switch

In Switch, Chip and Dan Heath describe a sswitchbookimple framework for getting people to change their behavior, a very relevant topic for marketers. Switch is a must read for marketers because many ideas in this book can help marketers be more effective at changing behavior. Whether your goal is to get more consumers to switch to your brand, or convincing your marketing department to embrace new forms of media, Switch can provide you with a framework that you can use to achieve change. Switch is extremely well researched and includes a number of fascinating case studies of successful change agents who often had little power or resources at their disposal. Here are some of the main lessons that I got out of reading Switch.

The Rider and The Elephant

The authors describe a brilliant metaphor for our minds, comparing it to an elephant and a rider. The rider is the logical part of the mind, which can be motivated to go in a certain direction by compelling statistics or sound arguments, while the elephant is driven by emotion. You can’t achieve change without both the rider and elephant, so it is important to appeal to both. The book describes ways to direct the rider, such as when officials told citizens that milk had the same amount of saturated fat as several slices of bacon, and that if they just eliminated milk, they would reduce their saturated fat intake to recommended levels. “What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity.” On the other hand you have to motivate the elephant to want to take action, which can involve showing a visual or making them think that they are closer to the finish line than they thought.

Appeal to Identity

Often a sense of identity can override the logical part of the brain. For instance, voters who have self-identified as democrat or republican will often vote against their self interest in order to preserve their sense of identity. Appealing to the identity can have a huge impact on behavior. For instance when students are identified as achievers, they will likely spend more time and effort studying in order to fulfill this expectation.

Tweak The Environment

One way to shape the path that the rider and elephant follow is to change the environment. The classic example is the store owner who puts the milk in the back of the store, which leads you to spend more time shopping whether you want to or not. Creating an environment that limits a choice to a few or even a single option can be an effective way to achieve desired behavior. For instance, if you want your marketing department to avoid meetings, you could remove the conference room.

Rally the Herd

The behavior of our peers can be very contagious, as the authors point out that we often look to others for cues about what we should be doing. The example from the book is a study in which test takers stayed in a room filling with smoke, mainly because everyone else stayed in the room. If you can get the group to support something, the rest of the group will likely follow. This is seen time and time again with examples like people choosing a restaurant because there is a long line, or an employee who starts Tweeting because the rest of the marketing department is on Twitter.

We Are Lousy Self Evaluators

I found this really fascinating. The author describes a study an evaluator is given the task to estimate a stranger’s IQ after they walk into the room and read a weather report. Amazingly, the evaluator’s estimate is about 66% more accurate that the fake weatherman’s own self assessment. This illustrates how incredibly bad we are at self evaluation. Another example is a study that found 94% of college professors report doing better than average work. The marketing takeaway is that you or your company may be doing a lot worse than you think at serving customers, or communicating your marketing messages. It is often a good idea to get a reality check by asking a third party.

I definitely recommend Switch and also the prequel, Made to Stick, which is very good as well.

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