Extreme ways to play the long game
Extreme ways to play the long game
Humans don’t always act in their best interests when it comes to money because our minds are full of bugs.

By Luc Wade, Marketing Director at Hive Business

Humans don’t always act in their best interests when it comes to money because our minds are full of bugs. Our outsized fear of loss is perhaps the most implacable bug of all, with a power that’s well documented in behavioural economics.

The availability heuristic and the framing effect are two other bugs that condemn homo economicus to mythology. Homo economicus is a creature that uses rational thought to maximise utility as a consumer and profit as a producer, and it’s a shock for many accountants to discover (if they ever do) that he doesn’t exist.

It helps to know about these bugs if you want to game the system, and for that reason Edward Bernays is seriously impressive because he gamed it way before behavioural economics existed.

He drew on his uncle Sigmund Freud’s theories to develop a powerful precursor to it, conceiving of the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct, and outlining how it was possible to use crowd psychology to manipulate them.

When American Tobacco Company asked Bernays to increase Lucky Strike sales among women he began by promoting the ideal of thinness, enlisting an influential photographer to tell people that the special grace and beauty of thin women was better served by tobacco than sweets.

Then he ordered a contingent of women (“goodlooking… not too ‘model-y’”) to be planted in the 1929 Easter Sunday parade in New York to break the taboo against female smoking in public. In an era of growing feminist momentum the press swallowed the line that cigarettes were “torches of freedom”.

There were bumper revenues for American Tobacco Company, but it worried that some women still weren’t buying Lucky Strikes because they disliked the green and red packaging. Bernays wasn’t allowed to change the packaging so he calmly went ahead and changed women. How? By creating the Green Ball, which famous society women attended wearing green dresses, creating a vogue for the colour.

I’m not suggesting it would be wise for dental practice owners to be so ambitious even if they could afford such audacious PR stunts. But having explained the difference between brand building and sales activation in my last blog I thought it would be useful to show just how far you can take brand building.

We’re talking about creating mental structures — associations, memories, beliefs — that pre-dispose people to choose your brand. How does that look in dentistry? It depends on your location and what is happening there. Is something happening that you can associate yourself with to the benefit of your brand?

Or perhaps you can make people feel bad about the alternatives to your brand although, again, you may not want to go as far as Bernays, the man who linked an overflowing cup with subliminal images of vaginas and venereal disease in an effort to convince consumers that only disposable cups were sanitary.

But there are certainly analogous things you could be doing that position your practice favourably on, say, facial aesthetics compared to unregulated high street beauticians, and you could make the point that not all dental implants are the same. Get in touch on 01872 300232 or email us at [email protected] if you’d like to start working on some thoughtful brand building that creates long term value for your business.

Luc Wade
By Luc Wade Management Consultant
If you have any questions or comments about this article, please get in touch.
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