I'm sitting next to plaintive slow lobster in a round Plexiglas cage at Tony Cheng’s restaurant in Washington thinking of emergent systems. What is more emergent than my being here? Not completely random or generated by hive mind like bees to honey or ants to food. I was steered to Tony Cheng's by the Marriott doorman for some of the best Kung Po chicken ever. What is more emergent than a quickly filling popular restaurant on a Washington Wednesday night?
I’m in Washington for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) PR training from WebPR’s Vocus group tomorrow. The lobsters sitting above my right shoulder remind me of SuperFreakonomics. I remembered the joy of reading economist Levitt and journalist Dubner’s Freakonomics years ago. Levitt and Dubner write engaging “data stories” about our true baselines something few care about in an over-hyped time. What are “true baselines”?
Levitt and Dubner look at mountains of data to cut through BS. Remember the SHARK ATTACK media frenzy in 2001? I wrote about just how scary life was in the water that summer in Dolphins and Sharks. Maybe it wasn’t the water that was scary that summer, but it is my story and I am sticking to it :). Levitt’s and Dubner’s SuperFreakonomics analyzed data to discover how many worldwide shark attacks actually took place that year – sixty-four. How many fatal shark attacks? Four. I was more likely to get killed by a news van than a shark Levitt and Dubner point out. Land sharks posed a bigger threat. Hindsight is always twenty / twenty (lol).
Levitt and Dubner’s new book, SuperFreakonomics, is about favorite ScentTrail themes:
- People respond to incentives.
- Humans are pattern recognition machines and much of what we recognize is wrong.
- Humans are predictably irrational.
You don’t have to teach an E-Commerce Director (me) people respond to incentives. Recently, while visiting friends near San Francisco, human response to incentives was illustrated by two women walking on a path. What you are about to read is a true story:
I am up early walking the public space paths at the end of my friend’s road. Buy in for this neighborhood is north of a million bucks. My friend created a website to download music before anyone knew that would be cool, sold it for a king’s ransom and bought a home a football field from some of the most beautiful walking paths I’ve ever seen. His multi-million dollar home is an hour CalTran ride to downtown San Francisco. I couldn’t afford the first round of poker here.
But I have feet and love walking steep hilly paths. After more than an hour up in the highest regions of this vast network of paths I end up walking behind two chatting women in their late thirties. One woman is holding forth about how she saved 50% on her walking shoes. She explains that her first pair cost x, but the pair she is walking aggressively in this morning cost 50% less. She is incredulous and proud. She speaks on this topic for over ten minutes or maybe it just seemed like ten minutes. If the surroundings weren’t so beautiful a door opened and Hell came a calling I would have thought :).
Dookie Dan Ariely in his secret marketing cult hit book Predictably Irrational explains anchors. Anchors are mostly fictional price points (read my 3 parter on Why Retail Prices Don't Exist Anymore) retailers create to have a millionaire women in Silicone Valley discuss saving 50% on walking shoes. She isn’t as proud of her children (I bet). Somewhere there is a retailer and a shoe company laughing their way to the bank.
Does everyone win in such an arrangement? Our millionaire gets to tell a great story, a retailer made a little money and a manufacturer made a lot of money. One day soon we may wake up to our predictably irrational ways stranding a certain kind of marketing….or maybe not (lol). Where these behaviors start is the problem. They start way back. We were running from dinosaurs and painting cave walls. Think about it. Our female shoe saver is demonstrating intelligence. If she were a bird her plume would be in full feather. Back in the cave she would dance about finding berries or snagging rabbits. Now she lives in a multi-million dollar cave and saves money on shoes creating a straight line through human history.
Can we respond to truth, justice and the American way? Outliers often predict the future. Patagonia, Tom’s Shoes, Ben and Jerry’s (when they were involved) and Burt’s Bees (when what’s her name was involved) look like exceptions proving predictably irrational rules. Maybe less manipulation and more truth is a building wave, a new marketing truth. Cut the BS, share and live your marketing truth and customers will buy rationally. One can only hope (lol).
Saying adieu to the lobsters and heading back to the Marriott. More on SuperFreakonmoics soon.