Instant Appeal

It is yet another book that tries to explain how and why people react the way they do. Initially, I thought it would be a re-hash of Blink and other such books. However, there were some new ideas.

The book consists of an introduction and eight chapters, each of which is focused on different factors that can attract or repel people.

1. The conspicuous flaw factor
2. The visual preprogramming factor
3. The reptilian comfort factor
4. The sacred cow factor
5. The jackass factor
6. The biology of language factor
7. The biotuning factor
8. The mental real estate factor

One issue I have with the book is that it doesn’t have a lot of documentation for its theories. To quote Publishers Weekly, “Unfortunately, Kunkel’s evidence of these universals is vague and speculative.” But that’s probably because Kunkel is a communications consultant and not a researcher.

However, I realized I was getting tired of reading books that just went through research study after research study. Besides, a lot of the anecdotal evidence did ring pretty true. So here are the few that stood out to me.

The conspicuous flaw factor

I liked the section on “Ugly as a Design Element” because, when you think about it, most of the world’s favorite websites: Google, craigslist, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, mySpace, Twitter, etc. are all pretty lame when it comes to design and navigation. In many cases, they break all the standard rules. Kunkel posits that as a society we can be turned off by “slick websites,” as it gives us the impression that big companies are behind them. This is why we prefer the ugly ducklings.

The reptilian comfort factor

I found the discussion of “The principal of least effort” interesting because it stated that a more appealing sales pitch is not that a certain blender would help YOU chop, dice, etc. at the speed of light, but that the BLENDER chops, dices, etc. at the speed of light. We are basically lazy and do not want to do the work. This is why we are more likely to buy a blender that does the work for us.

I think this section hit home because at the time I read it, we were in the midst of choosing a new slogan, and I was reluctant to include the word “effortless” when it comes to networking. I know that networking is not effortless. However, according to the book Made to Stick (which makes a similar argument), as well as Instant Appeal, I should have gone with “effortless.” So this week, I’ve started including that word in our Google ads as a test. I’m curious to see what happens.

It’s funny: As I was reading this section, I kept thinking . . . this is the secret to The Secret. We don’t want to work for results. We prefer to just think nice thoughts. Sure enough, on the next page, that’s exactly the example Kunkel uses.

Another comfort factor that struck a chord with me is where she talks about the difference between the career application pages at Microsoft and Apple. The former is rather technical; the latter is user-friendly and more appealing in its design. Both are meant to cater to the audience they want to attract and hire. In this economy, where companies that actually have positions are inundated with applications, it might be worthwhile to see if you can weed out a few through your website alone.

The sacred cow and jackass factors

Unite around a common enemy. Kunkel defines “sacred cows” as protected ideologies that attract like-minded people; and the “jackass factor” is defined as the intentional repulsion of a portion of the audience by being unapologetically yourself.

“To gain supporters, you have to create enemies because, when you do that, you at the same time energize your base of loyalists and give them an external force to combat.” In some sense, this takes Seth Godin’s tribes a bit further. Not only do like-minded folk follow a charismatic leader, they are more solidified if they have to battle a common enemy. Looking back to our presidential election, one only has to think that Sarah Palin helped unite the Democratic Party behind Barack Obama.

This is an interesting thought for a company, one you can definitely see it at play between Microsoft and Apple. I was about to write that, as a company owner, I’m not ready to go there. But in fact we do market the Downtown Women’s Club as a fun and inclusive alternative to stale, bureaucracy-laden, exclusive and traditional networking associations. Over the years, we’ve had women denounce us as not being professional because we have spa nights and horoscopes or that we were focusing too much on technology and online networking. I used to try to find ways to engage those detractors, but then a few years ago I stopped because I stand by our fun factor, and our business model is proving that technology is key.

Who ya gonna turn off? This is the question Kunkel apparently asks clients to help them define their market better and increase their appeal. I have to agree here, as you can see from the above paragraph. I made a conscious decision to stand behind fun and technology when it comes to networking, and I really do not want to attract people who tell me that I need to “be more like other groups.”

Corporate individuality. This was a small section, but I think it has a lot more meaning in the social media era. “For a corporate personality to be believable, individual leadership personalities within that organization must be believable, too.” I’ve always felt that companies that slap a logo on their twitter personalities and then review everything their “social media representatives” say don’t do much to attract people. As Kunkel writes, “we’re in a creative economy now where the focus is on participation.” I would add that transparency and authenticity are big, too.

The whole section basically boils down to the following paragraph:

“The real appeal of a strong . . . leader boils down to one thing: confidence. We are drawn to people who know who they are, know what they want and go after it, and are so independent and self-assured that they don’t need or want the approval of anyone. They are comfortable in their own skin. They have found their own voices. Their strong and assertive nature is intoxicating and makes us feel safe in their company because we get the feeling that they can overcome anything.”

The biology of language factor.

Apparently popular books, songs, tv shows, etc. use “comfort language.” That is, most of the No. 1 songs include the same words at high frequencies. And best-selling authors like Dr. Seuss and Agatha Christie use very few words in total and a lot of repetition. I’m not sure I’m buying this one but, when thinking of corporate slogans, it might be worthwhile to keep it simple.

The mental real estate factor.

In this factor Kunkel also advocates keeping it simple because our brains can only function in so many different ways at one time. For example, it’s often the most basic, least creative commercials that get us to buy. The humorous and highly creative ones distract us from the core message.

In addition, audiences will only see the parts in a commercial that resonate most with them and will subconsciously ignore the rest. She has some interesting examples about kids and commercials. But this reminds me of a comment a friend made recently. “I know I just joined Facebook, so maybe that’s why I’m suddenly noticing how much it’s in the press. Yet maybe it was there before, and I just never noticed it.” She’s probably right. Clearly, coverage of Facebook and Twitter has increased in the recent past as more and more journalists use them, too. Yet it probably remains background noise for anyone who doesn’t use them.

Another small but good point in this section had to do with why it helps to dumb down your PowerPoint presentations. Too much info or special effects are distracting and detract from your message.

Source: “Instant Appeal: The 8 Primal Factors that Create Blockbuster Success” by Vicki Kunkel

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