Roger Dooley (https://www.rogerdooley.com) wears multiple hats with ease and panache. He is as comfortable (and impactful) as a keynote speaker as he is being an entrepreneur, author, blogger (https://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/home#), a Forbes columnist and a podcaster (The Brainfluence Podcast). His books include Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, The Persuasion Slide & his latest Friction(recognised by Stategy+Business in the Best Business Books 2019). In this candid, frictionless conversation with BrandKnew(published by ISD Global), Roger is compellingly persuasive as he provides us with a distilled essence of actionable intelligence that will stimulate thought and action amongst brand owners, organisations, marketers, the creative community and beyond.
BK: Could you share a bit about your growing up days, your family etc?
RD: I grew up in snowy Buffalo. Early on, I attended an unusual school that compressed a lot of learning into a few years. I started high school at 11, three years younger than my classmates. That difference continued through high school and university. That enabled me to start my career years earlier, but also meant that participating in competitive sports was unlikely.
BK: What triggered your interest in writing and your experience and leanings especially towards ” Behavioural Science ”? And do you think in an overly distracted world with a deficit of time, attention, resources and trust, this Science can/must begin to play a bigger role?
RD: Science has always interested me. From the earliest days I can remember, being a scientist was more interesting to me than being a fireman or cowboy. By the time I was choosing a college major, I decided on engineering – science, but applied in the real world. While I was at university, I was fascinated by psychology. I minored in that subject, and even traveled to another campus to take a course in the Psychology of Persuasion. I had zero idea at the time that this topic would become the focus of my professional work.
I think behavioral science can do a lot to improve our lives. App designers use behavioral science to keep us glued to our screens. Marketers use it to sell us more stuff. But, as I describe in my book Friction, individuals can use these tools to regain control, break bad habits and form new, beneficial ones.
BK: As an authority on Neuromarketing & Behavioural Science, where do you stand in the debate between Success follows Happiness or Happiness follows Success?
RD: There’s no doubt that one is more likely to be happy if one is successful than if one experiences the alternative, failure. But success is relative. A billionaire may be no happier than a successful auto mechanic. To me, the key to happiness is to enjoy the pursuit of your goals. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, reaching the next pinnacle in your career isn’t likely to result in lasting happiness.
BK: Brainfluence, The Persuasion Slide and now Friction: do you want to pick a favorite book or would that be an unfair question?
RD: Can a parent pick a favorite child? Each book is different, written for a different purpose. Brainfluence is an easy to read guide to science-based marketing tactics, with one hundred short chapters. Friction is an ambitious big idea book, showing how the Law of Least Effort affects every aspect of human behavior. I delve into customer loyalty, employee engagement, habit formation, and even the fate of nations. To make it interesting and readable, I use lots of stories, some current and others historical, to illustrate my points.
BK: Tell us a bit about your initiative ‘ College Confidential ‘ and what triggered the founding of it?
RD: In the United States, the college process can be incredibly confusing for students and parents. There are over 3,000 institutions of higher education, and no individual can possibly know them all. While the vast majority of schools accept all or most of their applicants, a smaller number of elite schools are very difficult to enter. And, the criteria for acceptance can be mysterious.
After going through the process with my two children, I realized how little information there was for students and parents. In 2001, I co-founded College Confidential as a free resource to demystify college admissions and financial aid for families. We began with expert content and a small community. Over time, the community proved to be by far the most popular feature. No matter how obscure the school, other members would be able to comment first-hand on it. And, parents who had been through the convoluted process of applying for financial aid could help newcomers cope.
We kept the site free for all users, and it grew to tens of millions of pageviews each month. In 2008, we sold it to part of the UK’s Daily Mail Group. They spun it off a few years ago, but the community is still thriving almost twenty years after founding.
BK: 6 is the new 30. Shorter attention spans, vertical orientation, platforms like IGTV, the potential of UGC(User Generated Content): are we moving from the overt to the covert, appealing to the sub conscious rather than the conscious? What is your take and what are the learning and lessons for brand marketers and content creators in all these?
RD: Appealing to the consumer’s non-conscious mind has always been a key part of advertising and branding. But, a few things have changed. The tools of neuromarketing – fMRI, EEG, biometric measurements, and so on – let us see what’s actually happening in the brain as opposed to relying on self-reporting.
The second change has been happening for decades. Our understanding of the consumer mind has been greatly improved by the work of scientists in multiple disciplines. Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence, BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model, Kahneman and Tversky’s work on thinking and bias… These and many other smart researchers have given marketers a far better understanding of how humans make decisions. Part of my function, as I see it, is to turn this science into practical business advice.
BK: What was the core inspiration behind writing ‘ Friction ‘(and by the way many congratulations on the book being awarded as the Best Business Books 2019 by Strategy + Business) ? How has the book been received? (I am 1/3rd my way into the book and finding it difficult to put down).
RD: I’m glad you find Friction compelling! I enjoy the way Malcolm Gladwell combines science, statistics, and stories in his very readable books. While we have different styles and objectives, I kept his approach in mind as I wrote.
Friction grew out of my Persuasion Slide framework. I created that simple model, based on the common playground slide, for marketers to use to be more persuasive. It’s loosely based on BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model, and emphasizes that marketers need to be aware of both conscious and non-conscious factors that affect customer decisions. One of the four elements in the framework is “friction” – that’s what slows or even stops the child’s descent. I found that to be the most interesting element because reducing friction is often easier and less costly than trying to motivate the customers more.
Once I started writing, I realized that friction affected not just customer experience, but employee experience, too. And, the effects were enormous – trillions of dollars per year in lost revenue and wasted productivity. I began seeing friction in places I hadn’t thought of. My hope is that Friction will equip every reader with a metaphorical set of “friction goggles” and that they will start seeing (and fixing!) friction at work and at home.
BK: AI, Machine Learning, Predictive Analytics, Data Science etc: where do you see the human mind in the midst of all this? And do all of these increase or decrease friction?
RD: Making decisions and creating designs based on real human behavior is incredibly important. Oddly, not enough companies do that. How often have you encountered a website or app that was confusing, caused you to click on multiple choices to find what you were seeking, or repeat a search multiple times because your search term wasn’t interpreted correctly? Even the most basic measurement of behavior would detect this pointless friction so that the interface could be made more intuitive and easier to use.
Amazon is constantly testing every aspect of their website and app. Jeff Bezos said, “When you reduce friction, make something easy, people do more of it.” Hence, you have One Click ordering, frustration-free packaging, and many other innovations designed to improve customer experience.
BK: In an era of conformity, compliance, adherence and standardisation, I reckon modern-day organisations and brands should really see great meaning in what you are proposing with regards to friction to stand out and engage better? But I am also wondering is that really the case?
RD: I think today quite a few organizations and brands are indeed reducing friction. Eventually, I hope, the ones that stand out will be the high-friction ones. Customers will avoid those brands whose customer experience lags behind their competitors.
BK: We are seeing a definite shift in consumer behaviour patterns from ‘ownership’ to ‘experiences’. All the more reason they walk the walk on what you are proposing in context to friction?
RD: I think people still want to own things, but only those they consider really important. Ownership often involves extra effort, i.e., more friction. If a drain stops working in your house, you can’t simply report it the building manager like an apartment renter. You’ll have to fix it yourself or call a plumber. Think about cars – just parking a car in New York is a huge hassle. For many, Uber and Lyft are much more convenient.
BK: Look around and you see in most cases the CMO not going beyond an 18-24 month duration at an organisation? What would you attribute this to?
RD: I see multiple reasons for this. One is that the CMO is charged with getting results but doesn’t have control of the entire customer experience. All too often, marketing people may see problems with, say, the website user experience, but be unable to fix them because of pushback from IT, legal, accounting and other departments. I’ve personally seen critical, low cost improvements to customer experience delayed “until next fiscal” because of arbitrary budget restrictions. That doesn’t happen at Amazon.
Another factor is the amount of waste in marketing. We accept email response rates of under 1% as normal. Nine out of ten paid clicks may generate no sale at all. Trillions of dollars of merchandise are left in abandoned ecommerce shopping carts every year. CEOs view this waste with suspicion. One survey showed that only one out five CEOs had full faith in the competence of their CMO – that’s scary.
Applying smart neuromarketing and behavioral techniques won’t eliminate all wasted marketing spend, but it can boost results and impact profitability in a way that CEOs will appreciate.
BK: The new 4Ps of Marketing seem to be Permission, Privacy, Personalisation & Performance. What are your views on this?
RD: I don’t think we can ignore the original 4 Ps which are fundamental to the sales process. The new ones are important topics indeed, but seem a bit forced to me. Another version I saw was, “process, people, platform, and performance.” The only one in common is performance, and that’s the result of getting everything else right (whether it begins with “p” or not).
BK: In our practice at ISD Global with brands and organisations, we have been proposing the value and impact of ‘UFP (Unique Feelings Proposition)’ and then by design move away from USP (Unique Selling Proposition) in an increasingly commoditised world. Do you see a new culture emerging based on the aforementioned?
RD: I totally agree that for many products, how the brand or product makes you feel is at least as important as what the product does or how it performs. Research shows that emotional appeals are usually more effective than rational, logical appeals.
BK: What do you enjoy doing more- writing, speaking or consulting?
RD: Writing and speaking go hand in hand. Writing lets me research my ideas and organize them for easy access by anyone, anywhere. Speaking and training let me connect these ideas to the specific needs of an audience, whether they are accountants or auto dealers, giant brands or tiny startups. I really enjoy meeting people, hearing their stories, and trying to help solve their most pressing problems.
I avoid most consulting engagements. Too often, a project that entailed a lot of thought and effort ends up in a binder on a shelf. The few engagements I do have a very well-defined objective and constraints. This minimizes scope creep and maximizes the probability of successful implementation.
BK: Could you tell us about the books and people who have inspired your life and career?
RD: I draw inspiration from a lot of places. My current work has been heavily influenced by books like Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman), Influence (Cialdini), Predictably Irrational (Ariely), Nudge (Thaler & Sunnstein), and many others. My approach to writing has been influenced not just by Gladwell but by Steven Pressfield, Stephen King (he writes more than horror), and more. One book that influenced my career and business decisions is Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek. The tactics in it are dated and the title is a huge overreach, but Tim’s ideas about setting life priorities and being location-independent are timeless. Over time, I phased out clients and activities that required me to be physically close. That enabled me to move to Austin, where, oddly enough, Tim also relocated to.
BK: What makes Roger Dooley go ‘Wow, another day at work’?
RD: [Not sure if I understand this question…] I find days when I can hit “publish” on a new article at Forbes, my blog Neuromarketing, or other venue particularly satisfying. The hours or days working before that are just as important, but getting an idea out in the wild gives a sense of completion.
BK: What do you do in your spare time? Your leisure time pursuits?
RD: When I’m not traveling, I try to get to the gym every weekday and do more casual activities like walking and yard chores on weekends. Travel for speaking engagements can make following an exercise routine more challenging, but I tend to walk a lot and explore new cities when time permits. I’m also an architecture buff, and if I’m visiting a city I try to visit at least one significant building or site. I’ve visited or at least seen most of the world’s tallest buildings, but at the rate China is constructing skyscrapers I’ve got some catching up to do! The Burj Khalifa is one of my favorites – despite its size, it seems to have a graceful elegance that many other tall buildings lack.
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