Marketing and the Power of the Mind

The human mind is surprisingly open to being manipulated. There are all sorts of psychological tricks to change our behaviour. The placebo effect is remarkably powerful, even when we know we’re taking a placebo, and hypnosis changes lives forever. All this bodes well for marketers, for whom manipulating the way people think and behave is key. Here are some fascinating facts about the ways we can be manipulated… and manipulate others.

Using nudges to change the way we behave

Nudges are about changing specific behaviour at specific times. Governments all over the world have started using the ‘nudge’ to intervene externally and alter our behaviour. But it has actually been around a long time. During the Second World War the nation faced food shortages. Then – as now – the public had lost its taste for offal, and the resulting waste was unacceptable to a nation at war. So the government got to work on their ‘variety meat’ campaign, which nudged the population into eating offal and taught them how to cook it. It worked.

WPIs, fixed mindsets and growth mindsets

Next-generation nudging is about to go mainstream, in the form of Wise Psychological Interventions or WPIs. While nudges rely on environmental cues, WPIs tap deep into basic human psychology. They’re designed to bring about long term changes, and they’re a powerful tool. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck has been studying what drives humans to keep going, and she has discovered two very different mind-sets. Which are you?

  1. When people with a fixed growth mindset are faced with a problem they can’t solve straight away, they assume it’s because the problem is beyond their capabilities. A fixed mindset is a mental barrier that limits you.
  2. When people with a growth mindset encounter a problem, they feel they can solve it by improving their knowledge and skills. A growth mindset is a lot less self-limiting than a fixed one.

The phenomenon has been researched in other contexts. In one, scientists got first year university students to read about older students’ experiences at college. The older students described how they’d felt out of place and homesick at first but soon settled in, made new friends and started having a marvellous time. The grades of the students who had read their older peers’ advice improved significantly and their self-reported levels of happiness rocketed too. It even affected how healthy they were. And the results of this easily-digested growth mindset lasted through the full three years at uni.
Then there’s research carried out by the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, which has developed WPIs to cut tensions in the region’s ongoing conflict. They’ve found that nurturing a growth mindset makes people on both sides of an argument open to new ideas, better able to compromise and more likely to forgive each other.

Telepathy tech – A new meeting of minds

Scientist Andrea Socco is involved in creating telepathy tech, enabling a meeting of minds. He believes one person’s thoughts can be experienced by another, and he’s proved the concept experimentally. His study involved two people in different buildings playing ‘Twenty Questions’ using a brain-to-brain communication gadget.  Volunteers guessed the right object 72% of the time, a much better rate than sheer guesswork could have delivered.

Placebos and nocebos

At the same time the strange power of the placebo is being revealed, a sign that we’re a whole lot more suggestible than we might like to think. New research reveals that even when you know you’ve been given a placebo, its effects can be dramatic. The research has thrilled clinicians, who envisage a future when they can persuade the mind into healing itself – and the body – without resorting to drugs or medicines.
It looks like the mere expectation of improvement can unlock our self-healing mechanisms. It works both ways, too. If you believe your drug has been replaced with a placebo, even if it hasn’t, the drug won’t work as well. The nocebo effect is also potent stuff. If someone curses you and tells you you will die, and you believe in curses, you can indeed die, even if there’s nothing at all wrong with you.
New research is underway right now to determine exactly what makes people tap into the placebo effect. Early theories hint that optimists are more likely experience a strong placebo effect than pessimists, and people who believe they’re in charge of their own destiny fare better too. There might even be genetic components underlying the effect. Only time will tell.

Keep ahead of science, stay ahead in marketing

Keeping ahead of science is a great way to stay ahead in marketing. If you ever doubted that you can be manipulated, subtly or otherwise, it’s time to think again. Next time you’re marketing a product or service, can you harness a well-placed nudge or WPI to help your campaign go with a swing? Can you harness the placebo effect, using words intelligently to change the way your customers think? And now you know a positive message grounded in a growth mindset will work harder than a negative one, can you harness the insight for a better bottom line? Probably.

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