Terry O’Reilly at TedXWaterloo

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Terry O’Reilly’s job as an advertiser is to create the easiest, speed bump-free path to the sale. This takes skill, though Terry told us he wasn’t going to talk to us about it at TEDx Waterloo. Instead, Terry talked about the quirk in the collective psyche, saying sometimes people need friction before they will buy a product or buy into an idea. Friction, he says, can be the key ingredient in persuasion.

Terry told the story back in time of when housewives ignored a company making instant mix cakes. The company researched and talked to housewives and determined the emotions that surround the process. What they found was that the women felt they weren’t involved enough in the work of making a cake. They needed to be persuaded that they actually had something more to do in the process. The manufacturer went backward in the process and removed the egg from the mix. They then asked the women to put the egg back in so that they felt like they were more of the process in making the cake. By increasing the friction and adding the extra step women were attracted back to the product. Sales spiked.

O’Reilly talked about Johnson and Johnson having a marketing problem with their antiseptic cream. People would not buy the cream a second time. Johnson and Johnson brought human nature into their research. If we don’t feel pain, we don’t feel we are being healed so they put alcohol in the cream to give it a sting. The added friction of pain gave the product credibility and as a result, sales spiked back up.

Clairol introduced a hair product back in the 70s. The instructions for how to use the conditioner were 1. work conditioner into hair 2. let sit for 30 minutes 3. rinse…but it only took 2 minutes to work and not the 30 minutes that women were used to in the salon. So, Clairol suggested 30 minutes to give their product credibility by keeping the instructions for use in line with what the salons were doing. Friction aligned the new product with an existing belief system and made it legitimate.

O’Reilly’s message…Take a look at marketing over the last 100 years…friction can be a powerful tool to persuasion. You can take the concept of friction and apply it to fundraising. Terry cites a donation form for a charity with 3 donation boxes to choose from: a 500 dollar box, 50 dollar box, and 5 dollar box. There is friction with 500, 5 dollars is barely worth the stamp. They framed the desire of the 50 dollar box with the shock of the 500 dollar box and the shame of the 5 dollar box. 50 dollars was always the target.

O’Reilly also mentions an instance of setting up on-line shopping on an e-commerce site. The man designing the site looked at the 5 steps to the checkout process and replaced it with one step. He even added advanced error checking and retrieval of the page if the Internet went down. The idea failed miserably. The 5 steps created a friction that made the customers feel they had added security. Terry compares it to shopping. The narrower a store aisle, the more crowded it is…the more buying is done. More friction means more shopping as choice is a way to exert control over your environment. You control the experience by exercising choice. When the aisles are wide open, people won’t buy. They lash out by buying more in narrower areas.

O’Reilly says Steve Jobs understands his customers. 50 percent of products that are returned to stores actually still work. It’s just that people have a fiddle tolerance. People will only fiddle for 20 minutes. Jobs took this understanding and it applied it to unpacking the computer mouse. He purposely wrapped up the individual mouse so that you would have to become more familiar with it as you were unpacking it. No mice were returned after purchase. If you can embrace this concept, you will have less returns.

Lastly, in looking at human nature… Atul Gawande wrote a book called The Checklist Manifesto. He looked to others to see how they prevented mistakes…ie/ aircraft pilots. Gawade created checklists for hospitals. The hospitals that used this had the number of mistakes go down 8 percent. Unfortunately, only 1 fifth of hospitals in the U.S. use this. Although some surgeons felt offended (20 percent) when asked if they would want a surgeon operating on them to use a checklist , a whopping 95 percent said “yes”.

Friction works. It gives credibility. It can guide and steer people to positive outcomes. There is a real human nature element. O”Reilly looks back at books published in the 40s and 50s…Madison Avenue. He says the more things change, the faster it happens, but the study of the aspects of desires in man never change. These are fundamental traits of our species. Terry closes with the quote, “Friction is the secret ingredient to life” and Mary Poppins was wrong when she said a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, a spoonful of sand might make it go down quicker.

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