Take five minutes to watch this three minute video by Ze Frank. It’s pretty dense and I didn’t get it the first time through, but it has some of the best insights to marketing I’ve heard.
We humans are associative creatures. We’re pattern-matching fiends. It’s how we can quickly find our friends in a crowd, why we think calves are cute, and why we search for patterns in static. Pattern matching is what our brains do.
But those are just visual examples. Our brains also match patterns with experiences. For example, many people take up smoking because they’re hanging out with good friends who smoke, and they associate smoking with friendship and good times. In other words, smoking has been branded with friendship and good times.
Some of these associations (or “emotional aftertastes”) are inbuilt (afraid for safety = bad), others are discovered (I like strawberries), and all have a dramatic effect on the decisions we make.
This brings us to the single most important marketing lesson I’ve learned:
People want to be happy.
And by “happy” we can also say “not frustrated.” It’s why we have customer service. It’s why we switched to Google Maps. People will choose the path of most happy and least frustrating every time.
Someone was once making the case to me that popups and the “smack the monkey” ads of the Myspace age were effective because they received high click-through rates. I argued that they were damaging because they branded the company as irritating. Branding yourself with “happy and not frustrating” is extremely valuable. It’s why Apple can afford sell 52 hours of one-on-one training for $1.90/hr.1 They lose money up front, but they more than make it up in the long term with the strong brand loyalty it brings.2
1 Apple’s One-to-One program costs $99 for a year of personal training.
2 In this example, Safeway takes the opposite approach and decides to make more money up front at the cost of their brand equity.