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March 1, 2010

News & Opinion: We're Fascinated with Sally Hogshead

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 4:32 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Sally Hogshead has written a book that's curious, entertaining, and incredibly helpful. It's called, Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. It's the kind of book that makes you feel a bit smarter about the world around you. It helps you think differently about why you pay attention to the things you do, how you can create more interest about yourself and your work. The stories within are some of the best I've read in awhile. Jaegermeister, anyone?

Speaking of which, Sally also contributed a manifesto to our newly face-lifted ChangeThis.com. But before you go heading off in all sorts of other directions, check out the Q&A I did with her below. It reveals a lot of what the book is about, and the focus and intellect with which Ms. Hogshead looks at her research.

On the surface, Fascinate appears to be a marketing book, but it turns out to address a lot of deeper human nature issues. How can individuals best apply some of this knowledge to their professional lives?

Every day, you’re “marketing” your ideas and opinions to the world. Whether you’re a salesperson pitching a new client, or a law professor standing at the front of a lecture hall, or a mother trying to get your kids to eat more vegetables, you’re marketing a message with the intention of eliciting a response.

All of us can tap into the smartest branding insights to improve our lives. We can learn from the $620 billion trial-and-error of brands as they struggle to communicate above the din of competing messages. Marketing is simply a metaphor for communication in the modern world.


How do the "seven triggers" of fascination get mixed up by people? If we're already actually using them, how come they don't just work best naturally?

Every day, intentionally or not, you’re naturally using 7 instinctive “fascination triggers” to persuade people. You have seven potential fascination triggers:

MYSTIQUE
Why we’re intrigued by unanswered questions

LUST
Why we’re seduced by the anticipation of pleasure

ALARM
Why we take action at the threat of negative consequences

POWER
Why we focus on people and things that control us

VICE
Why we’re tempted by “forbidden fruit”

PRESTIGE
Why we fixate on rank and respect

TRUST
Why we’re loyal to reliable options

Each trigger has a different purpose, and leads to a different type of response. For instance, if you trigger mystique, you’ll make people curious to learn more about your message. With alarm, you compel others to behave more urgently. Lust will draw people closer to you, binding them with warmth and humanity. By triggering vice, your message will tempt others to bend the rules or try new options.

The more accurately you identify your triggers, and the more intelligently you hone them, the more influential your message becomes.

In a general sense, what's not fascinating, and what can be done about it?

There’s a lot of really, really boring stuff in the world: Dust bunnies. Tax forms. Instant oatmeal. Watching grass grow, pots boil, and paint dry. In comparison to, say, chocolate or music, these things seem almost impossible to make fascinating. Yet anything, and anyone, can become fascinating... if it triggers a response.

Triggers give meaning to otherwise meaningless things. (Case in point: the MP3 wasn’t all that fascinating until the iPod triggered lust.)

Many people don’t think of their company, or their own personality, as inherently “fascinating.” Many believe they could never become fascinating. Yet anything, and anyone, can become fascinating... if you can give it meaning.

(And really, that’s the power of branding: to make the un-fascinating, fascinating.)

We all have triggers that turn otherwise ordinary objects into fascinations: Our flirtations, hobbies, pet peeves, favorite foods. We all obsess about certain possessions, or symbols, or habits, or relationships that might be totally unfascinating to someone else.

When a consumer buys a certain brand, they’re often not paying for the utility of the item. What they’re actually buying is the trigger. The strongest brands create triggers around things that would otherwise be meaningless. Even fungible or parity products become more valuable by adding a little meaning: Morton’s salt, Chiquita bananas, Dasani water. These brands apply different triggers, but they all apply the same principles.

In fact, all of our decisions are driven by fascination: The movies we see, the cereal we buy, the opinions we believe, the jokes that make us laugh, and the person with whom we fall in (and out of) love. The most fascinating option wins.

Power seems like one of the more riskier triggers. How can companies best manage using this one?

No matter where you rank on the pecking order, no matter your age or gender, no matter your continent or political view, power fascinates you. It’s a response as involuntary as it is primal.

Powerful companies, like powerful people, share an ability to both make decisions and influence decisions. If you effectively trigger power, you’ll control the environment (any environment, from the workplace to the marketplace). Companies that trigger power carry an unusually high degree of influence and control. Consumers will defer to your opinion. will defer to you and your message.

Like all seven triggers, power lives on a spectrum, ranging from delicate suggestion to crushing force. A meter maid uses a slight form of power, whereas a hijacker on a plane uses the same trigger to its maximum level. Gandhi persuaded differently than Genghis Khan, yet both commanded the multitudes. Used in the extreme, power can unjustly intimidate or persecute. But in positive circumstances, power can motivate others to rise to their best. This trigger strengthens your reputation and earns respect.

Power might be a riskier trigger, yes. It’s one of the three most polarizing triggers along with alarm and vice. Yet in a competitive environment, the most powerful message often wins. Some of the most influential people are also the most polarizing: the rock stars, the lighting rods, the challengers.

A watered-down message might not offend anyone, but it's less likely to inspire action or change opinions. If a leader can’t trigger enough power, she can’t sell an idea internally, or get shareholders excited, or get innovative initiatives through.

How to use power? Take an alpha stance. Don’t apologize or ask permission. Offer rewards for specific behavior, and don’t be afraid to impose consequence, because when people covet a reward, even a small one, they become fascinated by the prospect of attaining it.

Trust is another great part of the book. It's maybe easier to think of vice, power, and prestige as fascinating, but how can trust (in people and companies) be fascinating?

Trusted message feel comfortable and safe. They making consumers feel more secure, binding them more closely to you. The trust trigger explains loyalty. It also explains why a product can succeed not because it’s the highest-quality option, but because it’s the most familiar.

We’re living in an overwhelming, overcaffeinated ADD world. We have to deal with fragmented schedules, competing demands, and priorities pulling our attention in different directions. Even our relationships change more frequently, making everyday life feel more scattered. Continuity makes us feel secure.

Neurochemically, there’s a lot going on with the trust trigger. Our brains look for patterns, and when we recognize them, we use these patterns to map everything we see, hear, and experience in order to establish an expectation for the future. As our strongest pillar in relationships, it’s critical to understand how to win trust in the battle for attention.

How to establish and enhance trust?
• Become familiar
• Repeat and retell your story
• Be authentic.

We’re bombarded with stimulus throughout the day, and we have to make choices on which things we focus our limited mental energy upon. We focus on those things that fascinate us with meaning. Triggers apply meaning, and the more meaning, the more fascination. Someone else’s dog might be invisible to you, whereas our own dog is fascinating, because our dog triggers emotions and meaning. Products work the same way: triggers create meaning.

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Sound interesting? Do check out the book. And also, be sure to take her Fascination Score test to learn which triggers you are using to persuade and captivate.


About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.