We all like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, capable of weighing our decisions and forming our opinions thoughtfully as the need arises… and that we make choices based on the objective merit of the ideas that support one course of action versus another.
The reality is that our minds are like centuries old attics piled to the rafters with antique furniture, family relics, and banker’s boxes…stuffed with so many ill-reasoned biases and outright prejudices that almost nothing new can get in.
The only new ideas that fit are those that can be stuffed neatly inside the junk that’s already there…
Once jammed with decades old prejudices and predilections, growth and learning outside of the already established patterns of thought grinds to a screeching halt.
We may understand the logic of a given argument, but logic makes no difference. The conditioning lurking at the bottom of our subterranean minds oozes up and colors our thinking.
If we strive for self-awareness, sometimes our biases will reveal themselves to us. But being aware of them helps little. We will find a way to rationalize them.
This means we connect naturally with those who share our biases… and tend to reject the ideas of those with whom we struggle to get on the same wavelength with.
Often, our biases impel us to decisions not because they are beneficial, but because they are comfortable.
Going to see this movie, or choosing to listen to this radio show host, or subscribing to this ezine, or deciding to purchase x versus y is a matter of who we perceive ourselves to be. We make choices that fit.
And as persuaders, we may be so wrapped up in your own stuck patterns of pre-thought that we unintentionally trample on the biases of those we wish to persuade.
Or we may mistakenly believe that our arguments can somehow erase prejudice, when in fact they can only align with it, or butt up against it.
It’s not a question of whether or not people are prejudiced. It’s a question of what are their many prejudices…
And just as importantly, what are your prejudices as someone who wants to advance an idea or move a product?
All of us have likes, dislikes, beliefs and values that form such an integral part of our personalities that we have difficulty imagining how anybody else could have an opposing view.
If they do, obviously it’s faulty.
Take politics for example …
- If you’re a conservative, you see yourself as pragmatic, self-reliant, and entrepreneurial. Liberals think you’re just selfish and greedy.
- If you’re a liberal, you value fairness and equality, and pride yourself on your ability to work interdependently with others. Conservatives look down on you as idealistic and weak.
- If you’re a conservative, you probably think things are pretty good as they are, and that it’s up to the individual to make the best of their economic circumstances. Liberals think you are cruel, unrealistic and cold hearted toward those who are less fortunate, and that it’s time for a change.
- If you’re a liberal, you think society should be doing more to help people in need. Conservatives think you are impractical and misguided, maybe even benefiting in some way from the forced redistribution of wealth.
In reading the above, I’m willing to bet your own biases were poked and prodded. You probably have trouble tracing their origin. Yet automatically they color your perception of the world, and the way you interact with it.
Politics may be pure prejudice, but it tells A LOT about how people think and how they will respond. And many markets are lopsided one way or the other…
If you’re selling to the left, your prospects are probably not terribly religious, at least not in the conventional sense. They are probably somewhat sympathetic to the plight of criminals and the homeless, viewing them as victims of social and economic injustice.
If you’re selling to the right, your prospects are more likely go to church or at least consider themselves members of some conventional denomination or another. They probably believe that criminals choose to be criminals and that the homeless have no desire to work.
If you’re selling to the left, your prospects probably believe children should be nurtured and that education should be about learning to ask intelligent questions, developing empathy for others, and cultivating a sense of moral tolerance and diversity.
If you’re selling to the right, they’re trying to instill self-discipline and self-reliance into their children and a will to succeed and compete.
And let’s not forget the roughly 15% of the general population who consider themselves Libertarian (fiscally conservative, and socially liberal).
We all value life and love and truth and justice, but whose life, whose love, which truth, and which justice?
These are the questions you need to be asking yourself when you’re writing a promotion…
You may argue that the left/right dichotomy I have entertained here is an oversimplification. You may be of the opinion that people’s beliefs are infinitely varied, and not even necessarily influenced by politics.
And it’s true that some markets are neutral. But only in so far as they are comprised of relatively equal numbers from each side of the political spectrum. If a market leans significantly one way or the other, there are most certainly prejudices at play.
Most people don’t think original thoughts, preferring to look around them for something to think. And so they tend to cluster around ideologies that are surprisingly black and white.
There’s an old saying: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And it’s true. While a person may or may not adopt the same worldview as their parents, somewhere in their life there is a tree — a gang, a fraternity, a trade union, a professional association, a book. And every tree leans one way or the other.
Examine a few apples hanging from this tree or that, and you know pretty much what the rest of them look like. Take a bite, and you know how they taste. There may be subtle differences here and there, but none of them are likely to taste like a potato.
If you’re selling to high school teachers, find out how they vote. When you know that, you know that while Ms. Abrams might puff on the odd number on the weekend to unwind… she probably doesn’t belong to the Pentecostal church or speak in tongues.
And it’s doubtful she tunes into Limbaugh or Hannity in the teacher’s lounge.
If you’re selling to stock brokers or bankers, you probably already know how they vote.
And that means you also know how they feel about taxes, same sex marriage, immigration, and Rambo.
If you want to know how a libertarian thinks, more or less, read a book by Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman.
And then pattern your language accordingly…
If you’re talking to liberals, appeal to their sense of fairness by telling them it’s not their fault. Conservatives and libertarians value independence, so they don’t mind a little tough love. You can slap them around a little, and they’ll like it.
The enemies you target in your sales stories need careful selection as well. If you’re selling to the left… then bankers, stock brokers, the military, police, corporate fat cats, sales people, advertisers, and conservative politicians are all fair game.
If you’re selling to the right… then you can go after academia, the media, unionists, criminals, tree huggers, and of course, liberal politicians.
And for libertarians, big government is your best villain — left, right, doesn’t matter, whatever the situation calls for.
Whether you deliberately choose to bring up highly charged subjects like politics, religion or sex in your marketing or not, your own biases will slip out if you’re working with a market for any length of time.
If you’re a match, that’s a good thing. It will help you connect. Let it hang out.
If not, you’ve got to be extra vigilant about the reactions you’re likely to create with your words. It makes your job more difficult, kind of like pretending you’re a man if you’re a woman, or vice versa.
But hey, that’s the kind of stuff we do.
Until next time, Good Selling!