I was writing about diversity from a gender perspective when I had an attack of writer’s block. I wanted to write about neurodiversity in the work place. But as I was researching on the topic I realised how little I knew and how vast the subject was. I started with a certificate course on understanding ADHD, a subject very close to our family.

Then my friend and marketing community member, Advit Sahdev mentioned something called Internal Family Systems as a way of understanding our coping mechanisms and maladaptive behaviours. That was fascinating! I’m now signed up for a course on that too. I had to find time to feed my new interest and the newsletter was a casualty. I’d say I went down a rabbit hole but since it was so engaging and useful that’s not a good description.

Should I eat that cake?

Let’s say I open the fridge to take out a fruit. The green Christmas cake from last weekend’s party shouts at me to eat it instead. There is a voice in my head that says that it would be a very bad choice. Another one suggests that I deserve it because I’m going to write the newsletter today. It would be great if another voice piped up that maybe I eat the cake AFTER I’ve worked out later in the day. Sometimes there’s a voice that suggests that I should just leave the house and run to office where I won’t see the cake. Each of these “voices” is trying to support me and keep me happy, but some are better choices than others. The drivers could be to prevent anxiety, prevent boredom, getting the newsletter written.They’re different coping mechanisms. An extreme situation could be one where one voice suggests that the cake would make me feel happy while I ate it and another voice suggests that I should puke it out immediately to protect my health. If I do both, it would become a problem soon enough.

Writer’s block is a mental block:

Back to the newsletter. A writer’s block is my brain telling me that I have nothing worthwhile to write about. And that I should just stay in the rabbit hole which is way more exciting. Listen to it often enough and soon the newsletter won’t exist. Because a 12 year old habit would be broken. One that actually gives me a lot of joy and helps me learn. Luckily I’m able to take control of myself and plunge back into the newsletter.

The many voices in our head:

I was chatting about this with a friend from the marketing fraternity, Advit Sahdev, and we realised that great salespeople intuitively address the many voices competing in our head.
  • “Buy this to reduce your anxiety”.
  • “Buy this to address your boredom with your job.”
  • “Marie Kondo your wardrobe to exercise control over one part of your life.”
  • “Sign up for Headspace to buy calm. Or just buy Calm, the app, instead!.”
  • “This transformation program will keep you indispensable for years.”
  • “Eat the “low-fat” version – you can have your cake and eat it too.”

Marketers are evil. No. Ok, not always!

Companies like Meta and Google do this too – that’s why their algorithms are so good. They pick up on your foibles and inner fears and coping mechanisms based on your content consumption patterns and then apply that to tell you what to read next. They also sell some version of this data to marketers who can also now – if they understand how the mind works – manipulate your behaviour. I’m sorry I used the word manipulate but it really is kind of crafty to do this.

The word I first thought of using is evil. But then all coping mechanisms address a need and where there’s a need or even a latent need a business will arrive sooner or later. The product serves a human purpose. The dubiousness arises when the business does its best to “hook” you to their solution without exploring any other coping mechanism. Netflix proudly competes with “sleep”. YouTube appears to be winning that battle right now, at least amongst teens, as per this study. Is it ok to compete with sleep?

And here’s another one – the Mercedes India’s CEO Santosh Iyer said that systematic investment plans (SIPs) are the biggest competitor to luxury cars. He got a lot of flak for that but factually it is true – you can either save or splash out on a car. Both address different needs though. Buying a car might reassure you that you have “arrived”, that the hard work is paying off, and that you have finally overcome your scarcity syndrome. Saving might protect you from a miserable old age or it might just make your life very boring depending on how much disposable income you have.  And that’s the nuance – is buying the car always a bad choice at a holistic level?

But luxury serves a need too

Personally my first fancy car gave me a lot of joy and was a sign of moving up Maslow’s hierarchy. And I don’t regret the choice. But I had sufficient disposable income to meet both my savings goals AND buy the car outright. This is where the micro-targeting comes in – will Merc target people in this bucket or those who are in a rush to arrive and are willing to sacrifice financial safety for short term esteem?

All around the world you see billboards advertising property that will show that you have “arrived”. This talks to the voice in your head that says “you deserve it” while silencing the one that says “not yet”. As marketers and business owners we get to choose the foibles we address. Nor is it simplistic – sometimes that possession can change the inner dynamics and provide a holistic benefit to the customer. Headspace actively markets and sells its app, but using that app can provide a mental health benefit. Netflix addresses anxiety and loneliness. Mercedes signals success and, because you attract what you are and not what you want to be, might actually increase your probability of success and belonging.

Years ago I suffered guilt marketing a 50p sachet of branded tea when unbranded tea was half the price. This was to people who had to reuse this sachet because they couldn’t afford fresh tea every day. But then when I did my market visit I heard that this branded tea, first thing in the morning, was their little luxury for the day. They felt good that they could afford branded tea, and slightly superior to those neighbours who couldn’t.  It was a 50p boost of esteem in a very dreary life.

How to be a better person. And marketer.

More and more fine-tuned data is available. Sensors that track your blood sugar are already mainstream. Imagine being able to target you with a food ad when your sugar levels or low? Or in real time ping you with gym membership when it is high? Even as it is a powerful tool for the user to determine their food choices, it is valuable data in the hands of a marketers.

I’ve always been fascinated with consumer behaviour as a subject. It is the foundation for good marketing. I’d now like to go a step further and suggest that marketers study psychology deeply. It will not just make you a better marketer, but also increase your knowledge of yourself.

I hope you found today’s newsletter interesting.

I’m glad I could get it out there.

And now, I’ve really earned that cake 🙂



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