Transcript of Changing Minds in Sales, Marketing, and Business
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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Zephyr CMS. It’s a modern cloud based CMS system that’s licensed only to agencies. You can find them at zephyrcms.com, more about this later in the show.
John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jonah Berger. He’s a professor, professional professor I suppose at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and he’s an expert on things like word of mouth and viral marketing and social influence and he’s also the author of several books. We’re going to talk about his newest one, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind. Welcome Jonah.
Jonah Berger: Thanks for having me back.
John Jantsch: So before we get into talking about the book, I do want to compliment you on the palette of colors on your covers. They’re all very neatly tied together. If we had them together right now, people would see yellow for the new book, kind of an aqua and then an orange and they all just really fit together as a set.
Jonah Berger: That’s my goal, [inaudible 00:01:16] you want to collect all three, you want to have them as a reference next to your desk.
John Jantsch: That’s awesome. So I have heard you called a world renowned expert on change and I just wonder what’s the training for that?
Jonah Berger: You know, I’ve spent over 20 years doing research on the science of change, whether we think about changes as persuasion, whether we think about change as social influence, everything from a PhD in marketing in this general area to hundreds of studies that we’ve conducted in the space. So I don’t know if world renowned is exactly right, but hopefully it’s at least close.
John Jantsch: So before we get into kind of the framework and what the book is really, kind of breaking the book down in chunks, what would be the scope of the application? I mean, people need to change bad habits. There needs to be culture change at large organizations. Are you prepared to say this kind of works regardless of the scope?
Jonah Berger: I would say it’s more focused on others than the self, though, certainly you can apply some of the ideas to the self. I think the quick story behind this book is I’m an academic, so I’ve taught at the Wharton School for 13 years now, a number of years ago, came out with this book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, had worked with companies before then, but, nowhere close to the scope of what happened afterwards. And so I’ve gotten the chance to work with large fortune five hundreds from the Googles and the Nike’s and the Apples to small startups and mid size companies and B2B and B2C, dry cleaners, everything, every business you can imagine. And I really learned a lot about what businesses are wrestling with. And I realized that everyone in some level had something they wanted to change.
Jonah Berger: So the sales people want to change client’s mind and marketing wants to change consumer behavior. Leaders want to transform organizations. Employees want to change their boss’s mind. Yet change is really hard. Whichever of those things we’re trying to change, we often have tried a number of times and we’ve often failed. And so what I started to wonder is could there be a better way? And so, in the last few years, both on the research front as well as on the consulting side, spent a lot of time trying to figure out, okay, could there be a better way to change minds and organizations, might there be a more effective approach? And if so, how can we codify that approach and how people apply it?
John Jantsch: Okay. So before we get into that approach, and I was going to say, I was basically going to ask you why is change so hard? You just kind of stole my thunder there and said change is hard.
Jonah Berger: Oh, sorry.
John Jantsch: No, but really, I’m sure in your research, a lot of what you discovered is why it’s so hard. What are some of the reasons that people resist change so much?
Jonah Berger: Yeah, I mean I think at its core, often when we try to change something, whether it’s a person’s mind, whether it’s organization, whenever it is, we default to some version of what I’ll call pushing. So we send more emails, we provide more information. We give more reasons. We think if we just explain why something is a good idea, why we want people to do something, they’ll come along and that intuition makes a lot of sense. Implicitly it comes from the physical world, right? When you have a chair, whether it’s at home or at your office and you want to move that chair, pushing that chair is a great way to go, right? Provide more compulsion, more pushing in one direction, why people should do something in particular and that chair will move in that direction. There’s only one problem. People aren’t like chairs.
Jonah Berger: When you push people, they don’t just go, they tend to push back. When you push them in one direction, they don’t just listen. They tend to think about all the reasons why what you’re suggesting is wrong and they tend to sometimes even go in the opposite direction. And so what I soon realized is that successful change agents don’t think about why someone might change but what they could do to get someone to change. They ask a very slightly but importantly different question, which is why hasn’t that person changed already? What are the barriers or the obstacles that are in their way and how can I mitigate them? I think a good analogy, if you think about getting in a car, so you’ve parked on an incline, you’re getting in your car, you stick your key in the ignition, you put your seatbelt in, you step your foot on the gas, you’re ready to go.
Jonah Berger: If the car doesn’t go, we often just think we need more gas, right? If I just press on that gas pedal a little more, the car will move. But sometimes we just need to depress that parking brake. Sometimes we just need to get rid of the stuff that’s in the way that’s preventing change from happening and mitigate it. And so that’s what the book is all about. It talks about the five key or common parking brakes or barriers, obstacles that prevent change. And how by mitigating those obstacles, removing those obstacles, we can make change more likely.
John Jantsch: So let’s talk about, and I do want you… You’ve even got a nice acronym, so we definitely want to unpack the framework, but there’s, again, I want to keep drilling on this where maybe people get it wrong. I know early in my career, I mean everybody sells. It doesn’t matter what your title is at some point you’re selling. And I remember I used to really make the mistake, took me a long time to learn this, I used to really make the mistake of saying, Oh, well this is their problem, clearly, and going and telling them what they were doing wrong. I learned pretty quickly, that was a great way to get a lot of resistance.
Jonah Berger: Yeah.
John Jantsch: Even if I was right.
Jonah Berger: Yes.
John Jantsch: In your research, is that one of the kind of common mistakes that, be they salespeople or anybody trying to change somebody’s mind makes?
Jonah Berger: Yeah, I think what you’re pointing out is to get someone to change, we really have to understand them and that’s often hard for us, even our personal lives, right? As you were talking, this happens in our personal lives all the time, right? We think we know what’s best for someone. We think we know why someone’s doing something. We make a suggestion, but we don’t actually understand the core, the core reason. I talk about this a lot is finding the root. So I think about this. I don’t have a large yard, but I have a large enough yard that I have to weed and often when we want to get rid of weeds, we do the same thing when we’re trying to sell, which is we just do the quickest approach, right? We just rip the top off that weed and we move on to the next one.
Jonah Berger: We want to convince 10 people, we want to as quickly as possible, convince the first and move on to the next. But the problem is if we don’t understand the core, that underlying issue, and if we don’t find the root cause of what the problem is, it’s going to be really hard to get that person to change or get rid of that weed. Weed is just going to grow back. And so we really have to spend more time getting outside of ourselves, understanding that person, where they are in that journey, whether it’s a customer journey, employee journey, whatever it might be, where they are in that decision making process, what stage they’re at, what the barriers are that are preventing them from doing what we want them to, and then figure out how to mitigate them. Someone said it very nicely, we need to stop selling and get people to buy in. And I think that’s a really nice way of articulating it. Right? Stop thinking about what we want. Think more about what they want and it’ll make it more likely that they can persuade themselves.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And on the flip side of that, I guess, where I’ve felt like I’ve had my most success in getting somebody to change is to actually get them to see how much it’s costing them, not to change.
Jonah Berger: Oh, yes.
John Jantsch: Or if we did achieve this result it would be worth like 10 times what the investment is and so I’d be silly not to change. I mean that, getting that kind of, I guess what you just called buy-in is really important, isn’t it?
Jonah Berger: Yeah. I mean one of the chapters talks about this idea of the endowment effect, which is basically we value things we’re doing already more than things we’re not, which is great for the status quo, right? We value the status quo highly. The project we’re doing, the client we’re using, the software we have already, we know it and even though it has problems, we like what we have already. The problem is we’ve got to get people to switch to something new and they think that sticking with the old thing is costless. People talk a lot about switching and costs, right? The time, money, effort or energy to get people to switch. When you buy a new phone, for example, it costs you money. You install a new software package it requires time and effort to get it to work without all the other systems.
Jonah Berger: As a leader you try to get people to be more innovative. Well that’s costly. They have to change their practices of what they’re doing, but it’s particularly challenging because they’re attached to that old way of doing things and they think the old way is fine. Essentially we think, okay, we just keep doing what we’re doing. It has no cost. But often the status quo is not as costless as it seems. And so what that chapter talks a lot about is how do we make people realize that doing nothing actually isn’t costless. There’s a cost to doing nothing and it’s more expensive as you articulated than people might actually think.
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John Jantsch: So what role does choice play in getting people to change their mind? So in other words, give people 10 choices so that they can pick the one they want, because we all want options. I’ve learned at least over the years that actually causes paralysis.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. So the first chapter in the book, the first content chapter, the first letter in the framework, is an R for reactance. And I’ll briefly talk about reactance and then I’ll go to answer your question about choice. To understand why choice happens, it is important, we need to understand reactants. That’s basically what we talked about before where when we push people, people push back and in a sense people have an almost innate anti-persuasion radar, just like an antimissile defense system. When we detect incoming projectile, the boss is trying to convince us, a client’s trying to convince us, a salesperson is trying to convince us. Whenever we feel someone’s trying to convince us, we put our defenses up. We either ignore the message, we avoid listening to it in the first place or even worse, we counter argue, right?
Jonah Berger: People often talk about this, you pitch something, someone’s not just sitting there, they’re sitting there thinking about all the reasons why you’re wrong, why what you’re suggesting is a bad thing to do. And so whether we’re a boss and trying to get an organization to change, or get people to change or whether they’re a consultant or a sales person or a marketing person trying to get a client to change, we need to think about how we avoid that anti-persuasion radar. And in a sense, part of the problem is people like to feel like they have choice, freedom and autonomy. I like to feel like I’m the one driving what’s happening in my life. Why did I decide to take this particular job? Because I like this job. Why did I decide to buy this particular product or service? Because I felt it’s the best product or service.
Jonah Berger: But if someone else is also trying to convince me to do it, it’s not clear whether I did it because I like it, I’m in that driver’s seat or someone else likes it and they are in the driver’s seat. And so because of that, people push back. So one way to deal with that is to provide a choice but a certain type of choice. And that’s where I think it gets to your initial question. So think about a meeting, right? We’re trying to pitch somebody on something in particular. If we give them one option, they often sit there and think about all the reasons why that option is wrong. So if we’re a leader, for example, we’re trying to change organizational culture. We have an all hands meeting, we say, Hey guys, we need to do this. This is how we’re going to behave moving forward.
Jonah Berger: The challenge, everyone’s sitting there going, God, how are we going to implement this? Is it actually going to work? It’s going to be super expensive. How’s it going to affect my compensation? I was working with a midsize real estate firm, was dealing with the lack of this or changing the way they do business, but everyone’s worried about their compensation. So they’re sitting there going, what’s in it for me? And so rather than think about all the upsides of the change, I think about all the reasons why it doesn’t work. And so what smart leaders and smart catalysts do in this situation is they don’t just give people one option. They give people multiple. Rather than giving people one choice, they give them at least two. And what it does, it subtly shifts the role of the listener.
Jonah Berger: Because rather than sitting there thinking about all the reasons wrong with what’s being suggested, now they’re sitting there going, which of these two or three things do I like better? Which is the best for me? And because they’re focused on which is the best for them, they’re much more likely to go along at the end. It’s guided choice in a sense. And you’re very right, it’s not infinite choice. It’s not 50 options, it’s not 40 options, it’s not 30 options. It’s two, three, may be four, enough to give people freedom. It’s choice but with you choosing the choice set. You’re choosing a limited set, a guided set of choices among which people are choosing from. They get to feel they participated, they feel like they had some freedom and autonomy. But you’re shaping that journey along the way.
John Jantsch: So I should let you, at this point I bet you’ve mentioned several of the elements. I should kind of allow you to talk about the framework itself and how you would, as you mentioned, codify helping people make change.
Jonah Berger: Oh yeah, sure and we’re not going to have time to cover all five, so it’s no problem. But the book talks about the five main barriers or five main obstacles to change. Whether you’re trying to change minds, organizations or whatever it might be. The five fit into a framework. It’s reactance is the first one we talked a little bit about. Endowment is the second. Distance is the third. Uncertainty is the fourth. Corroborating evidence is the fifth. Take those five things together, they spell the word reduce, which exactly what good catalysts do, right? They don’t add temperature, they don’t add pressure, they don’t push harder, they don’t add more reasons. They’ve reduced the barriers or those obstacles to change. And so the book is all about what each of these obstacles is. What’s the science behind it, why is it such a prevalent obstacle, and then what are some ways that we can mitigate it.
John Jantsch: So we’ve talked, I feel like we’ve talked probably about reactance quite a bit. So you want to maybe just go down the chain and talk a little bit about endowment?
Jonah Berger: Sure, yeah. I’ll talk about whichever one seems the best fit, but happy to talk about endowment. The idea of endowment, and I alluded to this a little bit already, we tend to be very emotionally attached to the status quo, what we’re doing already. Homeowners for example, the longer they’ve lived in their home, the more they value it above market, right? Why? Because they can’t believe that no one would value it as much as they do because they’ve been doing it so long. But there’s lots of very nice experiments that show this in a variety of contexts. Compare something you don’t have already with something that you do have already, and we tend to value that thing we have already more. So if I give you a coffee mug, for example, and I say, Hey, so you don’t have that coffee mug yet, I asked you how much you’d be willing to pay to buy that coffee mug.
Jonah Berger: You assign a value to it. I ask a different set of people, okay, here is this coffee mug. It’s yours. How much would you pay to sell it? Now you think that the buyers and sellers would have the same valuation for that mug. It’s still the same mug, still holds coffee and tea looks exactly the same, but the people that already have it value it more, because for them it’s the status quo. It’s what they’re used to. They’re endowed with it already. And so as leaders, this is really hard because the stuff we’re already doing, people value it more. They know it, it feels safer. The new things feel risky and uncertain. And so it’s really hard to get people to budge off the old ones because they value what they’re doing already.
John Jantsch: What role does social proof play really in change? I see a lot of times people are more convinced by saying, Oh yeah, look at these other people are doing it. Okay, maybe that is a safe choice for me to make because… Is there an element of we don’t trust ourselves unless we get that kind of proof from other people?
Jonah Berger: Yes. Yes, and… I would say yes. We don’t trust ourselves. We also don’t trust the one person that’s trying to convince us. So imagine you walk into the office Monday morning or you’re talking to friend Monday morning and they go, Oh my God, I saw the most amazing television show this weekend. You’d absolutely love it. This is what it is. Okay. You have some information, you know that person likes that show, but you’re trying to figure out a couple things. One, you’re trying to figure out, does that mean the show is good, to say something about the show? Or does it say something about them? And second, what does their endorsement mean for whether I would like it? In some sense you’re looking for proof and there’s a translation problem, right? If one person likes something, it’s hard to know if it says about them or the thing itself. And so often we’re looking for multiple others to provide that source of proof.
John Jantsch: So how much, in your opinion, do these principles apply, say in copywriting? Obviously you’re not sitting across the desk, but you’re trying to make change. Is there sort of a path that you need to walk down or that you could potentially walk down say in a document?
Jonah Berger: Oh, certainly. I think a lot of the examples in the book are ones about people talking to others, but many are also about written language. Even something when we’re dealing with reactants, for example, asking questions rather than making statements, right? So as soon as we make statements, that radar goes up, right? People are counter-arguing with those statements. Instead, good change agents often ask questions. Think about in a health context, for example, rather than telling people, Hey, smoking is bad. Ask people a question. What’s the consequence of smoking for your health? Right? A great leader did this, this wasn’t in copywriting, but I was in a meeting, obviously leaders want to get their employees to work harder. Guy was trying, it was working. It wasn’t really working. When the boss says work harder, everyone says, ah, no thanks. So instead what he did in the meeting and said, Hey, what type of organization do we want to be?
Jonah Berger: Do we want to be a good organization or great organization? Now obviously we know how everyone answers that question. No one goes, we want to be an okay organization. Everybody goes, Oh, we want to be a great organization. And then he said, okay, well how do we become a great organization? And then what the room has is a conversation about how they get there. But because they’ve participated in that conversation, it’s much harder for them not to commit to the conclusion later on because that conclusion was something they reached on their own. Right? It’s they have stake, they have a stake in the outcome. They have skin in the game. And so in some sense they’re much more likely to go along with it. And so when you think about the same thing in copywriting, not using statements, but asking questions, giving people a chance to experience something themselves, not just providing information and reasons, but by reducing the barriers even in written form as well.
John Jantsch: Yeah, because it’s a bit of a journey, right? I mean you’re almost like going hurdle after hurdle, aren’t you?
Jonah Berger: Yeah. I think the customer journeys are really the important way to think about all this, right? What stage is someone in that journey? Why haven’t they moved to the next stage? Whether it’s a customer, an actual customer, or a customer in quotes, right? An employee can be a customer. They’re just a person who’s a part of a decision making process. Why haven’t they moved to the next stage of that journey? What’s stopping them and how can I mitigate that barrier?
Jonah Berger: I was working with a software firm a few years ago that helps companies find machine parts. So imagine you have a backhoe and it goes out. Something breaks. You got to find a machine part and they’ll help you find that faster and more cheaply. And they realized different customers had different issues, right? Some people didn’t realize they existed. That’s one issue. Other people realized they existed but didn’t think they had a problem. That’s the second issue. Other people realize they had a problem but didn’t realize that this thing would be a good solution or didn’t trust it. That’s a third issue. Other people trusted it, didn’t know if they could afford it. Other people knew they could afford it, but didn’t know how to integrate with the existing system. And so depending on where people are in that journey, we can write down that journey for anyone. What are those barriers, those roadblocks, those hurdles? How can we mitigate them and make it more frictionless to move to that conclusion?
John Jantsch: Well, I tell you the challenge in what I just heard you describing is, how do you get that story? How do you identify all of those challenges? I guess it’s just in objections that you’re getting maybe in sales presentations?
Jonah Berger: I think it’s some of that. I think it’s also collecting information. Even thinking about in sales presentation, asking more questions than just saying things. If you’re a leader of an organization, figuring out, well, how can I figure out what people need and what they’re not getting? Rather than sort of suggesting solutions, start with asking questions. Hey, we want to transform organizational culture, what are you guys worried about, about transforming our organizational culture? What do you think was good about the organization and what things do you think we could work on? Getting people’s buy in before making those decisions makes them much more likely to go along. And so some is, it requires a longer time, right? It certainly requires a bit more effort early on to collect that information, but it makes those transitions much more effective.
John Jantsch: Speaking with Jonah Berger, author of The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind. So Jonah, where can people find out more about your work and obviously the book itself?
Jonah Berger: Yeah, so the book is available wherever books are sold. So Amazon, Barnes and Noble, wherever you like, audio books as well. They can find me on my website. That’s just Jonah, J-O-N-A-H, Berger, B-E-R-G-E-R.com. And I’m also on LinkedIn as well as @j1berger on Twitter.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, Jonah, thanks for stopping by yet again, and hopefully we will run into you soon someday out there on the road.
Jonah Berger: Thanks so much for having me.