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I Applaud Starbucks

This week, May 29 to be exact, Starbucks will close 8,000 of its stores to conduct racial bias training for 175,000 employees. I applaud Starbucks for this move. This is in response to the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The incident came about after they asked to use the bathroom while they were waiting on a business associate. They were refused and told bathrooms were for paying customers only. Because they would not leave the police were called.

Closing their stores might cost Starbucks $16.7 million in sales. That’s not their only expense because they’ll be paying all 175,000 employees and whatever the cost of the training that’s being developed by several individuals and entities. I think that’s called putting your money where your mouth is. In other words, Starbucks is taking this very seriously.

Will it work? That depends on how you define success. You see, there are several problems with any approach to the issue of racial bias.

All it takes is One Bad Apple

With 175,000 employees there are bound to be some bad apples. I’d venture to say there will be a lot of bad apples in that big an employee pool. Despite many good things Starbucks has done to help communities and embrace diversity it only takes one incident to damage their reputation. Despite all the negative press, not long after the incident in Philadelphia a Latino man in Los Angeles said his Starbucks cup had a racial slur written on it.

What if someone who is overtly racist gets a job at Starbucks just to commit a racist act to intentionally harm the company? What if a genuinely decent person unknowingly says or does something to offend someone? What if someone just has a bad day and says or does something they’ve never said or done before? With so many people in such a large organization we’re fooling ourselves if we think such things won’t happen in the future.

Behavior Change is Hard

As someone who’s been involved in training for about 25 years I can tell you a half day of training isn’t likely to make a big change in behavior. It may produce a small, immediate bump but without ongoing conversations, coaching and continual reminders most of what is taught will fade from memory rather quickly.

There’s something known as the Forgetting Curve based on Ebbinghaus Theory which basically says we will forget most of what we learn without constant reminders and practice. If you doubt that I challenge you to recall much, if anything, from some of your high school or college classes. You may have spent three days a week for 16 weeks in some of those classes and probably can’t recall a thing!

What’s Implicit Bias?

According to the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Did you catch the “unconscious manner” part at the end? A big part of the racism problem is people don’t believe they’re racist. They are but they’re unaware of it. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I’m the least racist person you’ll ever meet,” or “I don’t see color.” Yea right.

I wrote a blog post years ago about this issue and called it I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist. I’ll leave it to you to read the post but suffice it to say we all harbor attitudes which, if surfaced, might surprise us. Nobody is immune. Even people who spend the better part of their lives fighting racism sometimes engage in racist behaviors. Two examples would be Melissa Harris-Perry and more recently Joy Reid.

And consider this; many acceptable things people say and do today might be considered racist 50 or 100 years from now because societal norms change.

As I shared in the opening, I applaud Starbucks. They’re trying and they’re putting their money where their mouth is. If we collectively stop doing business with every organization that has someone do something racially insensitive we won’t have anywhere to shop. My personal opinion is this; we need to call out racism when we encounter it. Once we’ve done that we need to react more to the way a business handles the incident than the fact that it occurred.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Does Branding Really Influence Behavior?

I think you’d agree that we live in an information-overloaded society. What you may not be aware of is the extent of the overload.

William C. Taylor wrote an article – “Permission Marketing” – for the magazine Fast Company and told readers, “This year, the average consumer will see or hear one million marketing messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day.” When I share that quote with audiences they’re astounded. When I tell them the quote is now 17 years old they’re blown away! That’s right, the estimate in 1998 was that you were bombarded with about 3,000 marketing messages each day. More recently a New York Times article – “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad” – put the number at 5,000 a day!

With so much information assaulting our senses each day it begs the question, does branding really influence behavior? You might be surprised that it does in a big way.

I recently read Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing by Roger Dooley and was particularly interested in the brain science on the age old Coke versus Pepsi debate. Many times over, in blind taste tests people preferred Pepsi…even Coke drinkers quite often preferred Pepsi. However, when people knew which brand they were drinking that changed. Dooley wrote:

“When the subjects saw which brand they were drinking, though, nearly all of the subjects said they preferred Coke. Significantly, the subjects’ brain activity changed as well.”

Did you catch that last sentence? They didn’t just say they preferred Coke, their brains actually preferred it! What we think about brands actually changes how we experience the product or service! Here are a few examples of incredibly strong brands:

  • Southwest Airlines – Despite the “cattle call” for seating, people love to be “free to roam about the country.” Passengers’ passion has resulted in 42 consecutive years ofprofitability for Southwest in an industry that’s struggled mightily to achieve profits.
  • Apple – Apple consumers are religious in their zeal for the brand making it the most profitable company in the world in 2014. Other phones may have better features at times but it’s nearly impossible to get Apple lovers to make a switch.
  • Harley Davidson – If people are willing to tattoo your company logo on their body you know you have a good thing going! I remember hearing someone say, “I can accept the fact that someday I might die and my wife may remarry. What I can’t accept is another man riding my Harley.”
  • Starbucks – The coffee giant transformed coffee drinking and doesn’t even advertise. That’s because their customers do it for them. The familiar Starbucks logo on the cup is all they need to spread the word and you probably see it more than you realize each day.

Of course very few brands have the cache of Coke, Southwest, Apple, Harley Davidson, Starbucks or many other successful brands. But, the science shows that a strong brand impacts people’s brain activity resulting in behavior changes even when people are not aware of it.

So what does this mean for you? You’re probably not competing on the scale of the aforementioned companies but what current and potential customers think of you and your company matters.

Each of us can brand ourselves to a great degree. Here are several ideas based on some things I do.

If you call my office you’ll hear this at the start of my voicemail message – “Wouldn’t you agree that much of your professional success and personal happiness depends on getting others to say ‘yes’ to you? Ask me about The Principles of Persuasion Workshop where you’ll learn to hear ‘yes’ more often.” People ask about the workshop and I’ve had compliments on my voicemail.

My email autosignature always has my branding message at the bottom – Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes.” Again, it’s not uncommon to get a comment but what’s more important is people see the message and even if it doesn’t consciously register it impacts their brain.

I wear shirts with the Influence PEOPLE logo prominently displayed. When people ask about it I have a platform to share what I do. Nobody can sell me better than me and nobody can sell you better than you.

Does it work? Absolutely! Before starting Influence PEOPLE my personal brand was – When it needs to be done well. That was on my email and voicemail and I regularly had people say, or write, “I need something done well so I thought I’d contact you.” When someone repeats your branding slogan back to you it’s working! I’ll never forget the first time I met Gerald Ladner, a State Auto regional vice president at the time. His first words to me as he shook my hand and let out a laugh were, “I have to meet the guy who advertises he’ll do it well!”

Make no mistake; a catchy slogan won’t make up for a poor product or service. However, when the differences between you and a competitor are seemingly small, when people don’t always know why they do what they do, a well-crafted, consistent brand can be the difference in choosing you over the competitor. I encourage you to give it serious thought because as we approach the New Year, there’s no better time to make a change than now.

Sometimes It’s All about What You SAID

I grew up playing football. From the time I was eight years old until I was 18, every year was all about football. Unfortunately I wasn’t naturally big, strong, or fast. As a junior in high school I played outside linebacker at a strapping five foot nine inches tall and weight of 155 lbs., soaking wet.

Then something happened between my junior and senior year. I was taught to lift weights the right way by some power lifters and the difference was amazing! I put on 20 lbs. in just three months and by the time the next season rolled around, I was 30 lbs. heavier than the year before. It made a HUGE difference on the field.

Something my teammates and I were taught during those lifting sessions was the SAID principle. SAID stood for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. What that means in layman’s terms is simply this – you get what you train for. Here are some examples:

  • If you lift heavy weights for low reps you get bigger and much stronger.
  • If you lift lighter weights for higher reps you get a little stronger and more defined (cut).
  • If you practice running in short hard bursts your ability to sprint will get better.
  • If you run at an easy pace for a long time you tend to become a better distance runner.

I think it’s obvious running long slow distances won’t help you get really fast in the 40-yard dash and lifting lighter weights will never make you as big and strong as people who lift massive amounts of weight. You get what you train for.

This philosophy applies to business skills as well. When you work on a particular skill you tend to improve that skill. However, if you don’t work on the skills required in your business you’ll only improve marginally.

For example, walking gives some physical benefit but nothing like running distance or working on sprinting. So why do with think because we use our ears every day we’re getting better at listening? Just because we ask people questions on a daily basis does that necessarily make us good at questioning.

Persuasion is an everyday skill. According to Aristotle persuasion is the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Each of us asks others to do things every day but does that make us good at the skill of persuasion? Having studied the topic for more than a dozen years and working with countless people over that time I can tell you with certainty it doesn’t make you better.

People and companies – some very smart people and very good companies – make basic mistakes routinely. In nearly every case small changes could make big differences. For example take a look at the screen shot from my Starbucks app. Notice anything?

 In psychology there’s something we call the contrast phenomenon. What you experience first will impact what you experience next. When Starbucks puts “No Tip” first then $0.50 they make $1.00 and $2.00 seem much bigger by comparison. I have no doubt if they reversed the order the average tip would be much higher because after debating about the $2.00 tip, $1.00 doesn’t seem like too much. Not everyone will give more but enough will that baristas would do much better after giving their friendly service.

I’ve seen this same mistake made by organizations raising money via donations. Starting with $5 on the donation form then going to $10, $25, $50, etc., will never be as effective as starting with the highest number then going lower.

I could share many more examples but I think you get the picture. As I stated in the opening, doing something routinely doesn’t necessarily make you better at it. Taking time to focus on a skill to get better at it, like a golfer who practices consistently, will help you improve much faster and more efficiently. This is why everyone should take time to learn about the psychology of persuasion. Doing so will help your professional success and personal happiness. Did you hear what I SAID?

 

5 Reasons Why Starbucks is so Persuasive

 

What better place to write this post than sitting in Starbucks on a beautiful spring day. The smooth jazz is playing as the barista and others hustle behind the counter helping a diverse group of people who pop in and out for their daily fix. Of course, there’s also the smell of roasted coffee beans in the air. All the senses are engaged when you visit a Starbucks.

Coffee has gone from the Maxwell House and Folgers morning drink to something we enjoy 24 hours a day. That shift is due in large part to Starbucks. It’s amazing when you think about it because you don’t see Starbucks commercials on television and you don’t hear them on the radio. You won’t see them on billboards or magazines either. So how does a company do what Starbucks has done with no advertising? Here are my thoughts on why Starbucks is so persuasive.
Reason #1 – They create an experience when you walk into a store. Reread my opening paragraph and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no mistaking it; you know when you’re in a Starbucks. Oh sure, you can get good coffee at Panera, Cup ‘O Joe, McDonalds (or so they say) and other places but none of them feels cool like Starbucks. It’s enjoyable to sit and take it all in as you enjoy your favorite caffeinated drink. This differentiation is the principle of scarcity at work. You can’t get this feeling anywhere else.Not only is the service great inside, it’s excellent at the drive-through as my friend and LinkedIn guru Bob McIntosh points out his post Want Great Customer Service, Go to Starbucks.

Reason #2 – The baristas and others who work here really seem to enjoy their jobs and I don’t think it’s because they’re hyped up on caffeine. I’m not familiar with Starbucks’ hiring process but the company knows what it wants in an employee and does a great job hiring the right people. That’s a huge part of the Starbucks brand. When you walk in you’re greeted by multiple people asking how your day is going. They engage you in a way that makes you like them and as we all know, people like to do business with people they like. That’s the principle of liking and it makes you want to come back again and again.
Reason #3 – Something that stands out about Starbucks is how easily recognizable its cups are. It’s amazing how many times you see them when you’re out and about. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the airport, at the mall, out for a walk in the park or anyplace else. That’s Starbucks’ advertising – me, you and everyone else walking around with a Starbucks in hand! The more we see people with their Starbucks, the more it signals to us that it’s a great product. The principle of consensus tells us people look to others to get a sense of what’s appropriate behavior. Which would you assume is the better restaurant, the one with lots of empty tables or the one with a wait? Most people would assume the latter and so it is with Starbucks.
Reason #4 – Have you tried the Starbucks app? I think it’s one of the best apps available for your smart phone. You can put in your favorite drink so when you visit you hold the app up to the scanner and the barista knows exactly what you want. It has a store locator, which is great if you travel a lot like I do. You even get free songs from iTunes almost weekly, which is cool because it exposes me to music I probably wouldn’t go look for, or want to buy. This giving engages the principle of reciprocity, making us more likely to return the favor, so to speak, by purchasing coffee.
Reason #5 – But the smartest move Starbucks made with their app is the ability to load it with cash so you can pay by phone. It works just like having a gift card except you don’t need the gift card because you pay with the phone. The brilliance is once you’ve loaded the app you don’t feel like you’re actually spending money when you buy your coffee! After all, if I have $25 or $50 on my app I’ll go out of my way to use it versus perhaps stopping by some other coffee shop where I have to “pay.”
And think about this; it’s much easier for consumers to make a few, larger purchases by reloading the app occasionally as opposed to constantly pulling $5 or $10 out to pay each time you stop by a store. In other words, Starbucks has removed the pain of paying.
Is Starbucks for everyone? Of course not, but there’s no denying the company is an incredible success and that’s not by accident. Starbucks is very intentional in its attempts to persuade us to get our fix at one of its local establishments and I’d say it’s doing an amazing job.

Brian, CMCT®
influencepeople 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.