Until the morning of July 5, 2011, I had considered myself a good and independent thinker. I tested well in school and earned honors from a challenging college. In the years after I became so captivated by the subject of thinking that during the months while I was writing my most recent book, Unthinking, I created a two-semester college class called Thinking, designed to enhance students’ critical thinking skills.
I thought I thought well.
Then came that morning, July 5. On the previous Saturday, I had walked into my neighborhood Barnes & Noble and was drawn to a sign on a table: The New York Times Notable Books of the Year! I scanned the table and a blue-hued paperback grabbed my eye. It was titled The Wave and featured a massive crashing wave on its cover. The book’s subject–freakishly huge waves–intrigued me because I grew up on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and had surfed in my Beach Boy-influenced youth. The back cover appealed to me, too. The female author shown in a photo looked like a wahine: Tan, blonde, strong cheekbones–fairly bitchen. So I opened Gidget’s book and scanned the several dozen reviews inside.
Those reviews ranged from enthusiastic to rhapsodic. The book sounded Hemingwayesque: The Young Woman and The Sea.
The topic and reviews coaxed me to buy her book. And just before 10 a.m. on that July 5, I decided to Tweet an almost-breathless review of my own. But I couldn’t recall Gidget’s real name, so I ventured on to Amazon to get it.
I found her name, Susan Casey, but an unexpected item below her name caught my attention: Four stars out of a possible five. I felt surprised; that seemed a very low score for an award-winning book. I needed to know:
Why did so many of Amazon’s 176 reviewers not love this book?
To answer my question, I read several of the Amazon two- and three-star reviews. The consensus was that Casey had written a massive personals ad to Laird Hamilton and the several other courageous men/suicidal nincompoops who travel the world trying to ride waves over 50 feet tall. Many reviewers criticized the author’s attempt to weave science into her love letter, and one critic listed her many apparent errors with an authoritative-sounding slicing and dicing. (It became clear that Fluid Dynamics is not a subject I could have passed, but reading Casey’s book comforted me: I learned from it that the physics of freak waves bewilder the expert scientists, too.
So I never wrote that Tweet recommending The Wave. I had decided my initial reaction had been wrong.
I now see that two forces that had been pushing against me, but in opposite directions. The enthusiastic recognition from The New York Times and other respected publications had conditioned me to expect a wonderful book, and so I experienced one. Now, the Amazon reviewers had coaxed me to change my mind about that experience.
I had loved Casey’s book, and now I didn’t.
And so now I wonder: What do my opinions really mean? Do I truly have my own? And does this experience suggest that we don’t truly experience things as they are, but as we believe them to be? And that our perceptions are so susceptible to influence, including from advertising, that reality is mostly in our heads?
This is the power of communication. Marketing messages don’t just influence our decisions to buy. These messages shape our opinions, alter our perceptions, and change our experiences.
They do this to such a degree, in fact, that marketing cannot be separated from the experience. It is integral to it.
What do your customers know? What do any of us know? We know what we think we know–we know mostly what we feel, actually–which is influenced by forces all around us–good reviews, bad reviews, good ads, no ads, intrusive emails, thoughtful sales people. We look for clues everywhere before we decide, Is this wonderful?
But all this carries a message to us. It provides an answer to the question, How can we influence prospects? What’s the answer?
Send wonderful clues.