Persuasion: Art, Science or Pride-free Experimentation?

Marketing challenge: persuading a dog past fresh spring grass.
Marketing challenge: persuading a dog past fresh spring grass.

Beyond my profession as a marketer, I draw on  skills for persuasion daily in my other roles: as a a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sibling, a neighbor, a friend, a volunteer and a pet owner.

An incident yesterday got me thinking about the ingredients of effective persuasion.   When you mix all of the art and science tricks in your repertoire to no avail, how far are you willing to reach to help cajole someone to change their thinking or take a different course of action?

Case in point: persuading a 14 pound dog to run around a 3 mile lake.

No brainer, right? Wrong.

Understandable challenge if the dog is old, overweight, arthritic or ill. Or maybe just lazy or unwilling to brave an unseasonably cold, rainy or hot day.  But, what if  there is no reasonable reason?

In marketing speak, my dog was already a satisfied “customer” that I was sure would be an easy “renewal”. She already loved our daily runs in every conceivable venue from mountain trails to beaches to neighborhood sidewalks and even across the noisy new span of the Oakland Bridge with a zillion lanes of traffic. And her Net Promoter Score (customer satisfaction) was off the charts: she cajoled every other dog–and even tried with a few cows, deer and turkey–to come and run with us.  So I thought I was good judge of her overall customer experience, level of engagement and willingness to respond favorably to an adjacent offer.

As we hopped out of the car at the lovely local reservoir on a stunning, sunny afternoon (in a small window of time between kid sports), I was comfortable that I was backed up with my time-tested communication tools to see me through a successful experience:

1. A leash and one word: “run?”  This does the trick 99.99 % of the time and is equally, efficiently effective for trips to the beach, jogs in the neighborhood, and adventures across miles of open space trail running.

2. Occasionally, there is a need to pull out the big guns: “treat?” Which brings the girl back, boundingly, across hillsides, from muddy ponds, and even tantalizing explorations of a hillside brimming with squirrel holes.

And then the inexplicable happened. My ever-ready running friend and ally stopped. Cold. She was suddenly, maniacally consumed with a grass-born OCD.  Each and every blade of grass along the trail now needed her personal triage: to be sniffed then methodically sorted into a to-be-eaten or to-be-peed-on classification.  Every single blade.

Amused, I watched carefully,  determined to understand her motivations and needs. About 5 minutes and 89 blades of grass into this, I engaged her with a little “campaign prompt” about how much better her experience might be with a change of venue.

She gave me the doggie version of an email unsubscribe. Not interested.

Then I tried proving the clear value of my customer service –and without her asking– I picked her up and carried her for a while, free of charge.  When I put her back down to let her test the new experience for herself, she balked.

GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock recently said in a keynote address to a roomful of marketers, that the ultimate skill of marketing is “to fly well in the fog.”  And even though everyone else out on this glorious day at the reservoir was indulging in 75 degrees and a bright sunny sky, I realized I’d run a-ground (or a-grass) in the fog.

Cajoling (“run?”) and bribery (“treat?”) were not working.  Then, I tried the toddler- tested skill: distraction (“see the squirrel?”). Finally,  the signal in the noise! She temporarily dropped a blade of grass from her mouth and looked up for a furry plaything…  Buoyed by that momentum, I tried again: “Oh! Let’s go find that squirrel… I see it over there, let’s chase it!”  She jogged 10 steps, then sniffed out my totally over-hyped promise. And went back to her fascinating weedy triage.

Flabbergasted, and with the carpool clock ticking in my ears, I made one more desperate attempt.  A bit of a high-wire act for me to attempt on a deadline and in front of dozens of happy, sun-drenched exercisers. But desperate times…

A little shyly, I tried the first one in a suitably high pitched tone: “blah-dahl, lah-dahl, lah!” My dog stopped her 312th pee and looked up, warily.  So, empowered, I let it rip, full-throated with no pride left to protect and a deadline to meet: “BLAH-DAHL, LAH-DAHL, LAH!” She was transfixed, alert, attentive to my every movement–we were on the hunt! She and I could both see and smell them in our imaginations–a gaggle of ungainly, opinionated turkeys.  I’d reached her actionable core, and it was time to make my move to persuade the ultimate action–a full out run around the 2.99 remaining miles of this lake loop.

And so there I was, the fearless, feckless marketer,  delighted to have hit on the magic elixir that persuaded my pint-sized canine to change course and try a new action.   Loudly doing my best turkey imitation: over and over and over, past every single blade of grass.

 

 

 

 

 

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