Manipulate vs. Inspire

A follow-up article from “Four reasons why you always start with why, from Simon Sinek

As discussed in the previous writings, having more loyal fans will benefit the businesses in the long run. Those benefits are:

  • A big amount of influence
  • Having the most loyal followers (as customers and as employees)
  • More innovative
  • More profitable

But, we all know that not all companies think, act and communicate using this Golden Circle principle. Let’s be honest, from all products we use at home, how many products we actually have faith in it? And how many products that are just there? Even though this question is intriguing, I will save it for another day. For now, we will focus on another way businesses use to influence consumer behavior (i.e., purchasing their product/ideas), the manipulation.

The word manipulation might feel very negative, but it is not a taboo in marketing. In fact, most of the businesses practice these “manipulation” strategies since the beginning of modern marketing, because it works. Here are the most common forms of manipulation:

1. Price is an effective way to make people cave in

However, once you’ve dropped the price, it is hard to get your customer to pay more. And there will be the time where competitor showed up with a lower price. Then, it may lead to a price war. And as in all wars, it will be costly for the company (i.e., margins getting slimmer) and stressful to both seller and buyer.

2. Promotion relies on the principle of ‘breakage’

This means it that take advantages on the percentage of customer who fail to benefit from a promotion and ended up paying the full price instead.

3. Fear, regardless it is real or perceived by the consumer, is one of the most powerful manipulation

Companies were putting a gun to customer’s head, forcing them to see the “value” of choosing them over their competitors.

4. Aspirations try to tempt customers to something desirable

In a sense, to make them be someone they are not. Most of the times, this manipulation work to change behavior, but only for a short term. A lasting change in behavior must come from inspiration, not aspiration.

Aspirations are different from inspiration. By definition, aspiration means a hope or ambition to achieve something. While inspiration is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something. Here’s the example of the difference: “The late American prima ballerina Maria Tallchief was a great inspiration for Karla. Karla’s aspiration was to become a lead dancer, just like her idol.”

5. Peer pressure

This approach works because people afraid to be wrong by themselves, so they will always follow the majority/experts.

6. Novelty or innovations

Which is not generally a bad thing since it serves as a tool to add differentiation from competitors. Still, novelties do not have added value in the long run. The reason is, even though innovation can increase sales, too many and too often novel ideas will bring a similar impact to the price game. Too many unnecessary changes that were falsely created just to keep the market excited will make all of these different products feel and look like a commodity. And in the end, lines of new products need always to be added to compensate the commoditize category.

In sum, manipulation works. It can bring profit to the company and influence people behavior. However, manipulation comes at a cost:

  • It will never breed loyalty
  • It will become more costly over time
  • The gains are short-term. This means, to achieve constant growth a series of constant manipulations will always be needed. In the end, it will be painful for stakeholders to work with them.

The costs cannot be seen in an instant. Especially when businesses leaders only see the WHY as equals to profit. Moreover, these long-term trade-offs can be reduced drastically with a clear WHY from the leaders (CEO). The Golden Circle can be seen as the megaphone, with the consumers as the audience.

Golden Circle Megaphone
HOW (Executive leaders inspired by the CEO)
WHAT (Majority of employees)

One thing that is important to remember, even though the end result might look the same, great leaders can understand the value in the things we cannot see. With the strong leadership and a clear WHY, businesses can keep creating products and innovations that are stay true to the core beliefs. This consistency will make the invisible things can predict a long-term success.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.

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