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Marketing Bookshelf: Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life

February 1, 2021

Marketing Bookshelf

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life

By Sarah Zane

Why is Red Bull so popular even though nearly everyone hates the taste? Author Rory Sutherland believes it’s because humans are irrational beings. We form decisions based on external signals, like the color of the can and the price, instead of logical reasoning. According to this theory, there’s no way to project success of a business idea on a spreadsheet. Instead, to strike gold, you must learn the art of alchemy.

In Sutherland’s revolutionary book, he draws on his three decades as the Ogilvy advertising legend to show business owners, salespeople and marketers how to decode human behavior, uncover astonishing truths about society and use cutting-edge scientific research to cast a magical spell that will help them reach their target audience and achieve ambitious business goals.

Here are the three primary lessons you’ll learn in Alchemy:

Lesson 1: To get ahead of the competition, it’s important to know that people often act irrationally.
Sutherland says that people cannot be put into neat little boxes of shared behavior or demographics. Instead, consumers make decisions based on irrational reasoning, such as unconsciously believing the toothpaste with the extra colored stripe has additional benefits and is more effective than the solid-colored alternative. This irrational behavior makes it nearly impossible to predict people’s choices.

As a credit union marketer, you can bring this lesson home by improving the “packaging” of your products and services. You can spiff up your branch locations, update your blog and social media platforms and polish up the content on your website.

Lesson 2: The little things make the biggest impact on people’s actions.
Many businesses pour a ton of resources into cracking the code on their customers’ behavior. But, in trying to learn how to read the forest, they often forget about the trees.

Sutherland says that businesses tend to underestimate the power of microscopic change. By harnessing the power of the butterfly effect, or the theory that one small change can have ripple effects that impact an entire system, businesses can stop wasting money on macro studies and start implementing changes that actually make a difference.

As a credit union marketer, you can step back from the big picture and work on improving the small details of your products and services.

Lesson 3: Focus on outliers instead of the average customer. According to Sutherland, there’s no such thing as an average consumer.

He brings the example of Lt. Gilbert Daniels, who was hired to design the cockpits of high-speed aircraft for the U.S. military back in the 1950s. Daniels was instructed to model his design to fit the size of an average man’s hands; however, when Daniel started measuring hands, he learned that no hands were exactly the size of what was assumed to be the average. Not one of the 4,000 pilots whose hands were measured would have fit comfortably inside the cockpit!

If a business wants to be inspirational and relevant, Sutherland advises, it’s best to stop focusing on the average customer. Instead, focus on the outliers. What do they look like? Which variables shape their behavior and choices? You might find that this approach helps you uncover revolutionary ideas that target a broader range of prospects.

Are you ready to cast a magical spell in your credit union? Start implementing the strategies in Alchemy today!

Your Turn: Have you implemented any of Sutherland’s ideas in your credit union? Tell us about it in the comments.