Members only Follow Us:

Turning Personal Triggers Into Sales

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Turning Personal Triggers Into Sales(GIFTBEAT)

By Natalie Hammer Noblitt

Creating great relationships with customers is the goal of every retailer, but do you know the most powerful way to can connect with the individuals who shop your store? Learning to fascinate your clientele is an emotional connection that can cut through distractions, says Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. Her research on the subject reveals that the average attention span is now only nine seconds, and that our brains are designed to focus on seven specific types of messages or triggers. She guides retailers on how these triggers can be used to strengthen relationships within their key audiences.


Q. In your book Fascinate, you talk about how some brands are able to captivate audiences and be memorable in an overcrowded marketplace. What characteristics make a brand or store fascinating?


A. Fascination is an intense emotional focus where you are completely captivated by it. You know this feeling in your life ó like youíve been reading a great book, and you donít think of anything else going on around you. When we can create moments of fascination we have relationships that last longer than just a short time. Fascinating brands create strong and immediate emotional connections. When someone feels something about you it is unlikely they will forget you.

Another characteristic of this type of brand is that people want to talk about them and buzz about them on social media. Within their category, these brands do something so different that they become reference points for others. We talk about someone who is a Swiss Army knife or a retailer being the Starbucks of furniture stores and product being the Cadillac of toasters. Becoming a fascinating brand makes it possible for small businesses to compete effectively with those that are much larger in size and have bigger marketing budgets.


Q. You say that fascination goes beyond marketing. Is there science behind the art of being fascinating?


A. Yes, research shows that fascination is a must-have to cut through distraction. Our brains have become attuned to the Internet and so many forms of media coming at us that we learn to change focus quickly. 

Today we are much more skilled at mentally multitasking. While our attention span used to be about 20 minutes when our lifestyle was agricultural, the BBC now says it only spans nine seconds. That means when you meet someone you only get nine seconds before his or her brain will involuntarily change gears. The implications of this are huge. 

We must look beyond marketing, delving into behavioral and social studies, historical precedents, neurobiology and evolutionary anthropology to know why people, products and stores become captivating. The science shows that our brains are hardwired to become fascinated. Across time and around the globe, we find the exact same patterns hold true for why we pay attention to certain companies and people and messages. The reasons are rooted in the forces of fascination, which play a major role in our decision-making. By activating the right triggers, you can make anything become fascinating.


Q. How can a business owner use the seven triggers you speak about ó Passion, Mystique, Alarm, Prestige, Power, Rebellion and Trust ó to positively influence their customers?


A. In the book I outline these triggers and how each one elicits a different kind of response. To get a response to the Passion trigger, you need have a close emotional connection with your customer ó when they walk in your store, interact with your staff or use your products. When we feel passionately about brands, it can feel like we have a strong personal relationship with them. 

Think about the people you know. There are some people who make you feel at home as soon as you meet them. Maybe thatís with a hug, a sparkle in their eyes or reaching out to touch your arm. They communicate wholeheartedly with you, and you share something more than rational information; itís a bond. This trigger attracts, makes us want to eat and share and play and get involved. When brands can do this, they give us a sense of sensuality, comfort or an immediate emotional spark, and it can be very valuable. 

For Passion, the way brands can make sure they have an emotional connection is by using all five senses and inviting people to come closer. Sephora does a great job of this because consumers can touch and smell products and make connections.

Q. The book talks about how you may already be using the seven triggers. What is the best way to be aware of what your business is doing?

A. Every one of the triggers can elicit a response, so it is important to decide how you want to be received. I am a small business owner, and I work to generate these triggers all the time. I have to live this and compete with companies that have bigger budgets and stronger relationships. 

It becomes absolutely essential for us as small business owners to figure out how we can communicate ourselves, our brands and our promise to customers so that they can immediately understand who we are. Every small business has a few defining characteristics that they can focus on communicating. They may not be massive differences, but they are important differences. What you canít do is NOT be fascinating, because that is a dead zone.

You need to have a secret weapon or something that your competition hasnít figured out yet. Make a list of all the expectations of a business in your category. If you and I were going to open an Italian restaurant on a street with 10 others, some might think we must decorate with red tablecloths and serve bottles of red wine. But if we are competing in a neighborhood that already has those, we need to find points of differentiation. What dish can we serve that no one else has? What can our servers wear that stands out? Could we highlight martinis instead of red wine? Think about your own retail location using the Rebellion trigger to create refreshing concepts and novelty in your business.

Q. What businesses do you see, both big and small, doing the best job of fascinating customers?

A. One example I can offer was when I went to the Benjamin Hotel in New York City. They wanted to attract savvy business travelers and show they offer personalized service. They could have done this with a $100-million dollar campaign and remodel, but instead they did a small pillow menu that greets guests when they check in. 

After they confirmed what type of room I wanted, they showed me this menu. The pillow menu contained all kinds of specialty pillows, like buckwheat, a Swedish pillow, pillows that you could plug your iPod into, and even pillows Iíd never heard of. I went with regular down one, but just knowing that I had that choice with distinctive offerings gave me a completely different experience. The room and the service was the same, but it gave me something to talk about. It really sets them apart from other hotels. It was a low-budget way for the hotel to differentiate itself from chains like Marriott or Crowne Plaza.

An example on a bigger scale is a brand called Jšgermeister. Itís a liquor that tastes something like kerosene mixed with battery acid. Itís not delicious and not easy to drink. But, they sell 83 million cases a year and are one of the top 10 spirit brands. Itís because they have such a distinctive taste that people remember it and build memories around it.

When people go out they say, ďHey, letís do a round of Jšgermeister shots.Ē Twenty-year-olds canít wait to drink this stuff because it is a bonding activity ó like a test of will or rite of passage. Thereís no substitute for it. How can your brand find just a little way to stand out with features like the Benjamin Hotel or have a provocative point of view like Jšgermeister?

Q. Are there mistakes you see businesses make when they try to look more interesting? How can those errors be fixed?

A. The No. 1 mistake is trying to be all things to all people. By trying to make everyone happy, you are going to make nobody really happy. 

Your business has a choice to either be vanilla ice cream or pistachio. What I mean by this is that I keep vanilla ice cream in my freezer because everyone will eat it, even if no one clamors for it. I also have pistachio in there because even though my kids hate it, I love it. And people who really love it will go out of their way for it, pay more for it and eat it even if they are on a diet. 

People have a different relationship with pistachio than they do vanilla. If you think about companies who are very established, they can afford to be vanilla and often try to stay the safe choice. Hallmark is a brand like this. No one is going to be provoked by getting a Hallmark card. In contrast, one of their divisions, Shoebox Greetings, has a quirky approach. Someone who really wants a different experience giving a card is going to drive across town to get something handmade or unusual from a small retailer. 

Instead of thinking about avoiding mistakes or how you can please everyone, focus on the people you really want to talk to, your key advocates. These are most likely to fall in love with your business, talk about you to others and stay loyal.

Q. Do you have any advice for gift retailers so they can remain fascinating over the long-term?

A. A very different type of trigger than Passion or Rebellion is Trust. Trust is based on consistency and predictability. Our brains want to be able to find patterns and there is something very reassuring in a chaotic world about a chain that serves the same thing or stores with the same layout. Itís a grounding point. 

Stability can also be boring, so smaller businesses canít compete using Trust the same way as the big chains. What you can do is build patterns into your brand without being boring ó like promises you can follow through on and guaranteeing satisfaction. Using the Power trigger can establish that you are the expert or authority in your field. These are all long-term ways to use triggers. These things you can resolutely stand on and promise and then find other ways to use triggers that earn attention or ask for immediate action.

Q. Any other words of wisdom you'd like to share with our readers?

A. A brand that has passionate followers and advocates is also going to have critics or those who hate the brand. Remember that itís OK to have those critics. It is much worse to fall into the middle, to neither have lovers or haters ó just those who donít really care.

Shoppers who donít love your brand arenít going to tolerate price increases, and it puts you in a vulnerable position. You have to be the store that gives them something no others can. Even if itís just a note at the bottom of the receipt that gives shoppers a flavor of your storeís personality, they can then walk away with something different in their experience. Itís something that sets you apart from the watered-down personalities they find at bigger stores.

Note: Sally Hogshead is the Chief Fascination Officer of Fascinate, Inc. and has also written the book Radical Careering: 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life, published by Penguin. Clients past and present include Nike, Aflac, MINI Cooper, Cole Haan, Capital One, Coca-Cola and Godiva. For more information on Hogshead, her books and work as a consultant, visit or She can be reached at

Sign Up for
Joyce Washnik's
Top Tips & Picks
a FREE alert featuring retail tips & fave product picks

Categories we're tracking
In This Month's

  • Summer/Seasonal
  • Message Gifts
  • Stationery Accessories
  • Non-Jar Candles
  • T-shirts
  • Fashion Accessories
  • Reorders
  • Personal Care

While coloring books and related products were all the rage in Stationery Accessories last year, this year it's back to basics: note cards, journals and planners.

* Every month Giftbeat tracks sales in a a variety of product categories (more than 50 categories throughout the year). SIGN UP NOW to receive this vital information on which gift items are moving off store shelves.