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Welcome to the Rhetonic Blog

Hello and thank you for visiting the Rhetonic blog. Now, pull up a chair and let’s have a chat…

Like any subjects, my passions of Psychology, Marketing, Leadership and Enterprise can be as fascinating or as dull as we make them. Well, I don;t know about you, but I don’t like too many dull things, so I want to use this opportunity to make my topics as stimulating, thought-provoking and relevant as I can. But I’m going to need your help.

Firstly, please do browse through the entries and come back to look again from time-to-time. I am not one who is often short of things to say, so this blog will be updated on a regular basis. Better still, why not subscribe to it so you will always know when something new has come out.

Secondly, keep your mind open to what we can learn here. Many of the insights and comments which follow, relate not just to our leaders and our customers, but also to ourselves as individuals and consumers. So, much of it will apply to all of us at many levels – if we let it.

Finally, when you are reading through the posts, if you find something that makes you curious, think about things differently, surprises you or even annoys you – will you tell me? That way the ‘lecture’ becomes a conversation, and we will all go away better informed.

Do we have a deal?  I hope so…

Isn’t it funny…?

On average, children laugh approximately 500 times per day. And adults? Well, what do you think? Start by asking yourself, how many times a day on average do you laugh?

Before I give you the research findings, let’s just think about laughter. Why do we do it? What purpose does it serve?

Laughter is a behaviour that can be found in a number of animal species, and it is exhibited in every human culture. That says a lot about it. In all corners of the globe, even the most remote tribes, humans have evolved with laughter. So why do we have this capacity?

The usual response to that sort of question is that it enhances our chances of survival in some way.

However, when we laugh we become inherently vulnerable. Our eyes close, our mouth opens, our legs are no good to us and we make noises which draw attention to ourselves. None of which would protect us or enable us to defend ourselves if we were being attacked.

No. The way that laughter serves us is through connecting us. It is not about predators or competition, but about acceptance and being part of a group. When we laugh we are indicating a shared experience, something that we both understand and feel positively towards. But more than that, the sometimes infectious nature of laughter means that we actually get drawn in to this group behaviour. This is effectively demonstrated by the use of ‘canned’ laughter in television programmes, encouraging you to join in and laugh more freely along with others.

And why wouldn’t you? Laughter is good for us. When we laugh we release endorphins which make us feel good, our immune system gets a boost, creativity and positive thinking is encouraged and we reduce the levels of stress and tension in our bodies. In a group, that same laughter connects us, improving communication and fostering relationships between its members.

However, increasing volumes of research which have been taking place in this field, now show us that there is a difference between laughter in men and women.

When it comes to choosing a mate or partner for themselves, both sexes rate laughter high on the list. It frequently implies intelligence, wit, cleverness and an enjoyment of life. But, fundamentally, women look for someone who can make them laugh…whereas men look for someone who will laugh at their jokes.

This is no mean feat though as we also find different things funny. Men prefer a slapstick style, they like one-liners and use physical or active humour. Conversely, women deliver narrative stories, use word play and have a more self-depreciating form of humour.

And how often we laugh? Well, I don’t know what you thought the outcome would be, but the research cays that children laugh an average of 500 times a day, whilst adults laugh just 14 times a day. 14 times? All those health and social benefits…14 times?

I don’t know about you, but I’d say that is no laughing matter.

Crackers…with cheese?

There is no escaping it. The pressure is building. For the next few weeks, it will be nearly impossible to spot an advertisement on your TV which does not include a reference to Christmas. Even if it is just the tinkling of bells in the background, a light dusting of snow or the placement of a bit of holly on the logo, we are all being sold the Festive Cheer.

But this is also one of the best times of year to witness some real classic gender marketing mistakes.

In the marketing world, companies have typically been promoting their products to customers (regardless of sex and gender) in a very masculine way. What do I mean by that? Well, the male brain and the female brain are very different. They are constructed differently, wired differently and they continue to work differently (cue all the jokes about whether one sex’s brain works at all!).

Our evolutionary past has made us this way and it is not going to change drastically any time soon.

But the majority of marketing ‘laws’ were written by male brains and for male brains as they were done in a time when men made up not only the vast majority of the workforce, but also the holders of the family wealth. But this is not the case anymore. In the US now, over 83% of purchases are either conducted entirely by women, or women are the key influencer in the buying process. So, how do we use and respond to this shift?

Well, the smart companies are harnessing the power of gender marketing. By understanding what the different brains want and how they process information, these organisations are selling their products and services in a way which makes it easier and almost intuitive for the relevant brain to respond.

The er…other companies are not. They are still selling things to the female brain in the same format that they have been selling things to the male brain for the last 60 years. This is a dangerous strategy and at this time of year you can see it very clearly.

One of the biggest mistakes that marketing departments make when selling to the female brain is to patronise them or sell them a sugary stereotype. This is particularly obvious when the subject of that stereotype is a family.

As you look at most TV adverts now, ‘families’ are full of clean, smiling and helpful children who are engaged in the conversation and happily eating their sprouts. Is this what your family is like? Especially at breakfast?!

The clever marketing campaigns show us a better representation of reality, something the female brain can relate to and feel empathy with. Just look at the current Tesco’s adverts. Realistic ‘families’, engrossed in their own thing, demonstrating the chaos, embarrassment, pressure, crescendo and ‘lull’ that many of our Christmas Days will become. Yes there is love there too, but not in a cheesy way. In a genuine, touching and hopeful way!

But another of the clever elements that Tesco has drawn on is that you don’t just watch the pictures. In fact I’ve noticed that in our household, something VERY unique happens when one comes on – the volume gets turned…UP. The soundtracks are ‘I Predict A Riot’ by the Kaiser Chiefs, ‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie, ‘Prince Charming’ by Adam and the Ants, ‘Another one bites the dust’ and ‘Best Friend’ by Queen, ‘Take on me’ by A-ha …do you spot the pattern yet? Yes, all tracks which people of the 35-50 year old generation will recognise within a the first few bars (and I don’t mean of a pub crawl!). Recognise and love. The nostalgia is there, but in an extremely clever way.

So, as the Christmas movies and programmes begin to build up, take note of which companies are selling a cheap imitation of what they think we want, and separate them from the ones who know and understand their audience really well. These trend-setting few are using the powers of gender marketing to truly sell to our hearts and minds.

So, all together now…”I predict a riot, I predict a riot…”

Cabin pressure

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness first hand the way the different genders react to stress. It is one of the hazards of being interested in Psychology you know, this permanent fascination with the behaviours of those around you!

So, picture the scene. A plane full of passengers on a short flight across Europe. Nearing the end of the flight and the collective consciousness is already getting restless as the time of our scheduled arrival gets closer. And then it passes.

Then, the onerous ‘bing’ which heralds an announcement from the Captain. Yes, we had a situation developing. We had to divert to another airport to land, and from there we would be refuelled, and soon be on our way back to our original destination.

So, we landed, refuelled and waited. And waited. And waited.

How would you have reacted?

We were given permission to use phones and electronic devices, so a huge number of people did. Some to call those waiting to collect them, others to surf everyone from the airline webpages to the local news channels and see if they could find out what was going on.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this was the difference in how the two genders reacted. You see men are more likely to react in a more physical way, being programmed for the ‘fight or flight’ response we usually associate with stress. Their base response is to take action. Women on the other hand do not, they are more likely to use the alternative tactics commonly referred to as ‘tend and befriend’. These play to their base response of focusing on feelings – both those of themselves and others. So, how did these differences manifest themselves?

Well, before long a group of men gathered at the front of the plane, needing to control, influence and resolve the situation. The focus for them was on the cabin crew, the ground staff and the constant visits either group made to the cockpit. Reading the body language from my seat, this soon appeared to become intimidating and even hostile.

Meanwhile, the women were adopting their different approach. Remaining seated, they were the ones who were phoning family and friends and striking up conversations with those around them, created a shared experience which built rapport and bonds.

Ultimately, the situation was resolved and the plane eventually took off again – arriving 2 hours later than scheduled. I dare say that most of the people on that flight have forgotten about the ordeal already. So, did one gender come out of it any better than the other? Maybe the combination of both approaches provided the optimum coping mechanism? I’m not totally sure.

All I do know, is that in situations such as that, we get a real reminder of how beautifully we have evolved and adapted…for a life we, in the western world, no longer live.

Enterprise Weak?

I don’t know if you are aware, but this week in November is National Enterprise Week – a week where students in schools and colleges are encouraged to focus on Enterprise in all of its forms. It has a day dedicated to social enterprise and one specifically for the role women play in enterprises as they are hugely underrepresented in the field of business start-ups.

Enterprise Week is always a busy time for me and the BoomBizz team, but it is a thoroughly rewarding one too. We go into schools and work with hundreds of students, allowing them to explore their entrepreneurial potential through the simulation of running their own small business. It creates a huge energy, momentum and enthusiasm within the students…a much needed positive experience of business. 

So how tragic, that against this background of enterprise, yesterday should see the release of figures stating that for the first time since the records separated the figures out, youth unemployment has crossed the 1million threshold. 1million.

So much of business, whether it is about forecasting growth, securing funding, gaining customers or passing interviews, so much of it is about confidence. And how much confidence is this generation of young people going to have in themselves? Imagine how it must feel to have had years of work, study, tests and exams, all to culminate in…what? In frustration. In rejected applications. In disappointment. In desperation.

Now is the time when we need to encourage them to be more enterprising than ever. To be creative, take risks and seize opportunities. To be bold, energetic, active and determined.

True entrepreneurs are the ones who dig deep, find the strength and belief to go on when the odds are against them and create the circumstances they need in order to succeed.

Maybe we could all do with a few lessons in enterprise?!

All in a Flash

What were you doing on the 10th August 2001? Where were you – what were you doing and who were you with? Can you remember? Unless it was a big day for you like your birthday or wedding day, the chances are you probably can’t recollect it. OK, what about on the 11th August then? Still nothing? So, what about a month later. What about the 11th September 2001? Yes, I bet you can tell me all about your day now can’t you?

Today, the eyes, minds and voices of many within the world will return to the atrocious events of ten years ago – the terrorist attacks in the US. Many people will discuss in private or in public, in homes, on phones, on radio and TV stations, through Tweets and blogs such as this one, their detailed experiences of September 11th 2001. But do you ever stop to think how remarkable that is, or to wonder how we are able to do it?

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as ‘Flashbulb memory’. It is when a memory remains so vivid that we can recall the most incredible details about it…years after the event.

With Flashbulb memory you can usually recall several things including where you were when you heard about the event, who you were with, what you were doing, what you did next and how you felt.

Flashbulb memories are generally thought of as being collective – depending on your age examples may include hearing about the shooting of JFK, the Challenger disaster, the death of Princess Diana, or more recently of Michael Jackson. But, they may also be individual memories – recalling when someone proposed to you, when your first child was born or when you were told that a loved one had a terminal condition.

So, how is it that some memories become Flashbulb ones – what is it about them that makes them different? You may have noticed that the most common element is extreme emotion – usually including shock. But from here on, there are two different theories on why the memories become so strong.

One view is that due to the nature of what happens the emotions are so great that it is as if a photograph has been taken of that moment – hence the reference to Flashbulbs. But the second view acknowledges that these are special moments in our lives and that they are not treated like the rest of our memories. As human beings, we discuss these significant events, describing and sharing our individual experiences. But, unusually, we do this time and time again, repeating, reliving and reinforcing it each time. It becomes like a story that we are used to telling, a well-rehearsed part of our lives. Is it any wonder then that we remember them so vividly?

Whichever theory is right, one thing is for sure. Flashbulb memories are powerful, they remain with us, become part of us and are incredibly hard to forget …… even if we wanted to.