Author Archive

Review: Sheena Iyengar – The Art of Choosing

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Publisher Twelve; 1st edition (March 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0446504106
ISBN-13: 978-0446504102
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You are a business associate, and you need to sell your product, jam. So you set up a sample offering table on the bustling streets of New York. How many sample flavors of jam should you offer? A dozen seems like a good number: they’ll display your company’s versatility and appeal to a broad range of tastes.

According to Professor Sheena Iyengar, this line of thinking is wrong. More people will visit the table that offers a dozen flavors, but fewer will buy the product. Why? Because they’ll struggle with indecision. The table with three flavors makes the decision to purchase easier.

In The Art of Choosing, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar explains the psychology of choice by exploring it from a range of perspectives: instinct and survival; cultural norms; individualism; advertising and consumerism; and autonomy. Contemporaries like Barry Schwartz have taken a firm stance and argued that people face far too much choice. But Iyengar is more nuanced in her analysis. In her chapter on advertising, for instance, she argues that a little media manipulation is to be expected, but she expresses concern that such manipulation could infect the democratic system. She points to the fact that where a candidate’s name appears on a ballot can have a profound impact on his chance of being elected. The same is true of the voting locations: research shows that people are more likely to vote for education policies if the voting booths are in a school.

Iyengar is not an attack on choice, but a restrained analysis of choice and its problems. She demonstrates how choice itself is culturally contingent, and she makes a compelling case for thinking about it as a biological necessity—a universal language that connects people across cultures. Her book is challenging but deeply rewarding, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in choice, decision making, psychology, and even business.

Angie Picardo is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance site that’s committed to helping people make better financial decisions, whether it’s choosing the right investments or selecting long-term care insurance.

About the Author

Sheena Iyengar is the S. T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University and a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award. She holds an undergraduate degree from Wharton School of Business and a doctorate in social psychology from Stanford University. Her innovative research on choice has been funded by the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Her work is regularly cited in periodicals such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and TIME magazines, and in books such as Blink and The Paradox of Choice.

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Review: All Marketers Are Liars – Seth Godin

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Portfolio Trade; Reprint edition (April 24, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591845335
ISBN-13: 978-1591845331
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Seth Godin, marketing guru and successful author of several books, has an approach that you either like or don’t like. Still, most of us can’t argue with his logic. If you are tired of the same old boring marketing advice, then Mr. Godin might serve as a breath of fresh air. I have been a fan of Godin for a while, so it’s only natural that I would jump at the chance to read All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low Trust World. I expected typical Godin style writing in this book as well with its in-your-face approach, punchy headlines, and deep insight packed into concise content. (Godin’s books are usually around 200 pages or less.) That is exactly what I got with this book. What I did not expect was the way Godin would approach the subject of marketing. By titling the book with an oxymoron (not to mention paradoxical statement), I wasn’t sure how Godin would approach the concept of marketing. How do you promote a book on marketing when your first four lines are “All Marketers Are Liars?”

It turns out that readers won’t have to wait long to find the answer. In this book, Godin tackles the whole concept of marketing in fewer than 200 pages. He begins by redefining the concept of marketing in the first place. Marketing, Godin says, is not something that only businesses do to get customers, followers, or media attention. It is something we all do and we need to be good at it. Whether it’s for a job, to win an argument, get donations, or just an extra piece of cake, we all use information that we need to convey and persuade to others to get what we want. That insight was not new to me and to fellow fans of marketing books.

What is different is Godin’s next argument. To get what we want, Godin says, we have to sell people a story, not the product itself. In saying this, Godin doesn’t intend for marketers (which now happens to be all of us) to remove all references to the products we are promoting. Instead, he is saying that the story (which he cleverly calls a “lie”) is more important than the product itself from a consumer viewpoint. In other words, you don’t need those fancy sneakers that have night vision and rocket boosters. You just need a shoe. Marketers should tell you a good enough story that you want that particular shoe and tell others to buy that shoe as well. That is the way Godin sees that businesses will survive in the future. The rest of the book explains how and why Godin might be right.

OK, a potential reader might say, I can understand Godin’s argument, but why read the book? That starts when you get to Godin’s answer to creating the story that will lead to marketers getting results. Godin doesn’t just suggest that you lie. He suggests that you create an “authentic” lie. It sounds paradoxical, I know, but Godin suggests that your potential audience doesn’t just want to hear any story. They want to hear a story that is true for what they need or want. This is where the book is the most interesting and the most insightful. Godin convincingly argues that we are not in the same old age of marketing that we were once in (a common theme of this book), but in a new era. That new era requires new rules and new action. The first step is a new mind-set with this book.

Besides the obvious insights I mentioned above, why would a potential reader be interested? Well, if you are a Seth Godin fan that is reason enough. The book is typical Seth Godin, featuring the same insight found in Seth Godin’s other books Linchpin, Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside: The Next Big Marketing Idea. If you are not a fan, then this book still has merit as an idea-shifter. If you a person looking to revitalize your approach to marketing, this book is a great idea-starter. You won’t find all of the ideas and materials you need, but you will gain a new mind-set. As a precaution, you may want to check out Seth Godin’s blog first to get acquainted with how Seth Godin writes.

Angie Picardo is a writer for NerdWallet, a financial literacy website where you can find advice on understanding personal finance.

About the Author

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