Marketing and Communication

How to write faster?

medieval writing desk

‘How do I write faster?’ – a question that plagues academics, writers, bloggers, and planners. I have asked myself that many times both in academic and commercial settings.

Writing is pervasive. Successful businesses, start-ups, and community organisations have clear and readable plans. Academics say ‘publish or perish’. It’s not just about self-promotion or ticking bureaucratic boxes – writing is important to having a clear organisational vision.

Why is writing faster important?

OK, let me get one thing straight: I’m not advocating careless writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne proclaimed ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing‘ – care should be taken not just to ensure accuracy but also readability,

But as anyone with some experience in writing would know, many many MANY things happen in your life that takes your energy away from writing. You know writing that proposal/ grant application/ book chapter is important, but there’s always the feel that ‘my writing can wait, my client can’t’.

Time constraints are real. Writing won’t get any less important. So might as well know how to do it fast.

So how do I write faster?

This article from Hootsuite helpfully provided some starting points:

1. Skip the introduction – leave it till last – after all, it ‘hooks’ your reader; why not leave this important component till last?

2. Don’t get caught up in wording – yes, careful writing is important; but you can always come back to it. Don’t let your idea be stuck over a single word.

3. Keep your research in your document – don’t allow yourself to navigate away from your writing page, because you’ll never get back to it. I’ll just add: at least don’t move away from your writing page until your key ideas are written down in prose form.

4. Just write what you got – why do you *have* to write ‘Four tips to do XYZ’ if you can only think of two? Why not stick with two? – On top of all, don’t be locked into an idea/concept before you start writing.

Writing faster – the bottom line

Ultimately, I only have one major view on speedy writing: just let it flow. Don’t stop until your major ideas are out there. You can ALWAYS go back and fix wordings.

Every time you stop, your head either grows a seed of doubt, or a speedbump in your narrative. And your readers will feel the jags and bumps in your thoughts.

Good luck and keep getting your ideas out there!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)


So a quantitative researcher and casino executives walk into a bar…

chalkboard numbers


The casino is MGM, one of Las Vegas’ giants. The researcher is Harikesh Nair, Associate Professor at Stanford.

The article neatly sums up some of the insights gained from the analytic work:

For example, if a customer visited MGM only once and spent little on the trip, the model looks at the long-run spending of others similar to that customer. If the others spent little on the first visit but dropped a bundle on subsequent trips, the system will target the customer in question even though he or she spent little the first time around.

Typically, a business that sees a low-spending customer (if data is collected in the first place) would probably neglect to place emphasis on them. But by examining the data on a more long-term (life-time?) perspective, it’s clear that something can be done to encourage further customer loyalty.

Casinos collect THAT much information from their patrons it’s beyond belief. Yet the challenge often lies in what to do with them. And if you think about it a little, isn’t that what’s facing many major organisations today? Vast data, enormous input, but they are not exploited, either due to poor data organisation or insufficient know-how?

The term ‘big data’ is bandied about these days enthusiastically by many analysts, without many firm definitions or framework. But this sentence sums it up as eloquently as anyone has:

“Good analytics, combined with great data, complements smart management. This is the real promise of the ‘Big Data’ revolution.”

(Photo: Flickr/WorldBank)

These brands changed their logos…and turned themselves into marketing lessons

There’s this product, with a widely-recognised logo, but the top brass thinks is no longer (pick any of the following) connecting with its audience/stands for its core value/fresh in appearance. So they call in your creative agency and wants a change.

Don’t we all just love* the dilemma? Established brand, strong visuals, but the board wants a new message…

Ad Age looks at a few examples of where things didn’t go…umm…quite as well as hoped.

Lesson for mine? – yes, a corporate logo (or any visual communication) may have a thousand research-driven rationales. But consumers like what’s familiar. Just ask Old Coke.

*  Sarcasm noted.

M&M: How to create a product spokesperson that you want to murder

You know that animated red (and yellow) M&M character? Goes on ads, does things, says things. But does it get in your mind that he (along with his yellow fellow) is basically imploring you, their consumers, to murder them?

Creepy thought, isn’t it?

Some advertising agencies get it right, as in the case of M&M. So much so that its agency head declared:

I’ve always said you want to push storytelling to a place people didn’t expect it would go. And that requires taking some chance. One misstep is not going to hurt your brand.

Don’t we all wish for the panacea whereby taking that one chance won’t ruin your client’s account?


My Awesome Isn’t Your Awesome: The Psychology of Crowdsourcing decisions.

I recently had a fascinating discussion with the Melbourne-based communication consultant Nicole Matejic (aka. Social Firefighter). By her admission, one of her 2014 resolutions was to get more into sports. Being in a land where AFL is religion, Nicole took a novel approach to choose which AFL team to follow: she crowdsourced the decision by asking her Twitter followers.

There’s nothing new about consumers getting peer recommendations before buying. ‘Word of mouth’ marketing is often seen as a panacea of sorts – companies that master the art enjoy from their customers willingly spreading the gospel, defending the brand, and saving on marketing costs (Harley Davidson is often cited as a successful brand community example). So what’s special about Nicole’s example?

Nicole’s story was interesting because she already has a network of sports experts, and active members of online communities. People who would, collectively, provide more grounded rationale in their recommendations. After all, perception of expertise does sway decisions – especially when the decision-maker doesn’t have a lot riding on the decision*. Yet she still chose to canvass opinions from a much wider variety of sources. And that, my marketing friends, has important implications: those making the recommendations may (in turn) have been influenced by things that have little to do with the football club at all…

Why ‘awesomeness’ and ‘recommendation’ do not always correlate

Marketing friends, you may think ‘hey, my stuff is awesome, anyone would recommend it!’ – to understand why that doesn’t necessarily happen, let’s look at some reasons why recommendations are psychologically powerful: peer pressure; and confirmation bias.

  1. Peer pressure

Humans are social animals. We seek approval of peers. Peer pressure is very much aligned for fostering poor social behaviour; but it can also do good (such as helping a dear sports novice finding a football team!) In this sense, how a customer’s peers provide recommendation may not have anything to do with the brand’s own marketing influence.

  1. Confirmation bias

On the other hand, we, as individuals, may be our own most persuasive voices. We often hear the phrase ‘I’m my own biggest critic’ – but if we’ve made up our minds about something, we are unlikely to accept evidence to the contrary. Don’t worry, even savvy business minds succumb to confirmation bias all the time – and if you consistently overcome it, you might just be Warren Buffett.

In the consumer context, if you believe in certain things about a brand, you would only accept recommendations and opinion that fit with your preconceptions – even if the brand is truly (not just in its marketing manager’s mind) awesome.

So, what can I do about recommendations?

Word of mouth marketing is a true double-edged sword. If done right, your customers will fight for you. But if done wrong, you can’t control what they say. Even brands as iconic as Coca Cola couldn’t resist consumer power with their now-seminal ‘New Coke” gaffe.

That said, marketing friends, there are things that can be done:

  1. Remember: you can’t please everyone. One person’s ‘awesome’ is another’s ‘meh’. In fact, brands who fail to identify and target specific audiences risk not accurately delivering its value proposition.
  2. Don’t fear negative word of mouth. See criticism as opportunity. Even negative customer reviews can provide a platform to placate them, or offer a constructive response. But for this to happen, your marketing department would have to monitor online chatter to facilitate early intervention. (I got a feeling Nicole will be the expert on this topic…)

Oh by the way, Nicole ended up choosing Richmond FC. Hope you enjoy the experience!

*: For the consumer behaviour/cognitive psychology crowd: yes, I know, ‘not having a lot riding’ doesn’t quite capture ‘peripheral processing’ under the elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo 1986)…but not today…


Market your excitement – when does an ‘excitement’-based strategy work?

Does the feeling of excitement help performance – or indeed, does it motivate you to get what you want?

I was fortunate to have an enlightening discussion with Dr Jacquie Garton-Smith (Twitter: @JacquieGS) recently on this intriguing topic, one that has close ties to consumer behaviour – and have been challenged to write a little about it.

Dr Garton-Smith’s article primarily concerned how writers can overcome performance anxiety and start writing, and contains a fascinating insight into how she herself utilised research in the area to improve her creative output. Being the market researcher, I couldn’t help but wonder how ‘excitement as motivation’ fits into a consumer framework. But let’s look at the research behind the topic first.

A new coping strategy – re-framing performance anxiety as excitement

Dr Garton-Smith’s article referred to a study by Harvard Business School’s Alison Wood Brooks. Brooks observed that, often when people’s performance is impaired by anxiety, they were commonly advised to reduce anxiety, such as ‘calm down’, ‘it’s OK’, or other forms of relaxation strategies. Brooks postulated an alternative, and perhaps contradictory, strategy: re-frame ‘anxiety’ as ‘excitement’. And it seems to work.

The study found that:

‘Compared with those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better.’

Furthermore, Brooks found that the desired effect was evident even after relatively simple strategies, such as positive self-talk (just muttering ‘I’m excited!’), demonstrating the ‘profound control and influence we have over our own emotions.’

Do you play to win or to avoid losing? – Another way to frame the same scenario

The crux of my discussion with Dr Garton-Smith centred upon another theoretical perspective to which Brooks’ study could apply: regulatory focus theory. Centrally, the theory suggests that individuals are motivated to attain goals either by viewing it as achieving a positive result (‘promotion focus’), or as avoiding a negative result (‘prevention focus’)  – or simply put, whether you strive for accomplishments (promotion), or safety (prevention).

E. Tory Higgins, who formulated the theory in 1997, contends that individuals tend to act according to one motivation or the other (or what is termed chronic goal orientation), which can be revealed with psychological tests. Individuals prefer (and thrive under) strategies that fit better with their chronic orientation; for instance, a promotion-oriented person would seek to achieve (‘eager’ strategy), whereas a prevention-oriented person would seek to play safe (‘vigilant’ strategy) (Crowe & Higgins, 1997).

Brooks acknowledged the possible role of regulatory focus in her findings, but did not explicitly examine its implications. I can see interesting further developments from the findings…

So…does ‘playing to win’ get you pumped for performance?

According to regulatory focus theory, if you are chronically promotion-focussed, strategies that centre on ‘play to win’ would be a good fit for you. But on the other hand, if you are chronically prevention-focussed, then such strategies would prove to be a poor fit, and your performance may suffer.

An ‘excitement’ strategy, being aspirational in nature, seems to be of the ‘’play to win’ variety, which is supposed to help promotion-oriented individuals. If regulatory focus theory holds true, this strategy should not help individuals with chronic prevention-orientation. But if the counter-result occurs, that ‘excitement’ does help individuals who ‘play for safety’, then perhaps another psychological factor is underlying the relationship between ‘excitement’ and the individual’s chronic orientation. Now that gives impetus for further research.

Also, Higgins did not mean to say that if you ‘chronically’ play to win, you will always play to win. It is an ‘orientation’, or a tendency, which can be temporarily induced (or reduced) by situational factors (Freitas & Higgins, 2002). Several methods are available to (temporarily) manipulate your regulatory focus orientation. Given the right conditions – such as being reminded of aspirational goals – it seems even prevention-focussed individuals can benefit from a ‘get-excited!’ strategy.

In closing…

In my research days, I regularly came across regulatory focus theory, which has significant implications towards consumer behaviour research, especially in message-framing and persuasion (Aaker & Lee, 2001). It’s nice to see an interesting piece of research on individual performance which pertains to a familiar field. Of course, ‘excitement’ isn’t just a motivation for creatives; advertising makes use of the concept often enough. But when does it work, and to whom? – extending Brooks’ study to consumer goal-orientation may help answer that question.


Aaker, J. L. & Lee, A. Y. (2001). “I” Seek Pleasures and “We” Avoid Pains: The Role of Self‐Regulatory Goals in Information Processing and Persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(1), 33-49.

Brooks, A. W. (2013). Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (in press).

Crowe, E., & Higgins, E. T. (1997). Regulatory focus and strategic inclinations: Promotion and prevention in decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 69, 117-132.

Freitas, A.L., & Higgins, E. T. (2002). Enjoying goal-directed action: The role of regulatory fit. Psychological Science, 13, 1-6.

Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52, 1280-1300.

(Image: Memecrunch)

when KPIs go bad

What gets measured, gets done? – When KPI’s go bad

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s), Performance Metrics, measured outcomes – in this end-of-year review season, these are all very alluring terms for the business-conscious mind. Cold, objective numbers are fair and infallible, right?

Well, today, economist Ross Gittins went on the war path against them.

Gittins outlined at least four reasons why KPI’s can mislead:

1. Warped incentives – when employees’ salaries and other incentives are tied to KPI’s, they may be rewarded for factors other than their own skill and/or productivity even if the KPI rose due to other unrelated factors.

2. Open to interpretation – especially when KPI’s are made public and departments are made to compete. Especially when the KPI’s underlying assumptions are poorly-defined or have flexible standards, such as “satisfaction”.

3. Bureaucratic costs – Gittins told the story of the department which, in striving to meet operational requirements, got its staff to close cases whilst “achieving absolutely nothing in terms of genuine output”.

4. Misunderstanding underlying assumptions – quantified results do carry the mystique of infallibility and objectivity.

So in the new year, with new objectives and standards to aim for, it pays to know the story behind the numbers – that’s for another post.


Not all discounts are born equal

With holiday seasons approaching, promotions are everywhere. Discounts, sales, value offers…consumers are truly bombarded. When everyone is offering savings, it may not be so attractive.

What’s more, in this tough economic climate, small/medium businesses’ marketing departments may find it hard to sell a generous discount strategy to the CFO.

So can “savings” be made even more enticing to potential customers?

Yes. Not all discounts are born equal. With the help of some consumer psychology, the same amount of discount can be made to look more enticing.

A paper by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, along with fellow economist Amos Tversky (1), investigated whether people are willing to put in extra effort to obtain the same amount of saving, albeit in different contexts. The investigators divided subjects into two groups. Both groups were asked how willing they are to drive an extra 20 minutes to save $5 on a calculator, whilst also buying a jacket at the same time. The first group were told that they are buying a $15 calculator and a $125 jacket; while the second group were told they were buying a $125 calculator and a $15 jacket. Notice that both groups were asked to ponder a situation where they attempt to save $5 on a combined total of $140.

The researchers found that 68% of subjects in the first group were willing to drive the extra distance to get the saving; but the figure drops to 29% in the second group. This result echoed earlier findings by Thaler (1980) (2), who found that subjects were more willing to exert extra effort to save $5 on a purchase worth $25, than one worth $500.

It is part of human psychology that the same discount feel different when packaged differently.

These findings may seem intuitive, but conventional economic models would have predicted that the same amount of savings would have produced the same result, regardless how they are packaged. But as Ben-Gurion University’s Ofer H. Azar contended, whether humans really behave as such is questionable – These findings in fact conform to long-established principles in psychological perception (known as Weber-Fechner Law): when people make purchase decisions, they are influenced not by the number on the price tag, but by how the price relates to other existing information, such as amount of savings.

So how can these help my saving strategy?

1. Saving can be made to look more attractive when its proportion to the product’s price seems larger.

2. Perhaps marketing messages that accentuate proportion of saving (such as “40% off!”), rather than amount, can complement the strategy?

3. But keep in mind another Kahneman/Tversky finding: when spending, people generally prefer (at least mentally) consolidating multiple, smaller expenditures into a single, larger expenditure. The benefits of multiple discounts on components and risks of going against people’s preference for consolidating expenditures need to be carefully balanced by price decision-makers.

(Disclaimer: information provided here are of general nature and do not constitute professional advice. Please seek professional advice for your specific circumstances.)


(1) Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1981). The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211, 453–458.

(2) Thaler, R. (1980). Toward a positive theory of consumer choice. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization1, 39–60.