Priming: Our Brains are not Computers

Some Call it Anchoring…I call it Strange

They were working with MIT students, so you know these dudes were smart.  They had them write the last two digits of their social security numbers at the top of the page. Then they asked the students to look over a list of common items and mark whether they would buy it for that 2 digit number. Totally random. But the students made the determination with ease. After all, would you buy a stapler for $89?

Then they had them do one last thing – write down what they would pay for the item. And you know what they found? These brilliant MIT students lost all objectivity. Those with social security numbers that ended with 2 high numbers (like 89) offered to pay over 300% what the others with lower numbers (like 23) would pay.

You can read about the details in the book Predictably Irrational. The authors call it anchoring.

It turns out our brains aren't computers…there's a lot more going on – even than we know.

But Priming is Real

Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink, calls it priming, but talks about the same concept. You can watch it here in this video.

Practically Applying Priming

As Malcolm talks about – people aren't purely rational, and they're making decisions based not only on all their own history, but also on whatever is top of mind. So are you using this notion to your benefit?

Here are three places to use priming:

1. When you're prospecting.  I'm amazed at how easy it is to help people self-select out of working with me (yes, that's what I just wrote) simply by picking the right stories to discuss as we're chatting. As you know, I'm a huge fan of finding the perfect customer because they don't cost me as much.

2. Before you talk about pricing. If you know today's the day you're going to talk price with a client, make sure you have enough time to talk about previous work you've done and pick the ones with the pricing that is inline with what you'd expect. Your client may not initially have this number in their head, but it will help move them up, just by hearing these references.

3. When estimating (change orders). You and I both know people will use the word “just” when they're talking about the changes they want. They're trying to suggest it should be easy. I like to suggest it will be hard – because in my world it normally is. This is a great place to help people anchor on the size of changes, so that they can (re)evaluate what they're going to ask for.

Of course you might be helping people anchor in lots of other ways….if you do use it, leave me a quick note, I'd love to talk about it.