Thursday, July 15, 2010

Through the eyes of a child - @SaraBAllen and Big Bird (and you)

Over the weekend, I saw this tweet from Sara Beth Allen:

How do you get people to volunteer to be an unpaid guest poster? What's the draw? #blogchat

I wasn't sure if she was trying to get people to guest post in HER, but before I asked, I figured I'd check her blog and see if we had somewhat similar interests and writing styles.

Unfortunately, Allen showed no interest in items such as English tech events on French holidays, Wisk detergent, or Paul "Lebron" Buchheit.

But I did find a post about Big Bird that began as follows:

Big Bird is a connector. He shows millions of little kids what is good in the big world. Little kids believe every word that comes from the yellow bird’s mouth. Brands need to emphasize the same kind of trust that young children place in their favorite talking animals. Our friend, Mr. Bird is the ultimate publicist.

Allen then described how her lifelong love of art was influenced by something that she saw when she was four years old - a visit by Big Bird to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Although Allen noted the influence that early childhood events has on people, she didn't really explore the "why." Why is a four year old more accepting of information than a fifty year old?

Yale University explored the development of cynicism in children:

The first part of the two–part study included 20 children each in kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade. The children were told very short stories in which characters made statements about the outcomes of contests that were in or against their self–interest. Children of all ages believed true statements more than clear lies. However, when characters made statements involving their self–interest about very close contests, children evaluated the statements in very different ways. Children in kindergarten were more likely to believe statements aligned with self–interest than statements going against self–interest, but by second grade they were much more savvy and they recognized that self–interest statements might not be accurate.

In the second part of the study the children were asked how self–interest might lead someone to make an incorrect statement. Children were provided with three choices: intentional deception, unintentional bias, or pure mistake. They rarely endorsed bias as the best possible explanation for being incorrect. The youngest children were more likely to think the characters were lying.

“It is not until sixth grade that children begin to endorse lies and biases as equally plausible explanations for self–interested incorrect statements,” [psychology graduate student Candice] Mills said. “Adults are clearly sensitive to all three sources of inaccuracy. How children begin to understand what it means to be biased is an open question.”

Now I'm no psychologist, and I'm no expert on the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop), but what motivated Sesame Street to base an entire special around the Metropolitan Museum of Art - rather than, say, Carnegie Hall? ("Don't Eat the Music Stands" has a nice ring to it.) Did some CTW person happen to know some Metropolitan Museum person via joint membership in a Democratic Party support committee or something? Could Allen's lifetime have been shaped by the fact that two people agreed that Ed Koch had to be removed from City Hall?

But that's wild speculation (created out of whole cloth), and not the main point of this post. The fact is that certain people are more accepting of advertising messages than others, and obviously your company will do much better if people don't automatically put up barriers to your advertising messages. Perhaps Sara Allen likes Big Bird, and therefore will gravitate to things that Big Bird likes. Perhaps Robert Scoble likes Steve Jobs, and will therefore gravitate to things that Jobs endorses.

Salespeople have to deal with resistance to sales messages all the time, and Debbie Allen has explored the topic.

Resistance can take on many forms, such as questions, statements, and body language, and can mean many things. Occasionally, it is difficult to understand the exact reason for the resistance because people use excuses to cover up their true feelings. Prospects don’t like to say NO. Your prospect or customer is actually doing you a favor if they are honest and straightforward when they tell you how you let them down. do YOU overcome resistance to your message? Can you get your prospects to a state of childlike acceptance?

(Picture source)
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