You might already know the name Rory Sutherland, but for those who don’t, he’s the Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy and the founder of its Behavioural Science Practice. He’s also a TED Talk superstar (with over 6.5 million views!). His new book Alchemy: the surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense hit bookshops today, but here at Turtl we were lucky enough to hear Sutherland speak and get our hands on an early copy. Here’s the scoop!

Introducing: Psycho-logic

The book covers a number of different ideas but ultimately it all comes down to the value of “psycho-logic”:

“My word to describe the way we make decisions – to distinguish it from the artificial concepts of ‘logic’ and ‘rationality… I have chosen psycho-logic as a neutral and non-judgemental term. I have done this for a reason. When we do put a name to non-rational behavior, it is usually a word like ‘emotion’, which makes it sound like logic’s evil twin.”

As much as we like to think we’re rational creatures, the bottom line is, we’re not. We don’t make logical decisions based on evidence, even though businesses typically rely on the assumption that we do.

Now, on to the main reason you’re reading this blog post (so you can pretend you’ve read the book, am I right?). Three takeaways.

1 – Be aware of bad maths

I won’t bore you with a maths lesson but let’s think about this equation for a second: In maths 10 x 1 is the same as 1 x 10, right? Except in real life, this isn’t always the case.

Sutherland uses a great example: It’s much easier to trick ten people once than it is to trick one person ten times.

What does this mean in practice?

Take online shopping. It’s super straightforward for ten people to buy a single item from an online retailer. But flip this around and imagine one person trying to buy ten different items (say, Christmas presents) online. The customer experience is suddenly less than ideal compared to offline shopping, with different items getting delivered at different times and on different days. Suddenly a trip to the nearest department store feels much less chaotic.

From a marketing perspective, think about vanity metrics. 10 clicks from one person is a lot less meaningful than 1 click from 10 people if your aim is to grow brand awareness.

2 – Words are so powerful, they can even change the taste of biscuits

You’ve gone to your local shop and picked up a packet of your favorite comfort food. The words ‘now with lower fat’ feature prominently on the packaging. You shudder, but decide to give it a go. Back home, you dive in only to find yourself massively disappointed. It’s just not as good anymore.

Did the manufacturer screw up the recipe? No. They screwed up their branding.

The addition of those four seemingly innocent words – now with lower fat – was the exact reason that a biscuit manufacturer saw the sales of one of their most popular items plummet.

While their blind testing of the fat-reduced version had shown no real difference between the perceived taste of the products, telling their consumers about the change was enough to spoil the flavor.

The key takeaway here? Messaging can massively affect our senses and experience.

3  – Concentrate on what people feel, not what they say

We are masters of post-rationalization. We’ll act based on a feeling and then identify some reason as to why that action was logically the right thing to do. This is why what we say about how we feel often doesn’t match up to what actually caused the feeling in the first place.

Why do we prefer one brand over another, even when products are evenly matched in terms of quality or function?  Now, design comes into play.

Sutherland gives an example of our preference for stripy toothpaste. There is no functional benefit to creating stripy toothpaste. Once it’s in your mouth, it’s all mixed together. So why do it, and why do so many of us prefer it?

Psycho-logic. By separating the toothpaste into different color stripes, the design signals the multi-purpose action of the ingredients; whitening, bacteria-fighting, breath freshening, etc.

The visual cue impresses and compels us, even though logically there’s no functional benefit to the stripes. Our preference for this type of toothpaste is not rational.

Rules of alchemy infographic

The back cover of the book alone has some juicy tidbits to draw you in, with ‘Rory’s Rules of Alchemy’, which we love so much we’ve whipped up into a little graphic for you.

These are simple psycho-logic mantras, perfect for whenever you find yourself overthinking pretty much anything.

There are countless more insights and stories worth exploring in the book. Alchemy is accessible, funny, and applicable to so many things in life. We highly recommend you pick up a copy, or read some of our other notable posts here.


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