Consumers are weird. They don't do what they say they will do and don't act how we think they "should." Enter Melina Palmer, a sales conversion expert with a personal mission to make your business more effective and brain friendly. In this podcast, Melina will take the complex concepts of behavioral economics (the study and science of why people buy - or not) and provide simple, actionable tips you can apply right away in your business. Whether you're a small business or thriving corporation, Melina's tips can help your business increase sales and get more customers.
Cognitive Semiotics and Metaphors with Sarah Thompson
In today's conversation, I am joined by Sarah Thompson, a behavioral designer at Live Neuron Labs, who has a master's in cognitive semiotics. Don't worry, we are going to have lots of conversation today about what cognitive semiotics is and why it matters.
The first thing I want to set the stage on is to get you thinking about metaphor. Now, this isn't the first time we are talking about metaphors (or semiotics) on the show, but today we are talking about how important metaphor really is when it comes to understanding the brain, thought, and decision-making.
Metaphor matters because research is starting to show that we don't just use them as colorful language, but we actually think in metaphors. It's how our cognitive system is structured.
Sarah will talk about a lot of great resources including a book called Metaphors We Live By, which was written by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. If, like me, you are ready to go all in on cognitive semiotics and metaphor, this is a book to add to your library immediately. Cognitive semiotics is an emerging field, so we all need to stick together and know who else is researching and working in this space. Get ready to have your mind blown (metaphor) as you listen today!
Show Notes: [00:43] In today's conversation, I am joined by Sarah Thompson, a behavioral designer at Live Neuron Labs, who has a master's in cognitive semiotics. [02:08] Cognitive semiotics is an emerging field, so we all need to stick together and know who else is researching and working in this space. [04:29] Sarah shares about herself, her background, and the work she does. She is a behavioral designer. Her job is to apply behavioral science through design to help people make better decisions. [06:10] Cognitive semiotics is how the mind makes meaning. [07:43] One of the biggest insights from cognitive semiotics is that metaphors are incredibly powerful at shaping how we talk, how we think, and how we make decisions. [08:21] Metaphors are something we don’t go out of our way to use. It is just something that naturally flows out of us. [10:55] We have this myth that metaphors are just a part of language but metaphors are actually in all other types of communication including gestures. [12:35] Melina talks about metaphor usage in songs, including what happens when something is unexpected. [14:21] In a metaphor we talk about one concept as if it is another concept. [16:50] A lot of studies show that the earlier you can get a metaphor in your conceptualization of an idea the more ability it has to influence how somebody thinks about it. It is not as effective if you add the metaphor at the end. [18:01] You are using metaphors constantly even when you are not thinking about them. [18:24] Sarah shares a study from Stanford University about two researchers who wanted to know if using a metaphor could affect how somebody thought about a complex social issue like crime. [20:07] A single word changed how people thought about a very complex social issue. The metaphor was more powerful at determining people’s response than their political affiliation. [23:03] We have primary metaphors which are ones that are deeply rooted and embodied metaphors. We acquire them from interactions with the world at a very young age. [25:36] The war metaphor was a mismatched metaphor for the pandemic. [26:56] Metaphors are a part of our everyday communication. They have the ability to influence us and they structure our thoughts. [29:20] The first key thing in using metaphors is identifying your user’s metaphors. [31:44] Once you know what your users are saying you can figure out those higher level conceptual metaphors they have. [33:04] Once you have their metaphors you need to evaluate them and figure out which of their metaphors align with the behavioral outcome we want them to do. [35:44] We have lots of ways where you can go and find what people are actually saying. [37:57] Some metaphors can be empow
Making Concepts Tangible: An Introduction to Cognitive Semiotics (Refreshed Episode)
Today’s episode is all about making concepts tangible (what that means and why it matters in life and business). I am so excited to refresh this episode for you today because it shows how I was excited about something I didn’t have a word for several years ago, but was already searching for. Now I know this was at the root of my interest in cognitive semiotics, something we are digging into on this coming Friday’s episode with Sarah Thompson.
Cognitive semiotics may sound super technical, but it is essentially about how the mind makes meaning, and we talk a lot about metaphor in that conversation. These brain associations and the concepts like a blue square or yellow triangle, which I introduce in this episode are from George Lakoff (I read about in his book The Political Mind, which was part of the reading in my master’s program. I wish they would have included Metaphors We Live By as that would have changed my entire life if I had encountered it all these years ago, but I think things turned out ok so I’m not too mad about it.)
While I didn’t realize it at the time, this episode from 2019 was my first real dive into cognitive semiotics and metaphor elicitation. This episode is all about what it means to make a concept “tangible” or a physical manifestation or physical representation of a concept, and why that is important for all kinds of businesses. Listen in for tips on making things more tangible (and making it easier for people to buy from you).
Show Notes: [00:38] Today’s episode is all about making concepts tangible. [02:43] This isn’t really a topic you can look up. There aren’t really papers or extensive research on this naming. It is more of an acceptable premise. (As noted in the refreshed intro, the field of cognitive semiotics is a place to start.) [03:21] The brain works on associations. [05:30] The physical shapes and colors of road signs bring a physical presence that can be recalled easier. [07:04] The physical manifestation of the brand makes the business more real in your mind because there is a logo to relate to. [08:18] Physical representation can do two big things for a business. It can make an abstract concept more real and impactful. And, it can tie back to an emotion or memory or other association you want to remember. Abstract concepts are everywhere in business. [10:12] Businesses will say things that are more conceptual but feel tangible. That makes the point more impactful for the customer. [12:50] The physical, tangible representation can be tied to our emotional center and trigger loss aversion. A personal example from DVDs. [13:35] In your business, where could you reverse the process and find a spot to inject a physical form where only a concept exists today to make your business more tangible and sticky for your customers? [16:24] When you take something from conceptual to tangible it makes it easier for the brain to categorize, relate, and remember. [17:04] The second way that physical representation is helpful is that it can help remind you of associations you have made previously or of what is important to you. [19:45] A strong brand is able to live through the lack of words and evoke feelings. They leave an impression even without their name. [21:14] What could your business do to be a constant association and reminder in the brains of your customers? [21:22] One important reminder is to note where the association is taking place and what that says for and about your overall brand. [23:07] You (typically) don’t want to be associated with the physical manifestation of a negative concept. [24:47] You can strategically create visuals around what you are wanting to do to help you achieve your goals. What you surround yourself with has a huge impact on your approach to life, business, and success. [25:16] Melina’s closing thoughts [25:33] The words and images we use and how we can be more impactful when we are consistent in our metapho
Happier Hour with Cassie Holmes
In today's conversation, I am joined by Dr. Cassie Holmes. Her fantastic book Happier Hour was named a "must-read" of 2022 by Forbes AND by the Next Big Idea Club. The Washington Post also profiled it as one of their best health books read and recommended by experts in 2022.
Cassie is a Professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Her research examines how focusing on time (rather than money) increases happiness, how the meaning of happiness changes over the course of life, and how much happiness people enjoy from extraordinary versus ordinary experiences. Across these inquiries, her findings highlight the joy that stems from interpersonal connection and paying attention to the present moment.
Cassie’s academic research on the role of time in cultivating well-being has been published in leading academic journals, including Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Consumer Research, and earned her the Early Career Award from both the Association of Consumer Research and the Society of Consumer Psychology. Cassie was identified by Poets & Quants as one of the best 40 business professors under 40, and popular accounts of her research have been featured by NPR, The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Scientific American.
Happier Hour is based on her wildly popular MBA course, “Applying the Science of Happiness to Life Design.” It is so good and I can't wait to have you hear about some of the insights from her -- it will change your life for the better I'm sure.
Show Notes: [00:41] In today's conversation, I am joined by Dr. Cassie Holmes, who you met a few weeks ago when she was on the "panel" episode with Dr. Ayelet Fishbach sharing how to have the best and happiest 2023 possible. [02:45] Her new and widely acclaimed book, Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most, is based on her wildly popular MBA course, “Applying the Science of Happiness to Life Design.” [04:18] Cassie shares about herself, her background, and what she does. She studies happiness and in particular the role of time. [05:22] When we feel happier, it makes us better in the work environment. [08:02] She wrote Happier Hour after the success of her course so she could share her learnings with even more people. Readers can apply the insights and experience the benefits just like her students. [10:10] You can have this huge impact from changing a couple of little things if you put a little focused effort forward. [12:21] Our time is so important. Maximize the amount of time that feels worthwhile and minimize the time that feels like a waste. [15:12] Cassie shares a day of her life early in her career when she experienced time poverty. She wanted more time so she could slow down and experience the time she was spending. [17:15] Time poverty is that acute feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. [19:25] With too little discretionary time people are less happy. When we have too much discretionary spent in time that doesn’t feel worthwhile, that undermines our sense of purpose and we feel less satisfied. [21:45] It is not about how much time you have available. It is really about how you invest the time you have available. [24:20] Discretionary is what you want to do as opposed to nondiscretionary is something you have to do. [26:35] On average people are most satisfied from social connection. The least happy activities tend to be commuting, work hours, and housework. [28:25] After tracking your time for a week you have a fantastic data set where you can find which activities made you feel most satisfied. [31:05] If it is not something you have to do and you are not enjoying it, that is an opportunity to reallocate that time to things that are worthwhile. [33:49] Simply being outside had its own significantly positive effect. [36:28] Experiencing awe can
Incorporating Habits Into Your Business Strategy (Refreshed Episode)
Habits are foundational to everything we do. When we think about habits we tend to think about the “bad” ones, things we want to change but there is so much more to it. Our brains run on habits, and without them, we couldn’t function. Many episodes of this podcast that have been dedicated to habits and related topics throughout the years, and this is the first one, which originally aired in the fall of 2019.
Since then, I’ve interviewed habits expert Wendy Wood and discussed habits with Richard Chataway (links to their episodes in these notes). I included habits heavily in my books and the reason I chose to refresh this episode right now is because of this upcoming Friday’s guest.
Cassie Holmes, the author of Happier Hour is my guest on Friday, and I thought that some reflection on habits is the best way to set you up to get the most out of that conversation. When you look at your day, what makes you happy? What is serving you and what isn’t? What has become a habit and what you should be more thoughtful about? This episode will help you in that process to understand further what a habit is, how they work, and what to keep in mind as you look to reinforce some and change others.
The main thing to remember is that we need habits. They aren’t inherently bad. Most of them are good. Understanding them and leveraging them is where the opportunity lies.
Show Notes: [00:37] Today’s episode is all about habits. Habits are foundational to everything we do. [02:45] You have a lot more good habits than bad ones. You just aren’t consciously aware of the vast majority of them. [04:27] Sorting by color is a form of habitual purchasing. Even with infrequent purchases, the place you go and look is based on habits. [06:25] The human brain essentially works on many many associations. [09:03] Up to 95% of all buying decisions are habitual. [11:09] Unfortunately the idea that it takes us 21-30 days to create a habit is wrong. [13:33] 21 days is not the magic number for making or breaking a habit. [15:16] A 2009 study from the European Journal of Social Psychology found the average number of days it took to form a habit was 66 days. (But don’t let that fool you…the range of data points matters!) [16:58] We approach habit changing all wrong. [18:20] Habits are made up of four phases: cue, craving, response, and reward. [19:31] Habits form because your brain is trying to find predictable ways to get rewards. A cue is a signal to the brain that there is a reward around and that instantly leads to craving/desire/filter for that item. [21:21] If you want to change a habit or start a new one, the cue and reward phases are driving the behavior. [22:44] Cues have been found to fall into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and an immediately preceding action. [24:27] You aren’t craving the thing, but rather the reward it provides. [27:05] When we know the cue and the reward our brain wants we can work to change the habit. [29:31] One other crazy brain trick is word choice. [31:27] Saying “I don’t” is empowering. This was your choice. It affirms the choice you made and makes you feel determined and full of willpower. (This is very different from “I can’t.”) [33:12] You should be confident that you made this choice so you can firmly say “No, I don’t do that.” [35:04] We can check our notifications and emails every couple of hours or a couple of times a day (instead of every instant as we get continuous pings, dings and buzzes) and it will be fine. Once the cue is gone, we won’t look at our phones as much and we can be more productive. [38:07] Interrupting shoppers' habitual sequence can be a problem depending on your business positioning. [39:05] As the brand leader you don’t want to do too much to shake things up or rock the boat. [41:59] The habits of your current and potential customers are important to consider when bui
Your Favorite Episodes of 2022
2022 was a great year for me and The Brainy Business. And, being this is a “best of” episode…here are some of my “best” moments from the year. I traveled to Amsterdam to speak at the fantastic IIEX Europe conference (thank you Greenbook!) and launched my second book, What Your Employees Need and Can’t Tell You, with an in-person event and book signing.
I was honored to be a runner-up in three categories of the Habit Weekly Awards this year and was an honoree on Greenbooks Future List, as well as the ESOMAR Insights250 list. Amazing! I continued teaching and added a class in advanced concepts of behavioral economics to the certificate program, which I’m really proud of and students have really enjoyed. We started testing out a second episode per week.
I also got to meet and connect with some amazing people – 46 of them came on the show as guests in 2022 – that meant reading really great books and papers and learning about what is going on in the field, which is one of my favorite aspects of the work I do. I’m so lucky and honored for this life and love every minute of it and am so excited for the books and episodes coming in 2023!
BUT before we get fully moving forward into the future, we have to look back and celebrate the best of 2022.
Show Notes: [00:45] 2022 was a great year for me and The Brainy Business. And, being this is a “best of” episode…here are some of my “best” moments and memories from the year. [03:33] I also got to meet and connect with some amazing people – 46 of them came on the show as guests in 2022. [06:36] Thank you all for listening, subscribing, sharing, connecting on social media, and reaching out to let me know your wins and the behavioral economics concepts you have applied in your own businesses. [07:44] In 2022, the show had more than a quarter of a million downloads from 170 countries. Thank you! [08:29] TOP DOWNLOADS BY COUNTRY - US, UK, Canada, Australia, which have remained in the top 4 pretty much since the podcast started. India is fifth, followed by Germany… and then we get into some new territory! South Africa has moved up to being 7th in the world in 2022. We then have Spain in the number 8 spot followed by Mexico, and for the first time in the top 10 we have Taiwan! [10:08] TOP 10 STATES - Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia, then Florida is 7, and Ohio holding out the # 6 spot again this year. Washington is in our number 5 spot with New York in number 4 and then Illinois with the third most downloads in 2022! Once again, we continue to have Texas at 2, and California still with the top most downloads of 2022. [12:37] With 249 episodes of content to choose from, we get our top 10 of the year, starting with episode 196 and my interview with Priscilla McKinney of Little Bird Marketing. [14:32] If you are interested in human behavior and having better content that really resonates with people, you are going to love this next one, episode 201 – Creating Content People Can’t Help But Engage With, featuring Katelyn Bourgoin, is next on our list. [17:43] We are to number eight, which is episode 192 – AI, Blockchain, Machine Learning, with Manuj Aggarwal. The intersection of human behavior and technology – specifically with AI and Machine Learning, has been a big topic of conversation in the past couple of years. [18:51] That brings us to the 7th most downloaded episode of the year, 190 – The Voltage Effect with John List. [21:06] Next on our list, is 187 – Motivation and Incentives at Work, with Kurt Nelson. [22:28] If you have ever taken or considered creating an online course, you must listen to episode 193 – How to Make Online Courses People Enjoy, with Chris Rawlinson of 42Courses. [23:57] Now, moving on to the fourth most downloaded episode of the year, 197 – You Have More Influence Than You Think, with Vanessa Bohns. [25:22] Yale professor Zoe Chance was on in episode 189 sharing about her fantastic book, Influence Is Your Superpower
Partitioning: Why Size Matters (Refreshed Episode)
I love partitioning! It is such an under-discussed concept, which is why I decided to refresh this episode from 2019 for you here today. Partitioning is closely related to friction or sludge, but it isn’t exactly the same. While an experience that has partitions may be creating friction/sludge, it isn’t just about that. And, it isn’t always about reducing it. Sometimes, adding a partition is really useful when you want someone to stop and think. I’ll get into that more as we dig into the episode.
As you get ready to listen to the episode today, I encourage you to have some experiences in mind. Try and think of a time when you had a great experience with a company, where things were seamless and streamlined or it felt easy. And another where you were part-way through buying and then stopped or when you changed your mind on a project or whatever else. Try and think through what happened along the way and keep that in mind as you consider the idea of partitioning. Where were the unintended partitions and where did the lack of them make a difference?
Of course, look to your own experiences in your company as well. If you have a hard time closing deals or lose people partway through an application form keep that in mind too. It can all tie back to partitions. So let’s dive in and learn how you can use partitions in your business to create a seamless experience for your customers.
Show Notes: [00:37] Today’s episode is all about partitioning. I love partitioning! It is such an under-discussed concept. [02:39] Partitioning has shown us that when you put tiny barriers into place it causes a consumer to consider their options and be presented with a new decision point. This can be good or bad on both sides depending on the situation. [04:33] Melina shares a study with bottomless soup bowls. [06:34] Another study found that adding some sort of measurement reminder can help reduce consumption even if the cups are large. [08:45] One study found that once something became common it no longer acted as a partitioning mechanism. [10:21] It isn’t just effort that matters but drawing the attention of the conscious brain really matters too. [12:56] It is so easy to be tricked by our brains. [15:07] Those with a high aversion to gambling were significantly impacted by the partitions. [16:24] Partitioning money has also been found to help people save more and spend less. [17:26] Essential with shopping…once you start the process of spending you are more likely to spend again until you hit a partition. [19:07] Any cognitive intervention (something that makes the user stop and think) can trigger partitioning. This can be done using sounds, rhetorical questions, targets, or progress markers. [21:37] It doesn’t have to feel bad or negative for the consumer. [23:41] The cashier in an airport store bringing up the price of the almonds and forcing us to rethink our decision multiple times caused anticipated regret and lowered the total amount spent significantly. [25:18] It is easy to talk people out of a sale, make them feel bad about a purchase, or start to regret it even when you are trying to be helpful. [26:07] Setting up targets or progress markers, on the other hand, can be great partitions for a business to set up to keep on the radar of their current, past or potential customers. [27:21] Removing partitions and obstacles can be great for businesses and customers alike. [29:29] Partitions in the selling process are a recipe for getting ghosted. Always schedule circle-back meetings in the moment. [32:03] Make it easy for people to do business with you. Remove unnecessary partitions in the process and everyone will be happier. [32:13] Melina’s closing thoughts [32:42] The concept of partitioning can help you to look for opportunities to make it easier to work with you, especially up front. Partitions are particularly dangerous early on and in the selling process. Thanks for liste
Love this podcast!
Always something interesting - and useful - for marketers! Lots of awesome guests, plus some fantastic foundational episodes. Melina makes behavioral science easy to grasp, and she always leaves you thinking.
Wealth of knowledge
Up and coming business owner here! I’ve been listening to your podcast for quite awhile now and have loved every minute of it (except the long introductions that I always skip past, sorry just being honest 🤷🏿♂️). Thank you for shedding light on so many different topics. I have complied a long list of strategies to help me on my future business thanks to you! I have been extrapolating the knowledge bombs to incorporate them for chiropractic office success when the time comes.
In one of your last episodes I heard the mention of you working with vets, chiropractors and other medical providers in the past. Can you share an episode related to these fields? I would love to hear some insight on how you helped them. I just might need you in my corner when I open up practice 🙌
Thanks for everything you’re doing!
(Future business owner)
Melina Palmer knows as much about behavioral science as anyone on earth (she’s a professor who runs a behavioral science program), and she makes the topic so much fun! Great questions and I wish I could have had her as a teacher!