If you were stuck on an island… Wait, let me rephrase that. If you’re stuck at home and bored out of your mind, Rory Sutherland can keep you company. The Ogilvy Vice Chairman is a walking, talking, encyclopedia of human insights who makes you rethink your choices. I finally had a chance to finish his book, Alchemy and was reminded about the power of ideas that don’t make sense. Especially when the world finds comfort in “data-driven” logic.

6 Lessons I Learned from Alchemy

Sometimes it’s better to be upfront about our shortcomings than to have consumers worry about the potential downside. 

Case in point:

It’s okay to say, “Our airlines have no frills so you can fly for less.”

But, it’s a bad idea to shout, “Our airlines are cheap and the food is great.”

Even if the latter is true, no one’s gonna believe it.

Ryan Air

2) Minimizing regret is half the battle in our day-to-day lives. What makes our choices easier is our innate herd mentality.

For example, governments can sell better pensions if they target a group of people that know each other, like Sports Clubs, rather than cold contacting everyone under the sun. 

3) Find a different expression for the same thing:

People might feel averse to a $15/month subscription.

But, reframe that to 49¢/day and folks will realize they’re more wasteful on their daily cappuccino shots. 

4) Giving people choices that are unwarranted, sometimes lead to better results. 

For example:
A British telecom company wanted to introduce a new phone service in the 90s.

The logical hypothesis?
Customers who got direct mail ads for the new telephone service would sign up more if they were only given the option to call in. 

The irrational results:
• The option to sign-up by only calling back got a 2.9% response
• The option to sign-up by only mailing back a form got a 5% response
• The option to sign-up by mail or by phone got a 7.8% response

Simply put, consumers like having more choices than the one marketers expect them to respond to.

5) Be unpredictable. If you follow the rules and conventions of your industry, then your brand will eventually look like your competitor’s.

My favourite line?

“It is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative.”

Rory Sutherland

That’s why being predictable in complex settings is higher. We fetishize bulletproof logic to save our asses.  

6) Dare to be trivial. One of the most important additions to eCommerce was “The $300MM button” which allowed consumers to purchase goods with a guest account instead of forcing them to register with a loyalty login.

Guest Checkout Button 

Most people assume large ripple effects come from large inputs. But to Alchemists (marketers), small tweaks in meaning or contexts can change the entire game.

Rory’s parting advice? Don’t ignore what seems trivial or irrelevant at first. To be brilliant you have to be irrational.