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Mind Over Matter: How Stories Can Override Nature

Ask someone the color of a shiny new Ferrari, and they’ll nearly always answer “Red”, which loudly proclaims power, virility, and speed. Would a “Green Bull” give you the same wings as its red cousin?

Or, consider that hip new bistro you visited last weekend. It’s no accident that many of the dishes highlight decadent “enhancer” ingredients in their menu descriptions or bear the name of a distant relative. Grandma might not have actually had anything to do with the recipe, but suggesting she did promises to boost sales.

These well-worn clichés reflect a traditional understanding of appealing to consumer psychology, and the fact that businesses use psychology to alter perceptions has long been known and is nowadays a given for most consumers. However, new research, not directly related to marketing or business, suggests that our perceptions not only influence our tastes and preferences, but also our physical and cognitive functioning.

Recent studies have shown us hotel maids who were told they were exercising during the workday that actually lost weight compared to their colleagues who were not. Another study convinced people that athletic ability and visual acuity were correlated and saw that their vision improved following a workout.

Of greatest potential benefit for sleep-deprived Americans this holiday season might be a study from Colorado College, in which participants were hooked up to equipment that they were told could measure the quality of their previous night’s sleep. The equipment could not, in fact, do this, and subjects were instead randomly assigned either an “above average” or a “below average” sleep quality condition and then asked to complete a test of cognitive function.

Researchers found that:

Those who believed they had slept poorly scored 44% correct on the PASAT, while those who believed they slept well scored 70% correct. These percentages are consistent with individuals’ performances in other research who had actually slept poorly or not. The effects of perceived sleep quality were comparable to the effects of actual sleep deprivation.

In this study, the power of belief is conclusively strong enough to short-circuit our natural circadian rhythms. In essence, the “test” is really nothing more than a well-told story: The participants trusted the machine to gauge the quality of their own sleep, and its answer then influenced their cognitive performance, despite being nothing more than a random pronouncement.

This is magical stuff with myriad applications outside a laboratory setting.  By leveraging stories to make people believe, businesses and organizations can actually influence not just their audience’s tastes and preferences, but their physical processes.

However, with great power, comes great responsibility, and marketing that aims to instill beliefs in its audience must be beneficial for both the business as well as the consumer. This feat requires a deep understanding of a both parties’ motivations and must be undertaken with mindfulness towards building lasting relationships, not simply tricking people.

We at Woden are experts at this craft and work with businesses to tell their stories in compelling, affecting ways that resonate deeply with their customers, turning them into advocates and friends. If you’re exhausted from losing sleep over how to tell your firm’s story, give us a call to learn how Woden can work for you.