Saturday, 2 February 2013

Potentially Important

It’s possible that this is the most useful article you will read all year. If that opening got your attention, then your reaction matches a number of  studies which show that we're charmed and enthralled by someone saying what they can achieve. We're suckers for ‘Potential’.
This has real applications for sales and recruitment. We often lead with or dedicate large sections of websites and brochures to our past achievements. These can be awards we have won, ISO accreditation, academic credentials of key staff, large prestigious clients we have worked for, large numbers of current customers.  We spend a lot of time saying "Look what we have done”. Similarly on our CVs we spend most of it saying where we worked, how well we did in college or some other achievement. It’s all about the track record.
It turns out, this approach may not be always right. A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  by Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia at Stanford and Michael Norton at Harvard Business School, tested the appeal of potential in a number of experiments with  hundreds of volunteers.
Their research showed that people playing the role of basketball coach preferred young novice players with great potential over an established player with a sound record. They were also willing to pay the young potential star more than the proven pro. Similar preferences were borne out for recruiting managers who went for potential leaders rather than guys who had been there and done it.
In an experiment that could be directly applied to your Social Media marketing campaigns, the researchers tested the effectiveness of ads on Facebook for 8 days for a real US comedian called Kevin Shea. Advertisements that played up Shea's potential ("he could be the next big thing") generated more click-throughs and "likes" than ads that highlighted his achievements ("he is the next big thing").

When you hear lotto companies advertising, they will always say how much the jackpot is heading towards in the next draw and 'it could be you'. Only rarely in regular advertising do they highlight the track record on wins. Whatever about your awareness of the actual odds involved, the lotto ticket is all about potential.
The authors do however, qualify the influence of potential by saying you can’t expect high potential to compensate for a genuinely poor track record and truly outstanding achievements (they mention winning an Olympic medal) would outperform potential.

The point remains, if you are going for an interview, emphasise the potential you can bring with you to the new job, don’t just rest on the laurels of past achievements. Just because you have loads of great customers and reference sites for your current product, don’t expect this to be enough. Sell the potential of how your product could transform the lives of your customers. What you have done should only be part of the story. Then like Kevin Shea, you could be the next big thing.

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