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Minimum Viable Personality (2011) (avc.com)
181 points by tosh 20 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments



I love that marketing works, and that people want to believe in values, and will band together over those values.

However lately, I've felt that especially in the US, values -- or more accurately -- symbols of values have become more important than actual tangible outcomes or functional real achievements. For people as individuals and as groups.

I guess of course that I'm especially thinking about our politics and social emphases these days. And maybe it's just gotten slightly worse that you notice it, fueled by Instagram and sound bite technology. Maybe even the way we market products and companies (come for the values!) contributes to our political discourse.

Think about any movement out there at present -- MeToo, conservative agenda, liberal agenda, organic produce, gentrification, almost any major movement. If you really get into the issue, you find that the symbol of the thing is actually a very, very small almost non-representative case of the situation as a whole.

Immigrants are not invading in hordes. Men at work are not harassing every female employee. People are not trying to kick out elderly widows to turn the block into a shopping mall. They're all symbols of the most extreme cases, and we latch on to them because they're recognizable, inflammatory, and get us riled up to want to do something. As always the rare, incredible threat dominates our minds so much more than the mundane everyday threat.

But sometimes I think, a society needs to think about the whole and not the extreme cases. And give up being obsessed with achieving symbolic victory, and instead actual (minor, boring, incremental) achievements for the whole. That's much harder to get people inflamed to vote for.

The current climate is why we got tax breaks for a couple of billionaires at the expense of millions of people with mortgages. It's a symbol of someday when I'll be a millionaire! (Never going to happen, on average) . When did you last thank the policymaker who came up with the mortgage deduction, something that you take advantage of every day?

Your shoe is not going to make you a star athlete. An immigrant is not knocking on the door to take your job -- that was decided decades ago. For every policy you put in place to protect the imaginary elderly widow, you make it harder for 10 young people to have an affordable place to live.

Stop believing so much in symbols.


> They're all symbols of the most extreme cases, and we latch on to them because they're recognizable, inflammatory, and get us riled up to want to do something

Having moved from Australia to the US then Canada and having spent over and month in more than 50 countries around the world, I can tell you the US does this more (better?) than other countries.

The entire US system and political discourse is setup as right/wrong, black/white, right/left, and leaves no room for discussion.

In America you're either pro-life or pro-choice, pro-guns or anti-guns, etc. etc. There is no middle ground, no room for a discussion and certainly you can bet your bottom dollar nobody would ever listen to someone from the other side and perhaps learn something.

Happily, in my experience other countries are not nearly as bad as this, and I hope like hell we don't follow suit like we have with too many other bad habits of the US.


you can bet your bottom dollar nobody would ever listen to someone from the other side and perhaps learn something.

One problem with listening to the other side is that most people are so ridiculously misinformed about issues (on all sides), that listening to the average person of the other side is unlikely to make you learn something. You have to actively seek out the smartest people from the other side and listen to them, and that's a lot of work.


> You have to actively seek out the smartest people from the other side and listen to them, and that's a lot of work.

Partly because the smartest people on the other side aren't the ones that the average person on the other side is listening to. They're lost in the noise, even for people on their own side.


I think there's truth to that; however, I wonder if there can also sometimes be a sort of "immune system" that protects people in a sub-culture from the bad parts of the group.

For example, when I move, I ask people at my old church if they recommend any churches in the new city. So I naturally end up insulated from any crazy churches that are there. On the other hand, someone who isn't already plugged into the "Christian network" is much more likely to be exposed to the crazy parts of the community.


>One problem with listening to the other side is that most people are so ridiculously misinformed about issues (on all sides), that listening to the average person of the other side is unlikely to make you learn something.

That's the very mindset that prevents people from listening to other sides.

Instead of focusing on the "misinformation" of those on the other side on a matter (which could even be misinformation on one's own side attributed to the "enemy"), it's best to try to understand their point of view.

Especially on issues where there's no hard and fast right and wrong (as is the case in hard sciences), but are more a matter of moral values, culture, personal experiences, etc.


That's the very mindset that prevents people from listening to other sides.

I don't think it is, and I have a personal example to "prove" my point.

Personally, I'm a pacifist. The average non-pacifist knows nothing about things like middle eastern geopolitics or nuclear weapons policy. If I want to understand these topics better in ways that challenge my pacifism, I should be reading/listening to experts like David Petraeus or John Bolton, not my mom. My mom shares a wordview with Petraeus and Bolton, but she's simply not as educated or influential as these people and so is unable to give me the best arguments to challenge my beliefs.


I try to listen to the "average person" (family member, next door, colleague) of the "other side" mostly not because I want to learn more about the merits of the other position but rather as a way to better understand human nature, which in turn might also have the side effect of making me change my mind about that (or other unrelated) topics.


I'd listen to "experts" such as Petraeus less -- their salaries depend upon them not understanding a lot of things.

Now, your mother or some random person X might not be able to eloquently compare the merits of pacifism vs realpolitik, but tons of average persons have good arguments, grounded in reality.

Even more so if those persons are not in some US state that had no contact with war and global politics since forever (aside from some local poor people getting into the army), but e.g. from countries that had actual first hand experience with neighborhood countries, foreign invasions, etc, and have a pragmatic understanding about those things.


The smartest people on the "other side" might not even be people you want to listen to. Are they arguing in good faith? Are they subject to conflicts of interest? Do they represent a special interest, or an ideology?

Then, for some, you are dealing with an "other side" that represents an existential threat. Do you listen to seemingly-rational statements from someone who, at turns, has suggested it would be better for you or people like you to starve, or be killed, or be thrown in jail? If character speaks to the intention of an act, can an act that seems righteous still be trusted?

Do you see how this can become complicated very quickly?


Exactly. As an example, I'm transgender. While most feminists are very supportive of trans rights, there's a tiny minority, the TERFs, which see gender identity as a radical ideology and trans women as men appropriating femininity and invading women's spaces. I spent months debating in good faith with TERFs on the internet, and it did a number on me. They're quite articulate, but they don't argue in good faith - they bully, they dehumanize, they aren't willing to be convinced or see the human behind the text. And I can't debate in good faith either - I know I'm a girl, I needed hormones and transition to keep myself from suicide, I can't change my view at all! So it became a war of words.

So many of these conflicts have smoldered for decades and they're now coming to a head. Maybe the US isn't so backwards in its discourse, we might just be the front line of an ugly but inevitable war.


That's because most people religiously put faith in dumb news outlets of USA and keeps repeating the same arguments without trying to fully understand them. They have gotten accustomed to outsourcing critical thinking process to news orgs.


> The entire US system and political discourse is setup as right/wrong, black/white, right/left, and leaves no room for discussion.

While the US system is more polarized (and more bimodal) than lots of other modern democracies (largely as a consequence of the electoral system), and the mass-media-mediated public discourse further exaggerates that (Red v. Blue provides a simple, compelling overarching narrative framework), there's actually plenty of nuance and room for discussion, both on a common-citizen level (though you need to talk to people who are more wary of, and often require a better pre-existing relationship before, talking about politics to see it, because those people are tired of getting hit over the head with the orthodoxy on either side) and on an elite level (largely outside of casual public view, both because the participants don't really relish war with the ideologues and because the media isn't interested in nuance.)


>Men at work are not harassing every female employee.

Ever work a shitty job in the food industry? Not all men are harassers, but anecdotally it seems like maybe 10-25% of men at these jobs will systematically harass every female employee below the age of 30. Unsolicited back-rubs, ass-grabs, the whole shebang. It's, like, really bad, and when the owner/manager is involved there's not much you can do. I do feel like the "always believe the accuser" narrative goes too far, but I don't think this behavior is really an edge case. It seems like a significant minority of males in unprofessional work environments.


To play devil's advocate, I have worked shitty jobs in the fast food industry. Two and a half years at McDonald's and then another two and a half at Longhorn Steakhouse. I never witnessed a single incident of physical harassment against any of the girls I worked with, not even once.

There was one guy that pushed the line a little too far sometimes but the girls weren't afraid of or offended by him so much as they took pity on him. He was a very depressed individual.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen, only that anecdotal evidence is fundamentally incomplete. It is entirely too small of a sample to be statistically significant.


Of course chain restaurants will have strict anti-harassment policies else they would on hook for multi-million dollar lawsuits. The kind of abuse that above comment mentioned is most common at standalone places.


Yeah, I agree with this and also believe the parent is responding in good faith. I've never worked at an established franchise, and I'm sure there are ma-and-pa shops that actually care, but what I've seen has been abysmal.


>Ever work a shitty job in the food industry? Not all men are harassers, but anecdotally it seems like maybe 10-25% of men at these jobs will systematically harass every female employee below the age of 30.

10-25%? So, in all probability less than 1 in 4, and even close to just 1 in 10?

If only in all areas of life people (men and women) were jerks with merely those odds...


10-25% of people not saying "thank you" is acceptable. 10-25% of people spitting in your face would be totally unacceptable. Let's not brush off sexual assault as if it were a minor inconvenience.


I consider somebody spitting in my face to be much worse than somebody grabbing my ass or giving me an unsolicited backrub. I think it would be useful to break that statistic down into further categories based on how egregious something is. Somebody giving me an unsolicited backrub in my mind is a lot less wrong than somebody grabbing my ass. Lumping all of these together might provide for a big statistical number, but it also makes it more likely that people won't take the statistic seriously.


Heck, I consider grabbing a stranger's ass very wrong (I'd say as wrong as spitting in their face).

What I'd want to know is whether those terrible things the parent describes are of that level, or merely trying to get a dinner with some coworker, or telling them they look good, etc -- which is often classified as some kind of horrible harassment to pad the numbers.

Meanwhile, tons of men to men, men to women, women to men, and women to women, animosity incidents and abuse of no sexual kind in the workplace is glossed over.


Parent here. I've seen the spectrum of abuse you're talking about, I was just talking about the clear sexual harassment that was relevant to the comment I was replying to, and I've seen worse than I brought up (like an owner hugging one of his managers from behind, and then transitioning the hug into a dry-hump of her leg which she was totally not on board with). I'm talking about literal ass-grabbing, though the other points you make are totally valid issues as well.


Think about any movement out there at present -- MeToo, conservative agenda, liberal agenda, organic produce, gentrification, almost any major movement. If you really get into the issue, you find that the symbol of the thing is actually a very, very small almost non-representative case of the situation as a whole.

Also, sometimes the symbol becomes the focus, instead of the actual underlying value.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHbzSif78qQ

As always the rare, incredible threat dominates our minds so much more than the mundane everyday threat.

It can also more easily go viral. Here's how ordinary, regular people can help. When people start being extreme and a bit divorced from reality and engaging in violence, unsavory almost-violence, and untruthful agenda pushing, people need to call it out, and also call it out from their own sides. It's a failure of calling out one's own side which reads as tacit approval and most strongly gives the false impression to others that the extreme represents the median. Understanding this is one key to understanding why the views of reality diverge so strongly between groups in society in 2019. The tricky part of this, is that to be able to do this, you have to poke your head out of your "side's" information bubble. (If you think your side is 100% in the right, you're not poking hard enough!)

There are forces in society who claim to be championing human rights, but then throw out fundamentals like due process, paint entire groups with a broad brush based on surface characteristics, and engage in the same sort of tactics that the Westboro Baptist Church and the people in the past who tried to exclude Jewish people, blacks, and homosexuals from the mainstream and most valuable parts of society. It's just harder to see, if it's being done on behalf of your own "side."

The real conflict in 2019 is the mainstream vs. the extremes. The extremes actually don't have the same values as the mainstream. The extremes have the advantage of stealth, by re-framing everything in terms of "us vs. them." What they really want is to create more outrage to roll the dice and increase their own power.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

Stop believing so much in symbols.

Start "following the money." Start examining what's happening in terms of how media uses a basic emotion like outrage to go viral. Who benefits?


> Here's how ordinary, regular people can help. When people start being extreme and a bit divorced from reality and engaging in violence, unsavory almost-violence, and untruthful agenda pushing, people need to call it out, and also call it out from their own sides.

I've done this before on Hacker News (on a different account). I've pointed out that an asserted fact was untrue and linked to a PDF compiled by a government agency and pointed out which data table to look at. I agreed with the conclusion the original poster had, but not the facts he used to support the case, and I didn't mention what my political views were.

All I ended up with was a lot of downvotes and lots of comments accusing me of supporting evil policies and that I should read certain books and I'd get my eyes opened. No one even discussed what I said. The funny thing is that I had read the book that was recommended and had it with me in my bookshelf. I was thinking of taking a picture of me holding the book and posting it with the comment saying: "Hey HNer, I'm on your side! But when people use incorrect facts to try to push an agenda, it causes the whole side to lose credibility. There are enough reasons to support policy X that we don't need to make stuff up".

It opened my eyes that people don't engage with the actual content. They just make assumptions of a posters point of view, and then argue against stereotypes.


I have run into the same situation that you described so many times. It's one of the most off-putting points about discussing the world with people. I wish people understood that basing an argument on bad facts makes it easy to "disprove" the argument in the mind if the person you're trying to convince.


I wish you had done that :) But in actuality I agree, I don't think it would have helped. In today's climate, disagreeing with your 'side' signals that you are on the other 'side' and makes you a bit more of a pariah each time.


MeToo is an interesting example.

I suspect that Facebook and Twitter have their own linear algebra models of who is interested in what, and that factors into their choices of what content from your friends makes it into your stream.

After the wave of MeToo posts on Facebook and Twitter had died down, I asked my friends on Facebook to characterize how many MeToo posts they'd seen. Liberals reported seeing far more MeToo posts than conservatives did.

Something I didn't ask about, but have seen after the fact, is that conservatives and liberals seem to have a totally different idea of what MeToo is about. Algorithmic balkanization may have contributed to these differing ideas, and cordoned most of the MeToo-related activity in a liberal cluster of the social graph.

I saw a lot of personal stories of harassment and abuse from my friends. The sheer volume of them was undeniable. I could never say, given the experiences my friends reported, that it was mostly symbolic. Those experiences were very much concrete. It is possible that my particular subset of the social graph is disproportionately affected by sexual harassment and assault, which would affect the validity of any conclusions about the broader society I might draw from what I saw. But, for the subset of the social graph I observed, there is simply no way to call it symbolic.


I would say it is both a mostly symbolic movement and a collection of real personal stories that most people know a victim that is either have a friend or friend to a friend.

Lets imagine we had a movement like metoo here in Europe talking about violence from immigrants. You would get thousands of personal stories documenting people being robbed, beaten, threatened, raped or target of other forms of crime. The people behind the movement would highlight the over representation that those immigrants have in the crime statistics, and the crimes would be very concrete. What would the conclusions be drawn about the initiative by the broader society? I predict that the difference between conservatives and liberals would be a mirror image of the same difference conservatives and liberals has over metoo.


I would be very surprised if these situations would be mirrors of one another. The way MeToo played out in my social media, I never saw friend A sharing an experience that friend-of-friend B posted. Rather, friend A shared their direct experience. Re-shared stories would have no doubt caused an inflated sense of actual prevalence... but that's simply not what I observed.

I have many friends that reported their own direct experiences with sexual harassment and assault. I would actually be pretty shocked if anything like that number had directly experienced violence from immigrants.


Interesting. I have the opposite experience with no friends talking about sexual harassment but several who are victim of crimes committed by immigrants.

It make some sense however given that data here in Sweden. 6% of people are victim of either sexual assault or harassment and around 6% of people are victim of either assault or robbery. Sexual assault has mostly female victims and assault and robbery has mostly male victims.

And the blame towards immigrants shows up clear in the data. Immigrants in Sweden are 400% over represented for assault and robbery and almost 500% in regard to sexual assault. For those cities which has a very high proportion of immigrants this translate to directly to a lot of people being victims of crime committed by immigrants.

The data is what the data is. We can discuss different interpretation of it, but the general point is that movement like MeToo is not about informing the public about crime statistics. It is a symbol by one political side about an issue they find important, which they highlight through the use of mass reports of personal experiences. The right could do the exact same thing, and I remember a few times they tried and failed to do so.


I think you're right. It's much less political, but I used to upload stuff to facebook that I thought might shock my friends. I eventually realized that this content of mine was showing up in almost no one's feed.

[edit]

It wasn't political or graphic material, just more "internet meme-y" than many of them were used to.


>Liberals reported seeing far more MeToo posts than conservatives did.

This could be "confirmation bias" or perhaps more accurately the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon... liberals tend to be more in-tune with the MeToo movement and therefore would be more likely to recall having seen it.


Yes, that is possible. Part of MeToo, as interpreted by liberals, was establishing a sort of quorum of those who had been victimized. The fact that other survivors were coming out with their experiences made it seem safer for each person to feel like they could reveal their own experiences. If liberals were disproportionately likely to notice the quorum, then they would be disproportionately likely to contribute their own stories, resulting in a positive feedback loop. That may be an even better explanation for the discrepancies than algorithmic balkanization.

In either case, for the people that I observed posting about it, MeToo was not symbolic; it was explicitly grounded in personal experience. But it's possible that the messages propagated differently in different areas of the social network, such that some others viewed it as symbolic.


The mortgage deduction is actually terrible...


Well, we can definitely debate over whether it produces the right incentives or is equitable. But it is certainly more equitable and useful relative to tax breaks for billionaires and corporations.


Tax breaks for corporations are actually really important, those high rates make real businesses in the U.S. unattractive.

By "real businesses" I don't mean the likes of Amazon who rarely if ever make a profit. They're not really paying taxes anyway. Neither am I talking about big international corporations, they know how to offshore and not pay taxes as well.

The same goes for billionaires. You can't tax them and expect to get more money. They can allocate their wealth to pay the minimum in taxes.


That's how you sell (influence/persuade) others to do something is by engaging their emotions - the stronger the better.

Words are a tool like another other, can be used to empower others or create hatred...


Words are a tool like another other, can be used to empower others or create hatred...

In 2019, outrage has become the easiest emotion to exploit to achieve virality. One should always be asking: Does this media prioritize accuracy over virality, or is it the other way around?


You would love to read Baudrillard. He would agree with you that symbols have overtaken the real as the domain of reality.


> Immigrants are not invading in hordes.

Subjectively, they are.

> Men at work are not harassing every female employee.

Subjectively, sexual harassment is extremely widespread.

> People are not trying to kick out elderly widows to turn the block into a shopping mall.

When I complain about my rent going up, it is of course much easier to make the case for the poor widow than myself.

> Your shoe is not going to make you a star athlete.

Of course. It's still going to make me feel like one, just a little bit.

> An immigrant is not knocking on the door to take your job -- that was decided decades ago.

Subjectively, he is. Even factually, as a laborer, immigration drives down my wages. That's basic economics. Of course there's nary a citizen left willing to work for as little as an illegal immigrant - but that's because those wages have been driven down already.

> For every policy you put in place to protect the imaginary elderly widow, you make it harder for 10 young people to have an affordable place to live.

Maybe, but doesn't everyone like elderly widows? Doesn't everyone hate those hipster millennials?

> Stop believing so much in symbols.

Never. Not in a million years.


Basic economics: you're mostly competing with other people who apply for the same jobs as you. There is not one labor market, there are many, and they are often pretty specialized. You can't substitute a plumber for a lawyer or vice-versa. This is why different jobs pay different wages.

This means it's never going to be all that useful to approach controversial issues like immigration at a high level of abstraction. It affects people differently. The details matter, and yet, here we are, talking in abstractions instead of from experience.

There are few facts here, lost in a sea of stylized summaries and witty exaggeration. Maybe we shouldn't take it too seriously?


[flagged]


> I ain't got time nor interest for the details. If you can't speak in terms that I can understand within a short timeframe, in a way that appeals to my preconceived notions, then I'm voting for the guy that promises me the wall.

Haha, I like that. Everyone wants the elevator pitch. Fair enough.


I disagree that the world is full of products that work, and that most people want more "interesting" products.

Maybe at a certain age when one is full of naivety, that is true. But at this point, I prefer products that are stable and work well, even if they are a bit "boring". This is not limited to tech: no amount of marketing is going to convince to prefer a thoughtless but glitzy cafe than a cozy one where I am made to feel comfortable through attention to detail.

I suspect I am like most people who have more than a certain level of experience in life, but maybe I may be wrong. The more I consume various products, the more I realise just how horribly bad most products are: insurance that barely works, software that is insecure, etc.


You're just not in the market for every single emotional appeal (nobody is) and you probably have somewhat of an "outsider" or "underdog" preference.

Different emotional appeals still work on you and are being exploited without you knowing. For example:

> ...a cozy one where I am made to feel comfortable through attention to detail


What are we doing to ourselves?

If you were in the market for a new pair of shoes, what would be the sensible thing to do to get the best pair? Would you look at the glitzy ads, or would you try to choose something that is durable and comfortable for its price? Would you compare celebrity endorsements or spec sheets?

There's no one in their right mind who would say the right way to buy a computer is to look at advertisements. The right thing to do is compare specs and functionality.

This is good advice for how to make money. But bear in mind that, if you try to build a personality for your company, you are choosing something for your customers that you would never choose for yourself.


Social media seems to have created an environment where, more than ever, individuals apply the ideology of marketing to their entire lifestyle and thought process. You are your personal brand, and you must work to manipulate how others see you. The ad economy strives to turn everyone into an advertiser.

Unfortunately, this philosophy of instrumentality is effective. How would we as a society put marketing back inside Pandora's box?


Yep. I tell people that Seth Godin won. Now everybody is doing whatever they can to create a tribe.

Unfortunately, while this might have been a great marketing strategy five years ago, it doesn't scale -- and it makes a horrible mess out of dialectical conversation.


Which only works when there were just a few doing it. You could stand out when it was a little different.

When everyone does it like Apple, no one does, not even Apple. It ceases to have meaning or effect.


> This is good advice for how to make money. But bear in mind that, if you try to build a personality for your company, you are choosing something for your customers that you would never choose for yourself.

Unfortunately, treating people like gullible children is a winning strategy. I can't think of any large company that treats their customers with decency and respect.


Interesting point, badpun. I think there's an assumption that generally a good company: "treats their customers with decency and respect."

I wonder if one problem is that cultural/societal values change over time, and a company might not be keeping up with the times. And that may adversely impact the way a company is treating their customers. What do you think?


> I think there's an assumption that generally a good company: "treats their customers with decency and respect."

I disagree. Companies' are top-down in nature, so their values are set by their owners. Large companies are almost always owned by a multitide of entities (investors) that do not care about anything else than profits. In such case, maximizing profits is the only true value, and whatever else they might say is smokescreen.

On the other hand, if the company has a single person or a small number of people in charge, then, depending on the values of these people, company can care about other things than profit. However, large companies controlled by individuals and not mobs of investors are rare.

To summurize, the stock market is a mixed bag for me. It improves allocation of capital, but it also creates the disconnect between owners and their companies which makes the companies greedy and egotistical.


Thanks for the explanation. Interesting perspective. I'm finding that certain customer tribes over time get turned off by the point that "maximizing profits is the only true value, and whatever else they might say is smokescreen."

This reminds me of the typical social media company (e.g., Facebook). Certain 'customers' have turned cynical because of the company's aim to maximize profits. I wonder what it's going to do to their brand value/personality in the long term?


It sure is making companies lose customers - the play is to be a dick, but only when the profits from it exceed the losses from disgruntled customers. Unfortunately I think at this point the customers are used to being routinely maltreated, so they don't turn their back on the terrible companies even in cases of blatant abuse (ex. a year after the VW scandal, their car had record sales in my country).


Facebook never once cared about its users; they are not and never have been the customers.

Facebook's name being dragged through the mud isn't too surprising if you follow the attitude that Zuckerberg was shamelessly open about since the inception of the company.


'or would you try to choose something that is durable and comfortable'

'There's no one in their right mind who would say the right way to buy a computer is to look at advertisements. ...compare specs and functionality'

that's not how any of this works :)

in our minds we're perfectly logical units making deliberate choices based on carefully considered factors. in reality I pay $5.45 for blue bottle pour over coffee, in YETI coffee mug that best resembles my ruggedness.

in fact most people sacrifice specs and functionality and buy iPhones simply because of personality


Hardly anyone is capable of drawing meaningful conclusions from comparing specs and functionality between computers. Advertisements are the way the vast majority of people understand what products can do. There's a reason iPhone commercials focus exclusively on some single, insignificant functionality like a facial recognition emoji generator.


Ironic that we've made it to that place, given that one of the huge differentiators in the early generations of iPhone was how it was advertised. The carrier ads flogging alternatives showed 3D models of the devices whizzing around the screen (the emotional play), while Apple's iPhone advertising actually showed the UI; they showed what it looked like to use it and showed it being used to do something useful.


>Hardly anyone is capable of drawing meaningful conclusions from comparing specs and functionality between computers.

No one is capable of drawing meaningful conclusions by comparing advertisements.

A salesman is supposed to walk the customer through these sort of things. The problem is that salesmen at big-box stores like Best Buy are neither knowledgeable nor trustworthy.


People ask their (more) tech literate friends for advice. Making decisions based on ads is a sure way to have a bad time.


A lot of advertising isn’t intended to influence people to make a specific choice, it’s to keep the brand in mind as an option in the first place. For example: if you’re going to buy soda from the store, you’re more likely to buy Coke or Pepsi than to buy RC Cola. Why? Because until I reminded you just now, you didn’t even remember that RC Cola existed.

“Comparing specs and functionality” is exhausting, technical, and almost as prone to pointless marketing gimmickry, like the megahertz wars. And it’s usually not worth the effort. Many purchasing decisions aren’t necessary to optimize, and many of the ones that are can only be optimized subjectively—which shoes fit the best to your feet, which helmets fit the best to your head, which furniture looks and fits best in your home. If you’re buying a motorcycle, the technical specs can be the best on the market, but if it doesn’t physically fit your body it’s a bad motorcycle for you.

So if you’re building a personality and a brand around your company and products, does that mean you’re expecting your customers to make irrational decisions? No, you’re just trying to get attention, get into people’s heads, and make them remember that you’re an option. And when it is a deciding factor, most of the time it’s because all of the other factors are meaningless anyway. If you buy Nike because you want to be like LeBron James, and you’re at least satisfied with the shoes and whatnot themselves, odds are that wearing a slightly better designed Under Armor shoe won’t actually make you happier anyway.


   > If you were in the market for a new pair of shoes, what would 
   > be the sensible thing to do to get the best pair? Would you 
   > look at the glitzy ads, or would you try to choose something 
   > that is durable and comfortable for its price? Would you compare 
   > celebrity endorsements or spec sheets?
So what shoes do YOU wear? I bet the majority of your shoes are nationally recognized brands. If not, I'd sure like to know where you find "spec sheets" on shoes. =)

But in general you're missing the point here.

In fact it can be boiled down to a single word. From the transcription:

   > Remember, Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes!!!
Commodity.

You draw a false dichotomy between "glitzy ads" and "durable and comfortable."

The fact is that most shoes, even modestly priced ones, are plenty durable and comfortable. We've been making them for thousands of years and there aren't a lot of useful breakthroughs left to make. For most purposes, they're a commodity.

So how do you get people to buy your stuff when you're competing in a commodity market sector?

Well number one, you have to actually have some quality there. Unless you're selling high-fashion shoes or something they need to be reasonably "durable and comfortable."

And you need to tell some type of story. Perhaps not "glitzy ads" but you do need that story.

Alternately you can, I guess, compete by monopolizing resources or differentiate yourself materially somehow. But there are a lot of product segments where that's not viable. You can't make a pencil that's much better than any other pencil. You can't grow rice that's too much tastier than any other rice. You can't clean gutters too much better than the next guy who cleans gutters. You can't build a computer that's too much faster than anybody else's, unless you're willing to throw down billions of dollars and get into a decades-long arms race with other CPU makers.

And even if you build a better mousetrap you still need to tell people about it, so it's story time anyway...


Economics 101 teaches us that markets are supposed to be based on “informed consumers making rational choices.” If we had a market system like that, then a television ad would consist of, says, General Motors putting up information saying “here’s what we have for sale.” But that’s not what an ad for a car is. And ad for a car is a football hero; an actress; the car doing some crazy thing like going up a mountain or something. The point is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices.


While I agree wholeheartedly, I have found it’s not enough to have a great product, especially when you’re new and small.

I loathe marketing, but I have no clue how to get around it.


Find a hobby magazine (those paper things) from the 80s or 90s. Doesn't have to be in tech. Look at any of the ads.

Most will be impressively boring and bad. There'll be a few stand out ones promoting style, brand, image over substance, the car ads that say nothing of the car but show 50 miles of empty road, the feeling you get from being the Marlboro Man etc.

We gave everyone enough awareness of marketing to feel everyone has to do style over substance. The brand must have personality, the image must convey the right feelings. Ugh. Everyone is an internet marketer/huckster A/B tester now. Yeah, but what does the product do? Who cares? Just buy^Wlease it.

I truly miss the innocence of small business ads of yesteryear. Many of them were even honest. Now you just need to have the right image - Theranos, Goop. I loathe what we've all had to become, just to stand still.


Part of a product's functionality, especially clothing, is its ability to project attributes that you want to be associated with. Additionally, 'interesting' products give you something to talk about which also provides additional value as compared to a less 'interesting' product.


In an era of replaceable products with almost identical functionality and equal lifespan, especially among software companies, personality breeds loyalty, which enables longevity.

Simply having functions and features is not enough of a guarantee you will survive when functions and features are easily copied.


Marketing absolutely works - and the great news is you can advertise or market your product differently to different groups of people. You may loathe them, but sales and marketing folks are in demand for a reason.


I don't dispute that it works. I claim that the fact that it works is a bad thing. It is actively bad for the buyer and, even for the seller, is probably zero-sum.


Why is it bad? People (or companies) become aware of products that may solve their needs. Marketing does not mean "shut off your brain and buy our product" - it can simply be to raise awareness. You still need to do your own personal due diligence on any product or service you purchase.


>People (or companies) become aware of products that may solve their needs.

Who doesn't know what Coca-Cola is? Who doesn't know what a Macbook is? Who doesn't know what Disney is? Who doesn't know that Ford makes trucks? Who doesn't know that Budweiser makes beer?

You have a theoretical justification for advertisement. If you actually switch on your TV, you will see almost entirely advertisements for products you already know of that are making a purely emotional appeal.

Look at these companies:

https://www.businessinsider.com/10-biggest-advertising-spend...

Every company is a household name.

Look at these ads:

https://www.adsoftheworld.com/collection/2018_super_bowl_com...

How many of them inform you of something you've never heard of? How many of them make a logical argument rather than just baffling you with bullshit?


> Who doesn't know what Coca-Cola is? Who doesn't know what a Macbook is? Who doesn't know what Disney is? Who doesn't know that Ford makes trucks? Who doesn't know that Budweiser makes beer?

from the vantage point of 2019, it seems obvious that these are well known brands that don't need to increase awareness of themselves. but they got to this position by making relatively good products and adeptly managing their brands over decades.

at this point, advertisements communicate brand values more than information about specific products, but I would argue this is actually helpful for the consumer in some cases.

if I'm on a tight budget and need a new computer, I already know not to waste time browsing apple or falcon-northwest products. if I'm a contractor and need a work truck, I'm not going to the porsche dealer. advertisements aren't going to help me choose between chevy and ford, but they can narrow down my search considerably. most ads communicate pretty clearly whether or not you are the target audience for a product, without spending hours comparing technical specs.


There are new people born every day. I bet you can find many Millenials who don't know who Elvis was, or The Beatles. Coca-Cola would meet the same fate, if it stopped advertising.


What you're saying makes some sense, but I think you're wrong. I have never nor am I ever likely to read the spec sheet of different shoes to determine which to buy. I don't know what I'd learn by looking at that anyway, I know basically nothing about shoes except how they look and what they feel like on my feet.

I could change that, educate myself about shoe materials and construction, but I choose not to for one simple reason: I can educate myself about literally anything and everything, and I've noticed in my life that where ever I look, there is practically infinite depth and detail, and so I have very carefully choose what to spend my time learning about. Shoes aren't it.

Instead I use heuristics -- I have the finely honed taste in branding and advertising that all westerners have, I can infer from the storefront and typefaces and colors on the box what range of quality a given pair of shoes is. From there I have a manageable selection of like 10 types of shoes I can look at, and from there 3 that I like the look of that I can try on. Occasionally I get burned--shoes that my branding intuitions say should be adequate quality for the price turn out to be shitty. But mostly I get this right and end up with shoes that I like.

A shoe expert has a whole different process, I'm sure. They are in the know about the latest construction trends and who is using them, and know how to source them.

Similarly, when you and I buy a computer we can meaningfully distinguish the details of the hardware we're considering, so we do. But most people can't. They have to use branding heuristics. And you know what? I think they are mostly fine. If someone who knows nothing about computers buys a Dell to check their email because they seem basic and reliable, they are going to do fine for the most part.

And for Apple, "people can change the world" isn't the real message. The real message is the thousands of microscopic heuristics that fire when a product brands using high concepts and slick design. They add up to basically "this is a product I am paying extra for, it will be better than most other things on the market but not exactly value for money, and the support on it will be extra good." Which is a heuristic that basically holds for Apple products (although, recently...?)

So actually when I put a personality on my company I am choosing something for my customers that I actually would choose. I'm building in the heuristics they need to make a decision without being an expert in the domain. And because I'm both not an asshole and don't want to deal with a bunch of anger customers, I am going to try to make those heuristics accurate.


I think that by "personality" he means "story".

Like, a cool story that you can somehow attach to the product. So when people see the product they also think the story.

And then they think, "woah, what a great product!". (But what they really mean is "woah, what a great story!")

I see this in the art scene. It's like the art-piece isn't enough for people. They want an artist's statement. A philosophy. Who made it, why did they make it, where did they make it. Tell me the 20-chapter story of your heroic struggle from ugliness to beauty...

(Personally, I think what's going on here is either dim art or blind people. Either of which will produce a failure to make that connection)

Which is to say, it's like people don't care what they see, hear, smell etc. What they care about is what they think. It's all about the story.

And that certainly says something about people and how they interact with reality.


> I see this in the art scene. It's like the art-piece isn't enough for people. They want an artist's statement. A philosophy. Who made it, why did they make it, where did they make it. Tell me the 20-chapter story of your heroic struggle from ugliness to beauty...

This is also becoming more common in the film scene. The Revenant is a recent and big example of the phenomenon. People liked to talk about the grueling filming process, how all the artists involved broke their backs to make this movie, and I think it seriously altered how the movie was perceived, changing a perfectly fine movie to something somehow transcendent.

Another, smaller, example is Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Some people made it a point that he learned to play the piano for the bits on screen.

It's as if the off-screen authenticity alters the on-screen authenticity. (Whether this is true or not is up for debate, and has been since method acting's inception, if not before.)


Without cultural context, you might as well be looking at a mysterious ancient artifact from a lost civilization, or maybe procedurally generated random content from a video game.

It's nice when you can get the joke without it having to be explained to you, but that just means you share enough culture to get it, where a foreigner wouldn't. It doesn't mean you're smarter, it means you happened to have the education needed.


The thing here is, there is no joke. There is no associated story or explanation necessary for appreciating the artwork. The artwork contains the whole of what the artist intends to deliver.

We've got this weird situation where people can't just look with their eyes and hear with their ears. For them it's all about thinking. They want something to think about. They want a story/joke/explanation. For them the action is all in their head.


It's almost never self-contained. At the most basic level, if you don't know the language, writing is just meaningless scribbles. Scales and chords have no particular meaning by themselves. Associating a major scale with happiness and minor with sadness is something you learn.


I think about this sort of thing a lot.

Imagine you stumbled upon a band that produced music objectively just as good as The Beatles. But they're just a pack of rich trust-fund kids, and nobody has ever heard of them. Is their music really as good as The Beatles, then? How much of The Beatles' greatness is due to the raw music, and how much is due to their story and canonicity?


I see your point. (I personally think their goodness is due to raw music. They produced very high-quality stuff.)

But people vary in their inclination/ability to appreciate music and other such art. Some consume music. Others consume music + story.

This makes me think of bad rap. Rap is basically music that markets its own story right there in the song. If you like the story then you will turn a blind ear to the bad music. I think this happens a lot.

Also, maybe the consumption of stories comes more naturally to people than the consumption of sights and sounds. Maybe it's easier.

Also, another speculation, maybe digital music goes down rougher than analog. Maybe there is an unconscious difficulty there, like it hurts our throat to swallow it. Which has made modern digital music less appealing relative to stories.


This sort of ties in nicely to the "WOKE BRANDS" video[1] that came out recently from H. Bomberguy. It's a bit lengthy but it goes into a very poignant discussion of the problematic underpinnings of brands adopting a particular aspect of a "personality", namely a hypocritical social conscience.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06yy88tLWlg


I like how the author used Minimum Viable Words to convey his point.


Aww, I hoped for a talk about presenting the minimal needed personality as an introverted coworker to his team.


That's both easy and hard.

It's not that extroverts are magically better than a neurotypical introvert, but rather that extroverts have had more practice. The irony is that I can see an introvert be quite extroverted during a D&D session, because it's a place they have practiced their social skills.

For neurotypical people, I don't believe in extroverts versus introverts per se, but rather practiced with a social group versus unpracticed.

For most people, authenticity and vulnerability is the way to go. I am a goofball, and I present as such. I've brought juggling balls to standup (and also juggled remotely) and people smile. (I'm not a great juggler.) My coworkers know that I don't watch much TV or movies because I don't like them, so they can do all the spoilers without worrying about me.

When showing your personality, it's about what to hold back rather than presenting something that isn't part of you. (For example, if your personality involves illegal activities, that shouldn't show up at work.) Personality should never be about presenting something you're not. Be you to everyone, just not all of you.

But don't try to be something that is not you.

Fortunately, the rest is just observation and practice.


I worry about this framing, because it suggests that what I (and many other people who I have spoken to) experience, is somehow atypical. I have no objection to talking to people, and I have groups of friends who I like talking to and engage with well.

They're going out this evening and I'm not. Why? It's not because I don't like them, or because I don't "gel" with them - it's because it's the end of the week, and social interaction is a tiring event for me. I find it nearly impossible to concentrate on other people or what they are saying, and it only becomes more difficult over time.

It's not about practice.

To address your comment on D&D, the reason introverted people are more engaged and outspoken during a game is because that is what the game demands. If you were to ask such a person, they would say it is fun, of course, but tiring - and I know that because I am much the same way when I play D&D.


This short talk by Steve Jobs communicates the same idea in a far more eloquent manner, IMO.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNYbcqyyj68

Edit: (long) transcript with minor edits by me:

To me….marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world. It’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is! And so, we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.

The way to [build a great brand] is not to talk about speeds and fees. It’s not to talk about bits and mega-hertz. It’s not to talk about why we are better than Windows.

The dairy industry tried for 20 years to convince you that milk was good for you. It’s a lie, but they tried anyway. And the sales were falling. And then they tried “Got milk” and the sales went up. “Got milk” wasn’t even talking about the product. In fact, it focuses on the absence of the product.

But the best example of all, and one of the greatest jobs of marketing that the universe has ever seen, is Nike. Remember, Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes!!!

And yet, when you think of Nike you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don’t ever talk about the product. They don’t ever tell you about their air soles and why they are better than Reebok’s air soles.

What does Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes. And they honor great athletics. That’s who they are, that’s what they are about!

Apple spends a fortune on advertising — you’d never know it….you’d never know it! So…when I got here, Apple just fired their agency and there was a competition with 23 agencies that…you know…four years from now we would pick one. And we blew that up and we hired Chiat\Day, the ad agency that I was fortunate enough to work with years ago and created some award winning work including the commercial voted the best ad ever made, 1984 (by Advertising Professionals).

And…we started working about eight weeks ago, and the question we asked was, “Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for…where do we fit in this world?”

And what we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done — although we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody, in some cases. But Apple is about something more than that! Apple at the core…its core value — is that, we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe!

And we have had the opportunity to work with people like that. We’ve had the opportunity to work with people like you; with software developers, with customers, who have done it. In some big, and some small ways.

And we believe that, in this world, people can change it for the better. And that those people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones that actually do!

And so, what we’re going to do in our first brand marketing campaign in several years, is to get back to that core value!

A lot of things have changed. The market is in a total different place than where it was a decade ago. And Apple is totally different — and Apple’s place in it is totally different. And believe me, the products, and the distribution strategy, and the manufacturing are totally different…and we understand that.

But values and core values — those things shouldn’t change. The things that Apple believed in at its core, are the same things Apple really stands for today.


I think this is a great explanation for consumer products. We can't possibly research every product in our lives and so we take short cuts. Great advertising allows us to make a quick decision that we can feel good about (i.e. we believe we made the right choice).


Simon Sinek talks about this too, and uses Apple as the example.

Start with why -- how great leaders inspire action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA


Ironically, the shoes that Steve Jobs wore along with his trademark jeans and black sweater were New Balance.


Steve Jobs wasn't an athlete nor did he aspire to be one. He was smart enough to know there are millions who do have those aspirations.


As markets get more crowded and people’s attention span shorter it really helps to think more about branding and positioning.

Interesting read: Positioning, the battle for your mind


For more on human irrationality in product choice you can try the documentary 'Century of the self' by Adam Curtis. You can find it on youtube.


I absolutely thought this would be an article on building just enough pesonality in user interfaces. I still think that would make an awesome article.


That giant robot dinosaur absolutely nailed it!


Would really love to hear people’s perspectives and experiences with this.


[flagged]


I thought it was funny!




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