The Common Uncommonly

All About Loyalty

Why Ask Why?


Have you ever met one of those people who has to overthink the tiniest details of every single thing, who can’t just let go, be impulsive, do something for the sake of doing it without having a good reason?

Yeah, that’s me.

In my defense, it’s par for the course in my job. For every hour I spend in discussions with clients about their marketing and branding strategy, there’s an hour spent staring at a car battery (or snack cake, or iron pipe, or hospital…) figuring out 50 different attributes and characteristics to test in a survey.

Clowns? Not so benign.

Anyway, it turns out I’m not alone in overthinking things. A recent article in Wired describes a scientific quest to determine why things are funny. Apparently there’s an International Society for Humor Studies dedicated to exploring this topic in a very serious manner. One member of this field, Professor Peter McGraw, has developed a pretty cool model called the BVT (Benign Violation Theory) that claims humor is the result of a violation of accepted norms that is viewed by the target audience as benign in nature. Something to ponder the next time you’re chuckling.

Do we really need someone to take the fun out of fun? Maybe, maybe not.

But bigger picture, here’s why this matters. The BVT is an example of a highly important and often overlooked step in developing a marketing strategy: explaining desired behavior.

  • If you’re writing a sitcom, you want to make people laugh, so you find a way to understand why people laugh.  Cue the BVT.
  • If you’re developing a customer retention initiative, you want to make people stay with you rather than defecting, so you find a way to understand what keeps them coming back.  Cue marketing research.

Remember, much of your business success will depend on your ability to understand and impact the behaviors of your customers and prospects.  So here’s a little test — see how well you can answer these questions…

#1: Which actions and behaviors of my customers are absolutely critical to my success?

#2: Do I have a thorough understanding of how to influence and/or predict these actions and behaviors?

Have any trouble?  Maybe it’s time to call in the overthinkers.

Written by Tom Logue

May 12th, 2011 at 7:00 am

3 Responses to 'Why Ask Why?'

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  1. [...] a book called ANNOYING: The Science of What Bugs Us.  It’s another example of social scientists overthinking things, but I think there’s merit in understanding how to drive people [...]

  2. The ISHS reminds me of Carlton, an android writing a thesis about comedy, in the book _The Road To Mars_ by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame.

    Todd McMillen

    20 Jul 11 at 11:52 am

  3. Aaaaand the summer reading list grows. Thanks, Todd!

    Tom Logue

    20 Jul 11 at 2:23 pm

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