Persuasion Expert Zoë Chance On Tech Addiction, Viral Videos & Crushing Your To-Do List

Zoé Chance

Have you ever been in a meeting where no one is agreeing and a project feels as if it’s heading towards a standstill, or worse yet, a stand off? Zoë Chance can fix that. She’s all about encouraging proactivity using persuasion techniques designed to elicit results—fast. No stranger to marketing and retail, Zoë has served as a corporate leader at Mattel before become a leading behavioral economist and Professor of Marketing at Yale School of Management. Yep, she’s a formidable problem solver, and we couldn’t be happier to pick her brain about a few things we’ve had on our minds lately.  Read on to hear her awesomely honest answers.



We all know it can’t be healthy to engage in too much screen time in a single day. Yet as marketers, we need to absorb as much as we can to stay engaged and inspired. Do you feel this push-pull relationship with the virtual world?  

Zoë Chance: Although I feel this impulse myself, and have struggled with technology addiction, I can’t agree with the idea that we need to absorb as much media as we can to stay engaged and inspired. Most of us would be more engaged and inspired if we did the opposite—things like getting active outside and practicing mindfulness. Engagement and inspiration come more easily when the mind is clear and the blood is flowing.
What most of us marketers need is customer insights. So how about choosing just one or two media sources to keep up with, and then spending more time with our customers—observing them, talking with them. Where do they live and work, and how? What are they afraid of? What are they excited about? How are they spending their time? What has changed for them recently? This is how we generate customer insights in our research partnerships at Yale, and our industry partners are often surprised by what we discover.

“Engagement and inspiration come more easily when the mind is clear and the blood is flowing.”



With the prevalence of tech in meetings, we can easily misidentify participants' tech-focused body language as disinterest. How can we absorb the information and connect while devices are present?
ZC: Yes, tech in meetings can be so awful! At Yale School of Management, there's a school-wide policy prohibiting students from using electronic devices in class. Evidence is clear that we can't actually pay attention to two things at once. So you might want to limit tech use if you can. But if you're using a tech device and concerned about perception, you can mitigate by speaking up or asking a question. And if you're preparing a presentation and concerned about tech use, you might try to make peace by inviting people to use their device in ways that involve them with the material. It could be as simple as asking them to take a picture of a summary slide or asking them to set a calendar reminder for something they're committing to do. Or you could go high tech. For example, the Poll Everywhere app lets you ask questions and have the audience text you their answers.  Then you can display the results in a nice graphic interface.



We love your “hot potato” theory. Can you quickly explain it and give an example how it can work when you’re trying to get your team to make a decision, and not everyone agrees?
ZC: "Theory" is an exaggeration here ;)—but the basic idea involves reducing resistance by tossing someone's objection back to them. One way is reflecting their statement as a question, to get them to either explain (and then you can address the specifics) or to realize their objection might be unreasonable. Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss taught me this one. Like, you ask for a meeting and they say they're too busy. "Too busy?" you ask. They'll probably tell you about their current commitments and you can ask if next month would be better for them then. It's hard to say no when you've offered a solution to the problem they've just explained to you. Another way of tossing the problem back is asking them to solve it. My favorite question for this, as I know you know from your questions, is, "What would it take?" It's so powerful, I call it the Magic Question. For example, when you've been denied funding for a project, you can ask, "What would it take to make this happen?" Although it's possible they'll tell you it's impossible, more commonly, they'll give you helpful advice or even offer to help in some other way you didn't expect. The reflection question elicits explanation and the magic question prompts problem solving.



There’s a big push, specifically on Facebook, for companies to focus on creating video content and live video. Since we have such short attention spans, does video length matter if the content is compelling?
ZC: Absolutely.  Shorter videos get more views and fewer people clicking out. You also need to grab attention right at the beginning to keep people watching until the end. You can do this with an "open loop" —using our compulsion for completion (the "Zeigarnik effect," in psychology jargon) to keep attention engaged. The open loop is a question the viewer is curious about. You might directly ask the question, like "What type of customer service do baby boomers love and millennials hate?" Or you might start telling a story but save the end for the end of the video. Or you might use an intriguing but mysterious image or sound bite. Even a numbered list, like a Top 5 or Top 10, can function as an open loop that compels people to keep watching until the final item on the list.

“Shorter videos get more views…you also need to grab attention right at the beginning to keep people watching until the end.”


Do you think that marketers truly understand the premise of behavioral economics and the impact it can have on their work? If there was one thing you’d want to convey to them about its importance, what would it be?
ZC: The fundamental insight of behavioral economics that most marketers don’t fully grasp—especially those in B2B—is that our gut is driving most of our decisions. Our gut reactions are instinctive, automatic, unconscious, and immediate. And only in exceptional cases do we even process information rationally at all. So, even if you want your customer to make a rational choice, you still need to engage their attention and get a positive gut reaction so that they want to say yes before you present the supporting evidence for that choice. I'm writing a book right now on how to use behavioral economics to influence people, and I share a simple framework for getting the gut reactions you want.


One more for the road.

Can you recommend a tiny tweak that can make someone turn an intense, stress-filled, “I’ll never get it all done” workday into something that feels less oppressive? (Something that doesn’t involve quitting your job or drinking gobs of wine.)

ZC: Yes. Do the worst thing first. The psychological forces that make this strategy powerful are the contrast effect and the Zeigarnik effect. The contrast effect is that we can’t perceive good and bad except in relative terms. So when you do the worst thing first, everything else feels better in contrast. You might be really dreading a difficult phone call and kind of dreading a proposal you need to write. If you get the difficult phone call out of the way, the proposal won’t seem as bad. The Zeigarnik effect, described above in less technical terms as “open loops,” is the idea that incompletions hijack your attention. (This is how clickbait works too.) The uncompleted tasks you dread are unconsciously hijacking a piece of your attention, and this is why you feel energized when you get them out of the way.

Zoe Chance End Notes

You should totally follow Zoë on Twitter

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