Kevin Hogan

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The 13th Law of Persuasion: The Law of Magnetic Familiarity

“In spite of, and because of, obstacles, fears and pain, people tend to gravitate to the familiar.”

Wroclaw Town Square

I sat in the Wroclaw Town Square. I imagine 99% of the visitors to Wroclaw are absolutely charmed by the 800 year old city. The buildings all harken to a different time and as  you walk the streets you feel transported back in time almost a millenium.

But it’s an illusion. It’s not an 800 year old city.

And it’s an important illusion.

One of the very last acts of World War II, happened here. The Soviets sieged Breslau, Germany, deporting or killing 150,000 Germans as what might have been the last city to surrender in 1945.  To say the city was in ruins is a world class understatement. Breslau was re-mapped to Poland at the Yalta Conference after the war and the name of the city was changed to Wroclaw. Perhaps a few thousand Polish refugees remained in what was once a large and beautiful city.

As they rebuilt the city over the next 70 years, the idea was first to return it to it’s former appearance before it’s destruction (similar to Old Town in Warsaw). That didn’t happen though. Instead of a 1900 German look, those rebuilding the city designed a look more baroque in nature.

As a guest in the city, I suspected that after the war, the Polish people who moved from elsewhere in Poland decided that they didn’t want any Soviet or Nazi feel to the country.  I’m no expert in architecture but by bringing the city back to about 1300, there is no Soviet or Nazi mental or emotional triggers in the city. Instead you have construction and reconstruction still going on to this day as buildings are painted and repainted to offer that sense of ancient Europe. And today Wroclaw “feels” like Poland. And I found it FAMILIAR after just one day. I spent several days in Wroclaw and because there was no nasty 70 year old memories attached to the city that was rebuilt to bring you to 1300 (approx), you gain a completely DIFFERENT feel and comfort level.

As I sat in this cafe looking out at tourists and Polish citizens I was reminded of the critical value of “familiarity.”  The recreation of the city has been done in such a way that it repels no one. Hundreds of Russian visitors were in town the days we were there. They were a rather unruly group in the outdoor restaurant but I forgave as they were all excited about a futbol game they were watching. And of course there were tons of students, tourists and the like walking the overwhelmingly massive town square.

By removing the horrifying memories of the past they created an environment that you WANT TO RETURN TO.  A magnetic familiarity.

And this is the story I want you to remember as you consider how you will utilize familiarity in your communication as you shape your ideas, feelings and thoughts to other. Creating and recreating yourself, your values, your thinking, your opinions, your way of connecting with people allows you to change what once was inside of you and make a better you, a brand, if you will, and allows others around you to BE FAMILIAR with you.

Familiarity doesn’t have to be about positive associations though!  In March I was in Sofia, Bulgaria with my Bulgarian interpreter and his beautiful wife Monica. We were on a mission and after we accomplished our quest (another day) they took me to a restaurant that was provocative by nature.

pseudocommunist restaurant in Bulgaria

It’s winter time and that metal cannister is actually a heater for the outdoor restaurant. But that’s now what this place is about.

Check out the 1970 poster on the wall. Hammer and fist. Symbol of communism.

“You brought me to a communist restaurant? Not very subtle.”

And it wasn’t. There was 1970’s communist propaganda all around the restaurant. And when we first arrived the place was packed for lunch. I took this photo after we had been there a couple of hours and it had cleared out.

“The young people of the country hate what communism gave them and what the communists did to the citizens, before 1989.” (And because I want to be invited  back Bulgaria, I’ll skip those details.)

The restaurant was a walking political statement in the edgiest way. And sure enough the patrons were almost all under 40. Young people and not a person with gray hair in the place.

I asked to speak to the owner/manager. He was there and was good enough to sit down and through my translator explain how he used the dislike of the previous era to his advantage in drawing in the next generation of Bulgarians.

  1. His customers are more than familiar with communist symbols of all kind. Unlike Poland, there continue to be bizarre communist monuments scattered throughout Sofia. As I listen to people talk they are controversial.
  2. His customers constantly are triggered by the rest of the city which still has many communist buildings, monuments and conversations about what to do with the former Soviet influences, if anything.
  3. They think of his restaurant and the place is packed, “As you can see it is freezing out and we were packed for lunch.”
  4. For as long as the old political ideology has a strong hold in the country the restaurant should continue to thrive. As evolved thinking works it’s way through the population, the draw to the magnet to rebel without getting in trouble with gov’t will keep his business and customers feel like they are making a statement.

The guy is a genius. He had used familiarity with something his customers hated and created a satire in the form of his restaurant.

This is one of the few places in Bulgaria I felt truly uncomfortable until I understood the meaning, the context, at which point I wanted to go back again. Absolute brilliance.

You and I both know that people are magnetized to that which is familiar to them. The familiar is almost magical. But what do you do when you, your product, your service is NOT familiar to your potential customer or client?! Just how do you begin to replace that which IS familiar?

Create and develop a new familiar feeling.

KEY POINT: Familiarity is a powerful influence on the human mind and how decisions are made. For better and worse it takes a strong person to move past what is familiar and make a wise decision.

Just because you yell at the cable guy or the kids, doesn’t mean you get a new cable guy or kids. The cable guy and the kids can cause a LOT of pain, but it takes a LOT MORE pain to get a new cable guy or new kids!

You know pain is 2.5 times as powerful as pleasure in motivation.

What about Familiarity vs. Pain?

You’ll find familiarity to be significantly more powerful than pain.

And remember “familiar” is not pain or pleasure. It is what someone is familiar with.

Every time you are contrasting the various powers of persuasion, think of this example: Spouse abuse. One partner abuses the hell out of the other partner. The abused spouse (it could be both, of course) calls the police but when the police get to the front door, there is a different story. “Everything is fine, officer.”

More often than not, the spouse who got beat up doesn’t leave and go find another hunter or nurturer. Is the brain really smart enough to guess that the next hunter or nurturer is going to have the same (or worse) set of problems? Rarely.

It’s a potent real life lesson about the elastic quality of familiarity.

People simply gravitate to that which is familiar and with a preference toward pleasant and yet again further when the preference includes SURPRISE!

…Because change is less desirable than pain….

Familiarity is the status quo, is consistent, is predictable, is certain, and that is what the human brain seeks.

Familiarity Gives Birth to Successful Persuasion

Studies indicate that it takes an average customer as many as a half-dozen or more exposures to any type of advertising before he/she is potentially ready to buy.

How long has it taken Coca-Cola, Dasani or Dunkin Donuts to become household words?

Kevin Hogan on Selling Triggers A lot longer than one advertisement, one press release, or one direct mail campaign.

And, especially in times of stress and distress, people seek out that which is familiar…brands…and for better or worse, people who are familiar to us are brands.

KEY CONCEPT: The INTENTIONAL pathway to familiarity is consistency.

Intentional consistency yields results. It’s important for you to maintain a consistent theme while offering surprises (think Energizer Bunny or Geico commercials) and look to your advertising and advertising messages.

Brands don’t become brands until they become consistent in message, in memory impact and in emotional content.

Advertisements: Your promotional content should use consistency to establish brand recognition.

You don’t need to advertise because you aren’t in business?


As a living human being YOU are advertising…all the time. You are sending verbal and nonverbal messages all day long and they do tend to be consistent.

What can you do to cause surprise within pleasant familiarity?

Advertising Your Self or Your Business

Kevin Hogan on Law of Familiarity InfluenceYou can and do send messages by the clothes you wear or don’t. The jewelry you wear, or you don’t. Do you have body adornments? Or not. You send messages that are being read by everyone all around.

You are telling people how you want them to respond to you at every turn. Those behaviors you see replicated over and over, by others, in response to your presence, show you the result of your advertising.

With that simple notion in mind, let’s look at advertising in the business sense first because these are the most clear cut pictures.

Your advertisements can be institutional (conveying a general theme of who you are and what you do), educational (A CPA might offer some practical tax preparation tips in April advertisements) or “call to action” in nature, as long as they hit the same “notes” each time.

E-mail or Direct Mail Marketing: Your marketing campaign should include some form of mailing at least a half dozen times a year to your current clients and prospective ones. This can be in the form of a newsletter, a series of postcards, or a combination.

Public Relations: This includes everything from announcements, press releases, and feature articles on new hires, new products, new services, and new client relationships. As a minimum, you should strive for one announcement per month to be sent to your local, region and industry.

You maintain your crafted FAMILIARITY through your CONSISTENCY.

Make Sure Everyone Is On The Same Page

Familiarity or brand is not just about using the company letterhead or adding your unique positioning statement to the bottom of you online ads. It’s about ensuring that every member of your team — human players and marketing messages — is in sync.

Appoint yourself the Regional Director of Certainty, Consistency and Familiarity, and lay down the law as follows:

  • Work out how various groups and departments in your company should implement marketing messages in what they do.
  • Be certain that people who understand marketing messages at a spoken level can also write them down (and vice versa).
  • Create a communications “manual” that lays down how messages should be created, interpreted and implemented across all departments who put out company messages.
  • Invest in some basic training in business and copy writing skills for ALL employees who will write, even internally — secretaries, technical people, HR staffers, trainers, sales people, etc

Your Marketing Message Isn’t For You

Have you given your message a chance to do its job before you stop or change it? Or did you think, “This is the third time I’ve sent out this message. How boring. I’m going to change it.”

Understand this simple concept: Most marketing messages are terrible so yours probably is terrible.  Do realize that for people out there in the real world, making a decision based upon 3 exposures is simply not something you should expect.

Typically the person that grows tired of a repeated marketing message is the marketer! The prospective customer probably won’t be nearly so sensitive to the repetition. Don’t forget, most consumers need to be contacted as many as 5-10 times before they sit up and take notice.

Kevin Hogan on Selling TriggersDifferent audiences will require different frequencies of messages. Each must be evaluated as to the optimum effectiveness. If a quarterly newsletter isn’t working, try switching over to a monthly edition. If your daily email messages aren’t yielding results, cut back to twice-a-month and see what happens.

Beware: Daily contact could end up like a relationship that is so familiar that it can breed contempt!

In business this is nastily known as “churn and burn” your list.

The three most important words in successful marketing are “testing, testing, testing.”

Consistency and frequency are a KEY component to be evaluated when troubleshooting your marketing efforts. The right mix causes that sense of familiarity.

Triggering Truth

The 21st Century consumer has a very sensitive “B.S. Detector” when it comes to advertising claims, and anything that is exaggerated will immediately send their arrow into the “red zone” that says, “Lies? Do not buy.”

I like my BS Detector. I bought the biggest one that I could find. It’s saved me a lot of money, heartache and time over the years…

Having a good BS Detector can save your LIFE. (Think sweat lodges and the like…)

Something as simple as listening to people tell the truth, or, at least what they believe – is refreshing….and that is a sad statement…but it’s….well…true!

Everyone loves a good story. Story-telling is key to effective communication, sales and marketing. Later this spring watch for a brand new E-Course from that will show you how to develop the eternal story. A key element of story telling is the sense of being real. The REAL STORY is what really connects with consumers. That’s why so many movies are promoted as, “Based on a true story.”

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s also more magnetic, more appealing, and more likely to stimulate a consumer to buy.

Kevin Hogan on Selling TriggersWhen a true story is done right, your essential marketing message — “This product works!” — is obvious and powerful, even though there’s nothing in the message that screams “HARD SELL” to a reader.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

“Case histories,” are usually 300 to 400 words in length. Less than that and you might not be able to get your marketing message across. Any longer and the reader may “bail out” before finishing the story. (The reader will want to hear more of the story where he/she has the starring role.)

Where do your case histories come from?

Yep…from real life.

  • Do you have a compelling customer success story you can use that demonstrates your company’s superiority? (Did your customer’s tennis shoe sales quadruple after they put an advertisement in your magazine, for example?)
  • Do you have an engaging customer satisfaction story about your product’s efficacy? (Did your customer see her pregnancy stretch marks become less visible using your skin cream and go on to enter and win a pageant, for example?)Several years ago, a guy wrote me and said that all of his Science of Influence CD’s fell into the bathtub with him and between the soap, the bubbles and drying them all off, none of them worked. Is there anything we could do?I said, “Replace them. If the dude is taking me in the bathtub with him….well…I don’t want to go there…but it DOES show loyalty…”Kevin Hogan on Selling Triggers
  • Has one of your employees performed a heroic act on the part of a customer? (Did your claims adjuster move heaven and earth or bend over backwards to reach a policyholder whose home was flooded?)

Leave out any ridiculous marketing hype. Avoid anything that would strike the reader as simply a cheap ploy to advertise your business. All you need for human interest is a story about real people involved in real events that matter…that’s what makes your message interesting to your prospect.

Write a case history that illustrates how your program, business, or product changed someone’s life — maybe even YOUR life — for the better.

Now that you understand FAMILIARITY let’s put familiarity in context with other influential laws and tactics.

“The Familiar Self: Just Like Me”

Kevin Hogan on Selling Triggers: Familiarity The fact is simple. As a persuader, your outcome is to tap into your customer’s natural inclination toward a pack (ingroup) mentality.

Then change your thinking process from: “Birds of a feather flock together” to “Birds of a feather……….. buy more birdseed.”

When we see another a person with whom we identify DO something — whatever that something might happen to be…like BUYING something — in simple terms — we all have mirror neurons in our brains that arguably collectively act to create that behavior in our brain, which often is then replicated in the real world.

A meme.

Monkey See…Monkey Do
Monkey Buys the Same as You

This phenomenon explains why television producers use a laugh track after a joke is delivered during a sitcom. The audience at home knows that the laugh track is just a recording, but that doesn’t stop them from chuckling along when the recorded laughter “cues” them.

The TV show M*A*S*H dealt with some pretty tough issues sometimes and a laugh track was inserted to let you know when it was “OK” to laugh. Laugh tracks are still used today. They let us know that something is funny or by lack of a track…not.

KEY POINT: For most of us, agreeing with others is more comfortable than doing our own thing.

People Like Me….

Even more magnetic than simply “someone” doing “it” is seeing “someone like me” doing “it.” People like to hear about and do what other people just like them are doing — for business AND for pleasure. The Conformity Trigger is especially effective when it comes from people we identify with or want to emulate.

There isn’t anything more persuasive than sending a letter to a heart surgeon that has five other heart surgeons attesting to the benefits of a product or service. It’s a natural human drive for people to say, “If it worked for John, it will work for me.”

Kevin Hogan on Selling Triggers: Power WordsKey Point: Words and phrases like “bestseller” or “our most popular item” serve as your laugh track. With them, you don’t have to convince your customer that your product is a winner.

The hidden message — lots of other people (within a specific ingroup) have bought this product — is proof enough…to set off conformity…


You don’t have to be a teenager to experience peer pressure. People are deeply affected by what others think whether they’re young, old, rich, poor, male, or female.

People will visit web sites that are on “most-visited” lists, buy cell phones on the “most useful” lists, and spend their movie dollars on “the #1 film in the country.” It’s because social proof is also related to people’s desire to be in agreement with “everyone else,” and not have a mistaken belief about what is true and what is not.

Take a Tip From Me…

This tendency is the reason that the piano player and the gourmet coffee shop barista put a few $1 bills in their tip jar at the beginning of the night. It’s to stimulate tips, of course, but not 25 or 50-cent tips. “Seeding” the tip jar sends the message that the $1 tip is what “everyone else” is giving.

And why do you think “snake oil salesmen” (like so many television evangelists) seed their audiences with “ringers” who come forward at a specific time to give witness…and donations? It’s to get the ball (and the money) rolling.

It’s not an accident…it’s Psychology 101 at work!

DO Ask and DO Tell…

Have you ever wondered why the heck huge, successful national brand companies like Nabisco run those contests asking people to write down, “Why I like (Name of Product)” in 100 words or less?

Kevin Hogan on Selling Triggers: ConformityNabisco is one smart cookie of a company. Rather than paying a high-priced advertising agency or research company millions of dollars to develop slogans that might appeal to consumers, companies that use contests let the target audience itself express what definitely appeals to them.

$10,000 KEY: For the chance of winning prizes, droves of people are willing to go on record as liking the product, giving the company countless glowing testimonials. Companies can confidently roll out headlines based on the benefits and features they know consumers will respond to.

For example:

  • 10,000 Consumers Say, “Nabisco cookies taste better”.
  • “Nabisco Is A Lifesaver” says Nebraska Girl Scout troop leader.
  • “When I want good quality and great value, I buy Nabisco”.

The contest comments transform into button-pushers that connect with a consumer’s, “Everybody else is doing it, so I should be, too” feelings.

Which brings us to the …


We’ve already established that savvy consumers look at advertising messages with doubt and often skepticism. This can make marketing especially difficult if you have a start-up product or service that has not yet built its reputation for quality and service.

Kevin Hogan on Selling Triggers: AuthorityKEY POINT: But even a Doubting Thomas (or Doubting Debbie) can be persuaded to buy when the advertising message is delivered by a well-known authority, or a person of power and influence.

And you can “borrow” credibility from trusted authorities and experts and utilize the Law of Association.

When Authorities Talk, Everybody Listens

I hate trying to figure out what the best product is…so…I head to my Consumer Reports pile of magazines and find out what the readers have experienced and scientists have found out about products. This way I, at the very least, won’t get burned buying junk.

Most consumers are more than happy to surrender the tedious process of informed decision-making to someone else. They’re even willing to do so without carefully considering all the facts.

Without solid information as their guide, consumers turn to messages and suggestions from famous people, especially if those people are experts.

Key Point: Expertise is NOT required for authority. Simple celebrity does just fine.

I’m Not A Doctor, But I Play One on TV

Some argue that the three characteristics most associated with persuasiveness are: perceived authority, honesty, and likability. I don’t agree, but one thing is for certain, it’s these three characteristics that we’re likely to attribute to celebrities.

Associating a brand with a top-notch celebrity create linkages with the star’s appeal, thereby adding refreshing and new dimensions to your “brand image”.

The use of celebrity advertising is a winning combination of image-building and product marketing. This phenomenon is reflected in the recent market research finding that 8 out of 10 TV commercials scoring the highest recall were those with celebrity appearances.

Recall, by the way…is correlated to sales.

People remember the messages…and they believe…and then they buy. And then they become familiar with them.


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