Kevin Hogan

International Speaker

Latest Articles:  Stopping the Black Swan Can You Become a New Person?


She knocked on the door.

She was perhaps 18, in her last year of high school, raising money for their softball team.

The last weekend of August brings about 6 – 10 similar fundraisers knocking on the door each year.

I found out she was raising money for her softball team after I gave her $10.

I opened the door for the third time Saturday and said, “Here’s $10. I don’t want to buy anything or have a receipt. (Mailing list) I’m happy to help.”

She took the money, startled like the others who had come Saturday and the rest who had come today.

“Softball Team.”

“Cool. Good luck on your fundraising!”


I gave away about $80 in cash. I saved the pain of saying “no” to all or the even more undesirable purchases/donations of $20 – $50 per person/cause I was going to be asked to make.

Legend Point:I know that because I constantly raised funds as a kid, I have been a serious softie for all of my adult life. I hate saying, “no” almost as much as I hated hearing “no” as a kid.

Legend Concept: I “bought” before they arrived at my front door.


However, when I was out of $10 bills I told my son he had to be the one to answer the door. I worked on Coffee with Kevin Hogan while he said, “no” to two similar 18 year old women raising money. He was welcome to donate his own money if he wished.

I bought before they arrived at the door.

I dismissed the possibility before the final batch arrived at the door.

(Speed is everything in life. If you have to wait until Sunday afternoon to raise money, it means you were doing something more important yesterday. Never reward behavior you don’t want replicated.)

Legend Point: I want YOU to know when YOU buy/say “yes” and when you say “no.” Track this information. It’s important!

I know my “yes” and “no” triggers in donating and in fact, in buying in general. I observe my behavior every time I am in a buying or compliance/agreement context. I find it fascinating to see what influences me and what doesn’t. And it is instructive when you are influencing others.

Study yourself and your behavior. Be precise and accurate when it comes to how and WHY you agreed to various proposals and ideas.

There is an argument to be made that people often are influenced in the ways they typically attempt to influence others.

There is no study to my knowledge. But today you will learn from the biggest marketing study I have ever seen. Some of the things you learn will embarrass you. All will enlighten!

Why does a picture of a woman’s face cause people to react in irrational ways?

What influences both YOU and other people in print?

Let’s begin with a woman who smiles…

The case of the smiling woman? …

When the pretty face smiles at you it’s hard to turn away from her (him).

In sales, marketing, influence, gaining agreement, and instant persuasion the smiling face of a beautiful woman can cause the most unique and often foolish of behaviors.

Our brains and bodies not only find the face attractive and desirable, the smile has compelled us since the day we were born.

In a minute I’ll show you just how powerful that woman’s smile is in persuading you in just a moment.

Before we go there I want to show you that there are ideas that influence and change your entire world view.

Some ideas are stopped cold. Others spread quickly and effectively throughout different populations and different sizes of groups.

Some of these ideas influence you and trigger your behavior to change, often permanently.

A smaller percentage of these ideas become memes. These are ideas you share with others and then those people share the idea with still more and more people.

What Memes are YOU influenced by?

If you understand what influences you, and how, you can use that knowledge to successfully persuade others.

A meme is an idea that bounced from one persons head to another and not only does it stick in those two peoples minds, they share it with more people.

Memes are Persistent: Here’s Why

Most ideas you have, you never share with others. It is only a tiny fraction of memes that you are compelled to share.

When I was a kid, my Mom taught me to always open a door for a woman.

To this day, I move quickly to the door to open it for a completely able bodied woman of any age.

It’s all about being a gentleman.

I encourage this and all gentlemanly behavior in my son but I have never told an audience to go forth and perform this behavior.

So this is a pretty low intensity meme. Yet it traveled from my Mom to my son and I only had to hear the idea and potency of the idea once.

It’s also important to know that this meme is not a fact.

It is a transfer of a belief and behavioral instruction.

Some of the most powerful memes are not true or false. They are simply beliefs, values or behavioral instructions.

Are you married? Do you have a friend who is?

She wears her wedding ring on her …ring finger.

This is a seriously powerful meme.

No one tells someone which finger to wear that ring on but you know.

How do you know?

The idea bounced from hundreds or thousands of people’s behavior into your own mind.

I don’t have real data, but I’m going to guess that 99.99% of people wear their wedding ring on the very same finger.

That meme becomes a cultural norm.

You just DO it.

You have no clue as to why. You’d have to sit down and think about the origin. (And if you take 10 minutes you can probably figure it out, but I’ll save that discussion for next week.)

These are the things that influence you. Some of these things are like the wedding ring. Some are ideas spoken in groups. In all cases that you are influenced an idea has gone from one person’s mind to another and changed behavior.

Such is the power of influence.
Such is the power of the meme.

The Memetic Headline (or Title) Influences You and Me

These examples of influence at work are ripe with lessons for your world.

Having a memetic headline is an extraordinarily powerful tool of influence.

Memes don’t know “good or evil”. They don’t know “truth”. They are simply self replicating ideas that jump from brain to brain. They just get repeated over and over. They are twitter-worthy, easily stated in 140 characters.

While the catch phrase, the headline, the single sentence is powerful in spreading the word, it’s not necessarily always easy to convert that into revenue generation for you, which is probably one reason you are reading this article!

Lots of other things impact people, just like word of mouth and a powerful headline meme.

Would you like to know five things that impact you that you might want to put a stop sign on?

These five things are powerful tools of persuasion. Used for promoting valuable ideas or products and services, they can be a boon.

Want to know five things that impact you when maybe they “shouldn’t?”

Just like memes are ideas that self-replicate and don’t have anything to do with the value of a product or service…so too, are non-viral aspects of influence. (Those factors that shouldn’t ever impact an influential message.)

These are the factors, and there are nearly 100 of them, that determine whether someone buys your product and the factors have nothing to do with your product, your service of you.

I want to use one of the most remarkable marketing research studies ever done that has also been made public and seen in scientific journals.

This might be the most important research you’ll ever read about. Watch….

A Lender of Money in South Africa did a massive marketing study with Marianne Bertrand, Dean Karlan, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir and Jonathan Zinman in 2005.

Unlike most studies that are done on a college campus with adult students, this study was done with 51,000 South African recipients of a direct mail piece soliciting loans to customers who had borrowed money from The Lender in the last couple of years.

The goal of the study was to find out what caused people to respond to the direct mail marketing and what didn’t.

Would lower or higher interest rates make a difference?
What about differences that had nothing to do with the borrowing of money?!

The study’s authors weren’t interested that one subgroup piece had “We speak Zulu” (Remember this is South Africa), or that this offer was “Special.” They quickly dismiss both of these because they had no effect on the results of the study. Nevertheless, they are interesting to US as we like to know that kind of information.

The direct mail pieces sent out were subdivided in several ways, that only could have been done in such a large magnitude experiment like this one.

  • They tested for different interest rates, ranging from 3.25% to 11.75% per month.
  • They compared their interest rates to competitor rates that were higher and stated so in different ways in tables.
  • They tested for the inclusion of 3 different “tables” that showed various combinations of repayment terms. The third table was a small table with one loan size, one loan term, one monthly repayment and one interest rate.


  • They tested for photos and similarity of last name of letter author…of Lender employees who were “sending the letter” and that person’s race and gender were manipulated depending on the race and gender of the recipient of the letter (guessed by the names of the people.) 10,000 pieces were sent with no photo as a control for this variable.
  • The offer frame was tested for…What’s an offer frame?

Some examples follow.

  • The positive/negative frame: “If you borrow elsewhere (from us), you will pay R100 Rand more (less) each month on a four month loan.”
  • The monthly saving/total saving frame: “If you borrow from us, you will pay R100 (R400) Rand less each month (in total) on a four month loan.”
  • The percentage points/total percent frame: “If you borrow from us, your interest rate will be 4.00% lower!,” versus “If you borrow from us, you will pay 32% less each month on a four month loan.”

Now that you know what kinds of things they were looking at…would you like to know what influenced people to take a letter to The Lender and get a loan?

What specifically did they find that influences people?

What influenced people just like you?

To begin with, the letters with a small table indicating one loan amount, one term, one monthly repayment amount and one interest rate, returned better than those letters with bigger tables that included say, 4 possible loan amounts and 4 possible repayment options…the small table was most successful.

The authors calculated that the table “size” and information included was so important that the interest rate offered would have needed to be 2.3% lower per month for the letters using the big tables to generate customers bringing the letter to The Lender’s office for a loan.

Think about that…the amount of information in the table had the same value in customer response as a 2.3% lower interest rate…!

The next discovery was which “offer frame” results were seen to be the most effective.

Survey says?

By far, the best frame was the loss frame.

Additionally, descriptions in terms of actual money was much more effective than percents or interest rates.

The next discovery was that the race of the person whose picture was in the letter was not significant.

This was surprising in one sense, but the authors point out that priming is most effective when something is less important in someone’s mind and you’re attempting to make it more so. In South Africa, race is on people’s mind 24/7 and requires no priming. (In the United States, I suspect this would not be replicated based on recent subliminal research…all for another article.)

Fascinatingly, photos of men caused people to stay home. Far fewer people receiving letters with photos of men came in for loans.

A photo of a female employee in the letter, on the other hand, increased people coming in for a loan significantly, often by as much as the same effect as a 2.2% lower interest rate per month offering!

More significantly, men receiving the letter with a photo of a female employee increased the number of men coming in for a loan so much so that the offer would have had to have been a 4.5% lower interest rate per month to generate the same result!

More significantly yet? When the men had previously taken out loans from The Lender three or more times, the photo of a female had an even greater impact.

Men did not positively respond to a male photo in a significant way and only slightly less so than those receiving letters with no photo at all.

Female customers showed no significant reaction in responding to the loan offer, whether the photo was of a man, woman or no photo at all.

Many other influential variables were tested and reported on that are beyond the scope of today’s article. To get the complete scoop, the source is What’s Psychology Worth? A Field Experiment in the Consumer Credit Market, 2006.

What is the best factor for you to implement?


You Control the Impact Your Influence Has

The great lesson is that no matter what you sell, you want to deliver that message in such a way that it can be psychologically manipulated (a scientific term that means changed or adjusted) to make the offer more attractive and encourage far more people to take advantage of your offer.

The South African study provides an outstanding example of how to do just this, not only it’s “template”, but in how to break down the analysis.

Influence – in adjusting and shifting how you present yourself, your work and your message to your future and current customers – could finally put some put something significant in your pocket.

You find out by paying attention to the details of what is happening to you and how those details are changing your behaviors.

Did I hear someone knock at your door?


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Author of The Psychology of Persuasion, Irresistible Attraction, and The Science of Influence, Dr. Kevin Hogan is trusted by organizations, both large and small, to help them help their people reach their personal peak performance and maximize influence in selling and marketing. Kevin is an internationally admired keynote speaker and corporate thought leader. In Coffee with Kevin Hogan, he shares his research, observations, and how you can apply them in your life – both in business and at home.

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