Contact Us
Marketing Messaging Visual Storytelling Sales Conversations Selling to Executives Negotiation Skills

metaphors & analogies

Lead customers down the path of least resistance

SMM-LogoHow the “Law of Least Effort” impacts your messaging

 Do you believe prospective buyers are generally rational? Do you assume that the more information and evidence you pile on them, the better your chances of winning the sale? This must be the case, or why else would there be so many hefty whitepapers with gobs of text, or PowerPoint decks with hundreds of slides, or complicated ROI calculators and spreadsheets out there?

It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten law that says, “Thou shalt overwhelm your customers with content.” But, any such law would be in direct conflict with the Law of Least Effort.

Law of Least Effort
In his popular book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, says, “If there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action.”

Nowhere is this truer than in decision making and how people make choices. According to Kahneman, people find thinking too hard about a decision to be unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible. He says humans are always seeking “cognitive ease” and, as a result, are prone to place too much faith in their intuitions.

When applied to marketing and sales messaging, these findings mean there’s a good chance your prospects need significantly less information to make a decision than you or they think they do.

System 1 and System 2 decision making
To help you understand what’s actually going on in your prospect’s mind, Kahneman identifies two systems in the brain that impact decision making. To make it simple, he calls them System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is the smallest, simplest part of the brain (we sometimes refer to this as the “old brain”). It operates automatically and quickly with no sense of conscious effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2, on the other hand, is where mental activities requiring effort take place, such as complex computations (we sometimes refer to this as the “new brain”).

We like to think that System 2 is the hero in decision making, and that conscious reasoning drives beliefs and choices. But in reality, Kahneman says it is System 1 where all the action takes place. It quickly creates impressions and feelings, which ultimately become the main source for the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices made by System 2.

System 2 is supposed to take over when decisions get difficult, constructing thoughts in an orderly series of steps to facilitate choices. But, most of the time it does not overrule the impulses and intuitions of System 1. This becomes even more prevalent when System 2 gets busy, strained and stressed like many of your prospects and customers.

In other words, by the Law of Least Effort, the thinking part of the brain is merely a rubber stamp for the conclusions drawn by the emotional part of the brain.

Impact on your messaging
So how does the Law of Least Effort impact your marketing and sales messaging?

Here’s one idea for you to consider. System 1 relies heavily on intuition to make choices. Intuition works by identifying similar past experiences, and then making associations with the current decision on the table.

One great tool for appealing to intuition is using familiar metaphors and analogies — find a way to connect your solution to something already familiar in your prospects’ story. It could be personal or professional, but the key is to associate the decision you want them to make with other, similar decisions they’ve successfully made in the past, or connect it with familiar concepts and experiences.

(Example: I did the above when I used the “rubber stamp” analogy for the way System 1 and System 2 interact on a decision — making a complicated, abstract concept more simple and concrete for you to understand.)

In her book, “Metaphorically Selling,” author Anne Miller describes one of the more famous metaphorical sales pitches.
It took place in 1980 when Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler Corporation, went to Congress requesting a billion-dollar bailout. The problem was that Congress wasn’t interested in having taxpayers bail out a company. America is built on free enterprise after all, and companies start and fail all the time. This would set a dangerous precedent.

Iacocca attempted to change the perception by substituting the word “safety net” for “bailout,” and pitching the idea that Chrysler’s problems were really America’s problems and Chrysler’s bankruptcy would be very bad for America. Congress connected the decision to other “safety nets” it had approved to protect the American people in the past, and responded with the money he requested.

I’m not saying that one catchy metaphorical phrase changed the entire game, but you see how it can significantly change the perception of your message and potentially the response of the emotional, intuitive decision-maker called System 1.

The best metaphors and analogies get incorporated into stories about how someone else, just like the prospect you are speaking with, was struggling and made the changes you recommend and is now successful. Metaphors wrapped in a customer story will help System 1 quickly self-identify the need for change.

*As originally seen in the April 10, 2014 issue of Sales & Marketing Management.


It’s not a wheel. It’s a carousel.



By Tim Riesterer

If you’re a fan of the megahit TV show Mad Men, you’ve seen Don Draper, creative director at the Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce advertising agency, deliver some brilliant pitches for iconic American brands.  And you’ve doubtless heard many a real-life marketing, advertising and sales professional wax nostalgic for the good ol’ days and equate the Mad Men ways to modern-day business life. At the risk of doing the same, I can’t help but call to your attention one of my favorite scenes, in which Don vies to win the Kodak slide projector account.

Don pitching Kodak.

So, why does it resonate with me? On the surface, I’m nostalgic and it’s a clip of an entertaining television show with well-written dialogue featuring a product I remember. But it’s much more than that.  It’s an excellent example of visual storytelling and the power of personal stories to help you connect with prospects in sales conversations.

Don manages to take one of the oldest man-made inventions — the wheel — and reinvent it as a magical carousel that brings to life all of one’s cherished memories, in gorgeous color. He then goes one step further and uses his own personal story – slides from his own family – to illustrate his point.

Don doesn’t launch into a description of features of the slide projector. He doesn’t talk about how the new design locks the slides into place, stopping them from falling out of the projector. And he doesn’t point out that once the slides are placed in the carousel, there is no need to manually reset the slide tray for each show.  He doesn’t need to because those features are evident in the story.

The pitch is visual storytelling at its best.  The execution looks effortless, but in reality it was carefully planned and mapped out.  Just look at poor Harry Crane running from the room in tears and the stunned looks on the Kodak executives’ faces. The story is a powerful weapon.

Next time you prepare for a conversation with a prospect, channel Don Draper and consider how to use one of your personal stories to create an emotional connection. And just imagine being able to close all of your sales meetings with the confidence to say, “good luck at your next meeting.”


From Russia, With Love

Recently, I conducted a Power Messaging workshop in Moscow, Russia.  I am aware that Power Messaging techniques are sometimes looked upon as “western ideas.”  It usually takes some time for our techniques to soak in and be accepted.  This normally happens soon after a student is exposed to the Old Brain research and begins to understand what influences the Old Brain and helps it make decisions. By this time in the workshop, students understand that it does not matter what part of the world you are from; we are all wired the same and make decisions through the same process.


On day two of my workshop, I covered the Power of Stories; along with Objection Reframes, concentrating specifically on Stories, Metaphors, and Analogies.  I know that Stories are embedded in every culture, and I felt that my new Russian friends would adapt quickly to this technique.


The stories they shared were wonderful and fun to hear at the same time.  One of my students, Olga, was introducing a new technology that was going to have a huge impact on her customers, while at the same time being difficult for them to comprehend because of this impact.  She was challenged with how she could introduce this to her customers without them being overwhelmed and immediately push back on something so innovative.


Olga began her presentation with a story about when she was a child during the winter in Russia.  She explained how bitterly cold it was every winter and how frustrating it was to bundle up for simple tasks like going to school or just going outside to play.  She explained the many layers of clothing that her mother would put on her:  long underwear, trousers, shirt, sweater, two pairs of socks, snow pants, heavy coat, mittens, scarf and cap (and a few other things I couldn’t quite understand).  Every time she would go back inside, she would have to remove each layer which was quite an undertaking. Next, she said to the audience:


Do you remember when coveralls were introduced? Do you remember what an unbelievable breakthrough that was?  Do you remember how warm they were and how easy it was to slip them on and off without having to go through the frustration of the layers of clothing every time you wanted to go outdoors?  Well, that’s the same level of advancement in technology you are about to see today.  The technology you are about to see will have an equal impact on your business as the coveralls had on all of Russia.

They understood and relived the pain that she had described. They were captured by the story and the relevance and impact on their culture.  They were all well prepared for, and looking forward to, the impact her new technology was going to have on their business.

Stories are an incredible way to deliver value, open closed-minds, change perceptions, and sell without resistance anywhere, anytime, with any audience… even in Russia.


By David Lane, Consultant, Corporate Visions Inc.


Accelerate Understanding

Recently, my wife and I went to visit our financial advisor, David Hawkins – a necessary meeting to ensure that I don’t have to work until I’m 80-years-old.  We currently have two children in college and two more to go, so we definitely need to plan well. We want to take care of our children and help them as much as possible to get a good start in life.

In our meeting, David focused on our life insurance and our retirement account. My wife was concerned about some of the changes he wanted to make in reference to where to put our money.  She kept saying, “So what if something happens to us; what about the children?” It was obvious that David wanted to make some changes that my wife perceived as counter-productive in planning for our children.

Finally, David leaned back in his chair, looked at my wife and said, “You’ve flown in an airplane haven’t you?”  My wife answered, “Yes.”  David then asked her, “What is the first thing the flight attendant tells you to do in case of an emergency and your oxygen masks are deployed?”  She answered, “That you need to put your mask on first before helping others.” “Exactly,” David exclaimed.  “You need to take care of YOURSELF first, so that you are capable of taking care of others.”  “You also need to set a good example for your children by showing them that they need to take care of their financial future first.”

As I watched my wife’s brow unfurl and a smile cross her face, I thought – wow!  What a great example of using a story in the form of an analogy to simplify the complex. My wife was not able to see what was already so clear to David.  By using the simple analogy of the oxygen mask, David quickly accelerated my wife’s understanding of his point.

In a sales presentation, your audience is often lagging behind in understanding the meaning of your message, especially when your message is highly technical.  Stories, metaphors and analogies are effective ways to simplify your complex technology and accelerate your prospects’ understanding.

Now, in case you didn’t notice…this article is also an example of how a personal story can be used to effectively articulate your point.

-David Lane, Corporate Visions’ Consultant


Bringing Value to Life

A large computer accessory company was looking to streamline their processes and move away from an in-house platform to outsourcing. Their goal was to free IT and staff from monthly manual reporting while adding workflow for the lacking division of duties. The company was looking for ways to eliminate as many manual tasks as possible without sacrificing ease of use. They wanted one easy-to-use system with proven functionality that streamlined as many Payroll, Time and Attendance, Recruiting, and HR functions as possible. My company sells such a one-stop service. They looked at us and several of our competitors. While many of these competitors offered similar benefits, no single competitor had the breath and depth we had. The challenge was getting the buyer to clearly understand our value and trust a single-source approach.

I used a story analogy in my presentation to explain how the iPod has transformed me from someone who did not read books, work-out, or take care of CD’s to an avid reader (via books on tape), fitness fool, and music connoisseur – all because of the convenience and the power of having it all together.

I presented this story in the first few minutes of the presentation while showing slides illustrating their current situation contrasted with what life would be like under our SINGLE SOURCE solution. I wanted them to understand the difference between our solution and our competitor on this deal. I ended the story by asking to remember the power of iPOD when they think of our solution.

We closed this $165K deal in July.

Houman I.
National Accounts Manager