The Science Behind Why Teaching Kills Sales

One of the best marketing books I’ve read in a while is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

(It’s a bit ironic, because the Heath brothers take lots of potshots at marketing, including copywriting legend John Caples.)

To me the most fascinating part of the whole book was the anecdote that starts on page 165:

A group of researchers was trying to find the best way to motivate people to help charitable causes.

And they tried two different approaches:

With the first test group, they presented people with a slew of statistics about hunger in Africa.

How food shortages affect 3 million children, and 11 million people in Ethiopia need help.

Afterward, when they asked participants to make a donation, the average gift was $1.14.

With the next group, they ditched the statistics and told a simple story about a 7-year-old girl named Rokia who lived in Mali, Africa.

And through the story they showed exactly how a gift would change her life.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that the second, more personal appeal stomped the “facts ‘n’ figures” approach.

Telling Rokia’s story more than doubled the average gift to $2.38.

No huge shocker there—that’s exactly how any copywriter with half a brain would have approached the appeal, by telling a story that people can connect with emotionally.

Here’s where my eyebrows shot up though…

The researchers also tested a third, combined appeal.

In this case they lead off with the story of the hardships faced by Rokia.

Then they “zoomed out” by bringing in statistics that showed the scope of the problem of hunger and poverty in Africa.

You’d think that this would give you the best of both worlds— combining the power of the little girl’s story with the extra persuasive punch of the overwhelming statistics.

That’s NOT how it worked.

Instead what they found was that hard numbers broke the spell of the little girl’s story…

So in the end the third appeal didn’t do much better than the dry, facts-n-figures approach.

What the researchers showed is that our brains operate in two different modes—empathetic and analytical.

And when the analytical switch gets flipped, it temporarily shuts off our ability to respond empathetically.

This is a major reason why many entrepreneurs struggle to make sales with their email courses and other “content marketing,” even though they’re providing tons of value to their readers.

The fact is, most buying decisions are based on EMOTION, and logic only enters the picture after the fact as a way of justifying the purchase.

When your marketing is loaded with lots of step-by-step, how-to instruction, you quickly flip your customer’s “analytical switch”…

And kill any chance you have of connecting emotionally and making the sale.

The moral of the story?

Teaching does have a place in your marketing.

But it’s not a silver bullet, and “teach everything you know” often causes analysis paralysis—and lost sales.

Josh Earl

Josh Earl helps entrepreneurs to create a steady stream of sales and income using fun-to-write, educational email courses. To see how to generate this kind of stable, reliable income in your business, enroll in his free 10-day class today.

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