BLOG#16 The Bangkok Flip Flop Technique

In the heavy, sticky afternoon heat of Khao San Road market in Bangkok, I was the innocent victim of an ingenious sales strategy a few years ago.

In the years since, I’ve identified a lot that I’ve learned about selling, marketing, decision making and pricing psychology (psychophysics) at work in the assault.

Like many of the most potent forms of influence, it’s likely that the seller knew very little about why it worked so well (at least it did on me), but I’m equally sure he doesn’t care… it just worked.

Here’s what happened and the major lesson, so it can put more in your pockets too…

How I got Flip Flopped

Khao San Road and Thailand in general (if you haven’t been) is crammed with cheap replicas of big brands. It’s also common to haggle over every sale.

Tori and I were about to head home after a long trip and wanted to take Christmas gifts home for our families. We decided on a pair of Haviana flip flops for my brother in law Andrew and I spotted a stall with a big display.

I chose the light grey soles with banana yellow straps that were labelled as being $9 and told the stall holder (confidently!) I would pay $6 for them.

My undoing had begun.

He grabbed a very similar pair of grey and yellow flip flops from the back of his stall and told me that these ones were $6 if that’s what I wanted to pay.

I stood my ground and said I wanted the $9 pair but I’d only pay $6.

$$’s chi-ching’ed across the salesman’s eyes for an instant, his lips trembled as he fought back an evil laugh – he’d seen it all before.

He took one of the cheaper and one of the “high end” flip flops, placed both in front of me next to each other and explained the difference between them:

The $9 pair were made in China, they had a good quality (a better fake) brand logo embossed in them and they also had an authentic-looking branded tread in the sole.

The $6 ones were made in Thailand and, when you looked closely, they were a little bit more fake; The badge wasn’t made very well and instead of a branded pattern in the sole they had just a criss-cross pattern.

(Yes – he pointed out all the flaws in his product!)

So I now had a clear choice: The $9 decent quality fakes or $6 poor fakes.

Being a cheapskate, but not wanting my brother in law to know I was a cheapskate, I picked the better quality fakes and paid $9. And I was happy because I knew what I had paid the extra for.

The Flip Flop Technique Lesson: Offering a Quality-Based Choice

The stall holder had done two very clever things by offering me a choice – He’d not only made it very difficult for me to argue for a discount, he’d also taken his competition out of the equation.

The question in my mind at the stall initially was “should I buy these things here or not”

By giving me a choice and clearly explaining the differences, my brain became busy weighing up the different outcomes and was now thinking “which ones should I buy”.

How to Become a Flip Flop Master

There’s a broad spectrum of people shopping for what you sell. At one end there are those that just want the best and will pay for it because it makes them happy to know they have the best. At the other end are those who just want the cheapest.

In every business I have ever worked with, these 2 extreme groups are the minorities.

In the middle are the majority of people who want to get something in particular from your product or service and will buy if they are convinced they will get it. If they aren’t convinced, they will default to buying on price.

What was most important to me was 1. I wanted Andrew to be happy with his gift (and I know he likes good quality stuff) and 2. Me to look good for getting him something good (i.e. not a cheapskate)

If all you offer is one option, you make your potential customers choose to either buy from you or look elsewhere.

Instead, if you offer a higher-value (more benefits) option and lower-value (less benefits) option, clearly explaining the difference in value between the two, the customer customer can’t walk away before they have decided what matters to them most and whether they are willing to pay extra for it.

You have switched their minds from “should I buy here or not”, to “which is best for me” and significantly increased the chances of them buying from you.

The way our minds work is to try to simplify our decisions as much as possible. A single option can leave a lot of unanswered questions and doubt in a customer mind, so they will defer the decision to later (when it’s more critical) and walk away to “think about it” rather than risk making a bad buying decision on the spot.

The other extreme is when someone is faced with too many options, where the brain can’t process all the possible outcomes on the spot and come up with a clear winner. So, again, a person will decide not to decide right there and then and will walk away.

BUT, if you can give someone a very simple and clear choice, explaining the different outcomes of their decision, they will be much more likely to choose one of your options than delay the decision or add the complication of shopping elsewhere.

We tend to opt for the simple clear choice, even when it may not be the overall best choice to make. That’s why people don’t tend to take a long time considering all the ins and outs of the policies of political candidates, they simply vote for who they like, which is usually the person they understand most clearly (regardless of the insanity of what they say).

Of course there are always exceptions to this, but if you can come up with 2 options for every customer, where you’re able to clearly explain the differences in the outcome of their decision, your sales will increase.

Give it a Try

I hope you’ve found this useful and would love to hear about you testing it in your business. My best success has been applying this technique to a boat polishing service business, changing a standard polishing package (the only option previously) to a “Silver Package” and adding a full-shebang “Gold Package” (with every add-on we could think of) which not only boosted sales of the standard option but also added some new Gold price sales.

In most cases it won’t cost you anything to offer your customers 2 different value options and you’ll get immediate results. You’ll find that far fewer people will ask for discounts and you’ll get people buying quicker from you because they aren’t shopping around as much.


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BLOG#12 Taking Control of Your Mood

The wake of the boat are the waves it leaves behind, as it pushes the water out of its way.

You might be sat on a beach and suddenly 4 or 5 waves seem to come from nowhere, crashing onto the shore.

That’s because the waves that the boat leaves behind continue to travel long after the boat has passed, spreading wider and wider, disturbing water that can be miles away from where the boat traveled.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about the idea that people leave a wake behind them.

A wake that affects other people, far beyond them, in ways you can’t imagine.

Then one Sunday morning a couple of weekends ago, something happened to me that cemented my belief in this idea and its disturbing effects on us.

Before I tell you what happened…

My Theory: Without realising it, even the briefest encounter you have with another person has an effect on both of you, which in turn has an effect on the people you both go on to encounter afterwards and so forth.

The effect of a person’s wake is on our feelings, which take place in the part of the brain that is responsible for making most of our day to day decisions.

A person’s wake can be positive (having a positive effect on others) or negative (with the corresponding negative effect).

What dictates whether the wake of a person is positive or negative at any given time is the mood that the person is in.

(Your mood is the instantaneous measure of how you feel – in particular how much you feel like you’re getting what you want, or how well you feel things are going your way)

So you can think of any group of people, such as a household, a classroom, a community, a company, a country or even our society as a whole, as a set pin balls all bouncing round in a box together.

At any one time, some pin balls are negative and some positive to different degrees.

And as they glance off each other or collide heavily together (interacting), the pin balls (people) are continually altering each others’ positive or negative states (moods).

Now back to my story…

I first thought about this human wake effect when I noticed very few people looked at me, smiled or said hello when out for a run one particular morning.

I thought quite a bit about why so few people would be happy or friendly enough to say hello, especially when we’re all out for some morning exercise you would imagine that would create some sort of friendly ice-breaking bond.

Apparently not. Something stronger was at play.

So I began paying more attention to my own and other people’s reactions as I passed them on the street, whether it be out for a walk, run or bike ride. Here are the patterns I’ve observed:

1. Whenever someone smiles at me, I automatically smile back. Their positive wake causes a positive reaction in me.

2. My smile usually continues after I’ve passed them, in other words my positive reaction is genuine.

When someone smiles and adds a hello or good morning, I reflect back an equally friendly greeting and my smile will continue for even longer after we’d passed. I noticed on at least 2 occasions when someone made a friendly passing joke, it put me in a good mood for quite a while after.

3. Therefore, the more genuine and friendly the greeting, the longer I felt the positive after-effects.

4. Anyone passing me shortly after a friendly interaction would only have to hint at a glance in my direction to receive a friendly smile and hello from me. I now had my own positive wake.

On the other hand…

5. Whenever a passer by didn’t look up, or looked but didn’t greet, that had a negative effect on me. “Miserable bastard” or something similar would cross my mind (and no doubt cross my face too).

6. After a negative interaction, instead of getting my immediate friendly greeting, the next passer by would be scrutinised to see if they were as miserable as the last. In other words, my treatment of others after a negative interaction would be cautious, or reactive (rater than positive and pro-active).

I discussed this with Tori who’d noticed something similar, but said that when someone didn’t look at her she could instigate a friendly hello simply by smiling and saying hello to anyone regardless of whether they looked at her or not. And she said it always got a positive response.

So I tested it for myself and it worked – whenever I took the initiative and smiled a friendly “good morning”, every single time it would cause the other person (or people) to reflect the smile and friendly greeting back at me.

7. Therefore, a positive greeting trumps any latent neutral or negative mood in the passer by.

Then a couple of Sundays back something weird happened.

Out running for about 25 minutes, every single person I passed (maybe 6 or 7) beamed a smiling hello or good morning at me as I passed.

I was struck by how weird it was for every single person I saw to smile and greet me. (Weirdos!)

Then by the sad fact that people staring at the floor and not saying hello is what we accept as normal.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it was a random occurrence for every person I saw that morning to beam a friendly hello at me.

But what really interested me was the effect those friendly greetings (100% positive from everyone I saw) had on me and my mood.

By the time I got to the fourth passer by, the stupid grin must have been plastered across my face as we greeted each other. Maybe my own mood was so positive and obvious by then that it was affecting other people before I opened my mouth?

All I know for sure is that, as a result of all the group out that morning having a positive wake, I was infected with a good mood for the whole run and it continued into the rest of my day.

As the circle of my theory closed in my mind, it became clear that these very small interactions of just passing someone, are a magnified snapshot of the feelings, decisions and moods we experience in our daily lives.

On an average day, we see, greet and chat to tens or even hundreds of people. Some in very minor ways, such as seeing someone interviewed on the news. Others in much more depth, like telephone conversations or meetings at work.

And if my mood can be affected, even slightly, in a moment by an anonymous passer by, then there’s no doubt that my mood all day long is being influenced much more heavily by everyone I interact with.

So how can knowing about the wake effect help us make our days (and lives in general) better?

Well being in a good mood is self-perpetuating. In other words, when things are going well for you, the way you communicate with people is naturally more open, friendly and agreeable, all of which will increase the chances of more things going your way because you will have the patience and empathy to reach more mutually-beneficial outcomes.

But in a bad mood, your appearance (demeanour) and communication will be more defensive, selfish and disagreeable, which will have the same mirroring effect on how others deal with you, meaning you’re less likely to get what you want. Both of you.

So how can we beat negative wakes and bad moods?

Just being aware of a psychological effect isn’t always helpful. You could quite easily get moody at someone complaining to you, if you’re aware they are making the rest of your day worse in the process.

So in this case, attack is the best form of defence.

We already know that when a negative wake hits you, it’s going to start your negative thoughts and feelings churning.

But if you take the initiative with your own positive wake, it will trump the effect of the negative wake before it has chance to effect you.

And the more positive your wake, the greater the effect.

So, if you want your mood to be good and things to go your way, an effective method is to go out of your way to start every interaction (no matter how brief) by being genuine, friendly and selfless.

Genuine is the key word here. Humans in general are very good at spotting bullshit, you simply can’t fake a positive wake.

And in particular, for the toughest occasions when you aren’t feeling in the best of moods yourself, cure your grumpiness by (just for a few seconds) focusing 100% of your attention on making someone else’s day better.

With a little awareness and very small amount of effort, you can have a major influence over your mood and the likelihood of getting what you want in life.

One last thing to think about: Any group of people, whether it’s a household, a school classroom, a community, a company or even a country… is just a box will positive and negative pin balls bouncing around inside.

What defines the overall state of the box at any time can only be the sum total of adding up all the positive and negative pin balls together. The box itself is just a container, an idea or an imaginary line and has no power to influence your mood.

In other words, how content or satisfied you feel with your life in all these different areas (as part of your household, or your school, or community, or your company, or your country… ) all comes down to the attitudes and actions of the individuals that you share these areas of your life with.

Complainers don’t complain because of the box they bounce around in, as they would have you believe. They complain because they have a bad attitude and they will pollute the overall mood of any group they are part of until they become more positive (whether that’s by their own initiative or by force when all the negatives around them are replaced with positives).

And for the leader of any group, wanting to influence its success, positive words and promises will have very little effect. In fact, empty words are what fuel the complainers and turn positive pin balls into negatives.

To really have a lasting positive effect on others and elevate any group as a whole, consistent and genuine positive action is all that counts.


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BLOG#7 Can You See the Invisible Influences?

Saturday afternoon, lazing about the house enjoying having nothing to do, the Food Network channel mumbled in the background as Tori and I chatted about what to have for dinner that night.

(please don’t hang up this does have a point)

We found ourselves getting dragged into Man vs. Food, a show where the host visits the best diners and in a city (lots of grilled-cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, bbq cow cuts, ice-cream mountains…) which culminates in him taking on a ridiculous food challenge.

This week it was Atlanta and a 30 inch (yes thirty!) pizza weighing 11lbs called the Carnivore Challenge, taken on by Adam the host and a team member. Food won.

Our discussion turned to pizza options for dinner.

Before we’d made our decision, the show ended and one on Asian cooking began, Ching the host sampling some delicious-looking treats from street food to tantalising pancake combinations. By now our mouths were watering.

We ordered Chinese.

A week or so later, Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals was the background for the evening meal choice (I’m painting a greedy yet quite accurate picture of my home life). I don’t even remember the dish but what I do remember is Jamie’s focus on fresh healthy ingredients and you couldn’t ignore the simplicity of preparing a delicious meal at home.

We didn’t discuss one takeaway for dinner.

Instead I headed to the supermarket and did the big shop for the week. I made a hot and spicy potato and pea curry for tea and it was spot on (not to mention super healthy!) if I may say so.

Why do I bore you with my TV shows and dinner choices?

Because these two episodes are a perfect illustration of the invisible influences over our decisions each day.

The effect is known as Priming and the principle is that many of our decisions, in particular the fast ones that we don’t consider to be major life choices, are made by a system in our brain that uses our short term memory for reference.

That means if I watch 2 TV shows about junk food, my (non-life-critical) decision about what to eat for dinner will more than likely be some form of junk food, because my short term memory doesn’t have much else in there to choose from.

If I look in the mirror after reading a Mens Health magazine or watching athletics, I’ll more likely to have a negative view of my appearance and will be much more likely to decide to get in shape.

If a young girl regularly watches US / Australian soaps and reads celebrity magazines, she will be more likely to be unhappy with / become depressed about her appearance.

If you see on the news a terror attack in Paris blamed on the ISIS group, you will be more likely to treat Asian-looking men (regardless of their nationality and religion) with suspicion. That isn’t to say you are racist, your short term memory just don’t have any other recent reference to form an opinion around.

Priming effect has been used by marketers (long before the effect was proven by the academic and scientific community) to influence the likelihood that you will buy their products.

But the reason behind this article is not to warn you of deceptive marketing.

I’ve written this to make you aware that everything around you, all day long, is influencing your view of the world, the decisions you make and ultimately your day to day happiness.

So what’s the answer?

I have 2 suggestions.

Suggestion 1: choose what you (and more importantly your kids) spend your time watching, listening to and reading.

But a WARNING goes with this – It will require effort on your part!

The lowest-effort approach to life is to accept what the world’s media chooses to paint your picture of how the world really is.

The trouble with that is the media choose to paint a picture of the world’s extremes, because media is business and businesses survive by capturing your attention more than their competitors.

Popular media paints an unrealistic and much more negative (attention-grabbing) view of the world than you are likely to experience, which means it will prime you to look for the negative in others and in yourself when in reality you (and the majority of people) have a lot of things to love, be proud of and be grateful for.

Suggestion 2: there is a second system that your brain uses to make your decisions. This is the “real you” and it’s the way you make important decisions, weighing your options more carefully and taking your time over so you’re ultimately as comfortable as possible with choices that are important to you. Like buying a house for example.

There’s no magic at work when the real you, the one that’s influenced more by your values than your surroundings, is in charge. All you need to activate it is pause for a second and ask yourself “is this something I’ve really decided for myself?”.

It’s not as easy as you would think.