What’s so special about 1729?

The number, not the year.

It’s the Hardy–Ramanujan number, named after two mathematicians.

When Hardy visited Ramanujan recovering in hospital he noted the number of his cab, 1729, which he remarked was dull, and hoped was not an unfavourable omen.

Ramanujan replied “No, it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

The data is only interesting when viewed the right way.

Fake it until they make it

The town of Agloe, New York shouldn’t exist.

It was a ’paper town’, a made-up place cartographers use to prevent copyright infringement. Any competitor map that replicates the fabricated town therefore must have copied theirs.

But, as novelist John Green’s TED talk about Agloe demonstrates, it wasn’t that simple. Travellers saw it on the map and visited but finding nothing there, people built what they expected to find.

Agloe became a real place because it fulfilled a need nobody previously knew they had.

Brands sometimes forget their power: to not just meet needs, but inspire them.

Being the best

Lebron James is arguably the best basketball player in the world.

To give some context, an ex-manager once told how they watched him in a game tell an opposing player where they were supposed to go. They were running a play and he said ‘No Pat, you’re supposed to stand over there and you’re gonna pin down for DeMar over here’.

It’s easy to get caught up solely on how you are performing.

But being great is not just focusing on your individual performance. It’s about knowing what’s going on around you, better than anyone else.

Why can’t you get a cab when it’s raining?

Logically, in the rain, cabbies would work longer to meet increased demand and make a tidy profit.

Instead, as told in the likes of Freakonomics, research suggests many drivers set daily targets for their earnings; when it’s rainy they hit that target quicker, clocking off early. On pleasant days, with low demand, they work longer hours instead of raking it in when it’s raining, and then enjoying those summer days.

This irrational myopia costs them their summer – and leaves you out in the cold all because they’re chasing targets, and not reappraising the situation.

Buggy thinking

Francis Bacon (author, not painter) had an analogy for scientists which also applies as much to marketers in this data-driven age. There are three types, corresponding to different insects:
Ants, who only collect and use without thought.

Spiders, who spin webs and make connections, but only from their own substance.

And honey bees, who gather from far and wide, then use their skill to digest and transform it into something good and useful.

Save the bees!

Improving a product that sucks

Dyson have consistently revolutionised the vacuum cleaner market.

They’ve done so by re-imagining, rather than refining, the weakest components. The bag loses suction, reducing capacity. Don’t improve the bag. Lose it entirely.

The wheels limit manoeuvrability. Don’t improve the wheels. Switch them out for a ball. The power cable tangles, getting in the way. Don’t improve the cable. Ditch the cable altogether.

Don’t just improve what’s already there. Take another look and create something truly fit for purpose.

Funny Money

An anecdote often cited among behavioural economists about Dustin Hoffman, told by a friend, neatly illustrates mental budgeting.

Hoffman asked an actor friend to lend him some money for food, but when the friend visited Hoffman’s apartment he saw multiple money-filled jars labelled: ‘rent’, ‘entertainment’, ‘phone’, ‘electric’.

The only empty jar? ‘Food’. So, why did Hoffman need to borrow money? “I can’t take money out of the other jars”.

What people choose to spend with you may be limited by unseen outside factors.

Gorillas in the myth

Ever visited the West African ‘Mountains of Kong’, just north of Guinea? Neither have we.

Probably because they don’t exist.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them erroneously appearing on maps across Europe for almost 100 years after their ‘discovery’ in 1798 (and they were even included as recently as 1995) – all because nobody bothered to check.

If people can misidentify a whole mountain range, what other ‘accepted knowledge’ should be challenged?

The ‘Aha!’ moment

Nature abhors a vacuum. Our brains abhor not knowing.

If you want to lodge something in someone’s head (which, as marketers, we do) wrap it in a mystery, then let the audience uncover it.

The dopamine hit for solving the riddle fuses to the advert, strengthening the memory.

Take the ‘Gueropa!’ ad for Renault. I’ve spoiled the joke by recommending it, but I still don’t think you’ll see it coming. And you’ll certainly remember it.

Gone Phishing

“Greatings, I a Nigerian prince in exole with £$4M to share you…”

Even if you’ve never received one of these emails, you know the sort.But why are they so peppered with typos and inaccuracies?

It’s audience self-selection.

They need to know you’ll fall for the scam, so if you don’t suspect something fishy from that message they’ll probably be able to reel you in. It’s not about converting everyone – it’s about appealing to the right audience.

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