Recommended Reads Advent Calendar: Day Eleven

Stuart Clark 2 mins

Continuing our Christmas advent calendar series, another business book that we recommend. You could win your own copy just by sharing this post.

Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense

Author: Rory Sutherland

First published: 2019

 This book starts with a thought-experiment. Imagine you’ve been tasked with creating a new soft drink to rival Coca-Cola. What would your strategy be? You might reasonably suggest something that tastes nicer, costs less and comes in a bigger bottle to offer better value for money.

That would be a very rational solution. But as this book reveals, humans are rarely rational. The proof? The drink that’s come closest to rivalling Coke in recent years is Red Bull – six billion cans sold annually, apparently. Yet consider this – Red Bull tastes disgusting, comes in a tiny can and costs double price of a Coke.

So, what’s going on?

This is a witty and enlightening book, written by the erudite Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy, Rory Sutherland. And it contains a wealth of thought-provoking stories that show creating successful marketing often relies on counter-intuitive thinking.

One example early on in the book chimed with me because I have experienced it first-hand.

Rory talks about developing a direct mail letter for an insurance company. Over time the letter had grown longer and longer through the addition of new messages. Upon being challenged to improve response, Rory suggested cutting it down to just two paragraphs. The argument being that the product was simple, so maybe a much shorter letter would appeal to a different set of customers.

We tried something similar a couple of years ago for one of our insurance clients – and it worked. Just like Rory, we found there were two ways to sell the product, one with a reassuring long letter, and another with a much shorter version.

My favourite quote?

This book will appeal to any marketer who is curious about the way humans behave, and why they often do contradictory things. Here’s my favourite quote:

“The two categories of retailer who have weathered the global economic instability best in recent years are those at the top end of the price spectrum and those at the bottom. We derive pleasure from ‘expensive treats’ and from ‘finding bargains’.  

The eleventh of twenty-five of the best business books we’ve ever read. Our recommended reading for your Christmas break. And to celebrate our 25th Anniversary, we’re giving you the chance to win these coveted, sought-after reads, just by sharing and re-posting one of our daily recommendations.



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