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The importance of woofle dust

Rory Sutherland is the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK and the founder of the behavioural science practice. His ideas are always worth listening to and he expresses them so very well.

The theme that Rory has been pushing for the last year or two is "alchemy". It has prompted him to write a book called The Surprising Power Of Ideas That Don't Make Sense. You can look him up on YouTube and there are a number of very engaging presentations he makes on the subject.

In a nutshell, his message is that it is often profitable to be less logical than everybody else in business decision-making. There is some truth in this. If you do what everybody else does, your offer will look the same. If it looks the same, it will be difficult to compete. It follows, therefore, that doing the opposite of what looks logical could be a winning strategy.

I can go along with this to an extent. However, like many frameworks, you have to be careful. Imagine that we were setting up a sandwich shop. Where would Rory's argument take us? Would we eschew the nation's favourite ham and cheese or prawn and Marie Rose sandwich in favour of beetroot and Marmite? If our product strayed too far from the logical I sense we wouldn't sell any sandwiches. The innovations that would be acceptable would have to have customers' needs in mind. A sandwich with a tasty 1 inch filling may be better than trying to push a novel kiwi sandwich. A sandwich that is specially packed to stay fresh for three days might have more appeal than a rice and soya sauce concoction. In other words, we will have to be careful how far we stretch the idea of being illogical.

We sometimes overstretch the importance of the product in our offer. Of course it is fundamental. It has to fulfil people’s needs and it has to do what it says it will do. However, this isn’t the key to delivering satisfaction. The many hundreds of surveys I have seen tell me that it is the soft and intangible factors that distinguish you and your product and make people come back for more. These soft factors are such as “easy to do business with”, “trustworthiness”, “responding quickly to the customer’s needs”, “being friendly” and so on.

Alchemy is the magic chemistry that transforms metal into gold. It is the woofle dust that we sprinkle over our products to make them special and different. Be bold, be different, and occasionally be illogical, but never at the expense of meeting customers’ needs.

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