Monkey Business: A 35-Million-Year-Old Sales Secret
By John Forde
“If you had a million Shakespeares,
could they write like a monkey?”
– Steven Wright
Yale researchers did some experiments with capuchin monkeys, as researchers are known to do.
What they wanted to see was whether the monkeys, who broke off from the human evolutionary tree some 35 million years ago, shared behaviors — especially the irrational kind — with their less furry cousins.
(Us… we’re the less furry cousins.)
Because they did these tests around the time of the huge financial collapse in 2008, the experiments they started with were the financial kind.
No, they did not fix the monkeys up with subprime mortgages to see what would happen.
And no, they didn’t offer to sell the monkeys collateralized debt or shares in the banks.
What they did was teach the monkeys to use money. Well monkey money. Tokens in exchange for grapes. And they called it “monkeynomics.”
At first, they taught the moneys that one token would get each monkey one grape. But like markets, it got a little more complicated over time.
One guy would stick to the one grape-one token exchange. The other would up the ante.
Instead of one grape, he’d offer two. Still at the same one-token price. And what did the monkey do?
Just as savvy as any human shopper, the monkey took the two-for-one deal. Pretty much every time.
And so the monkey marketplace evolved. The students held sales. One might offer something else, along with the grapes. Another might hike up the grape price temporarily then bring it back down.
Here’s where it gets weird. Well, weirder than creating a barter system with monkeys.
The researchers collected the data on the “grape trade” and shared it with economists.
It matched human buying behavior so closely, it was tough to tell the grape-buying monkeys apart from human shoppers.
For instance, few if any of the monkeys showed any inclination to save their “money.” A fistful of tokens, in their little minds, seemed instantly to translate into a fistful of grapes.
In other words, they were eager to blow their monkey paychecks at the first opportunity. Sound familiar?
A few of the monkeys also developed a taste for larceny — they would steal tokens from their handlers at the first opportunity. I’m pretty sure I know some financial advisors, for example, who may have once been monkeys.
But here’s an example from the experiments I found really interesting, because of what it reveals about making offers to customers — even monkey ones.
In one of the “grape trade” tests, one student would offer a monkey three grapes and always take one away.
Another would always offer the monkeys one grape then add another, upon closing the deal.
In both cases, the monkey gets two grapes for the same token. Which student do you think got the most monkey tokens?
The net deal, again, was exactly the same.
But the monkeys got agitated when they felt like they weren’t getting everything they were promised. But they were thrilled when they got a bonus.
Once more, sound familiar?
Maybe it’s a little like an offer you might write for a sales offer that comes with a 50% discount.
Instead of just saying “50% off” out of the gate, for instance, maybe don’t reveal the discount right away.
Instead, disclose the full price, explain why it’s a great deal, and THEN make it greater, by offering to slice that price in half.
Or maybe better still, to appeal to the monkey within, don’t say “half-off” at all. Instead, see what happens if you translate it to two-for-one.
Or, at least for some monkeys, see what happens if you suggest that, when your customer buys one you’ll buy him another at your own expense. It’s still two-for-one but now it emphasizes your commitment as a seller, to “invest” in the buyer’s welfare.
When I’m selling a subscription product with a 12-month term, I like to phrase it something along those lines… where the customer buys six months of the service and the seller buys the other six. It’s still half-off, but it somehow feels more like a shared venture.
The point, says the Yale researcher, is this. Behaviors like these aren’t rational. They’re not switches we can turn off, despite our bigger brains.
They are, instead, habits etched on our design and have been, for as much as 35 million years or more.
So best not to fight the design, but rather find ways to adjust and accommodate it, monkey or otherwise.
John Forde offers $78 worth of gifts when you subscribe to his Copywriters Roundtable copywriting newsletter at http://copywritersroundtable.com