Credit by Sisyphus, ctd

I should have known Seth Godin would have a good answer to my credit-card mystery:

So, I think it’s stupid, but they’re not stupid, they’re just jerks.

The reason direct marketers do this is because in fact, the marginal profit from a new sign up is so insanely high ($300) that they can quite happily mail someone 200 times (that’s once a week for four years) if it’s likely to work.

And yes, it does. Consumers are dolts sometimes.

And we’re good at rationalizing.

Another reader pointed out that it’s important to Be There when the buying situation arises. That is, Citi/AA want to make sure that, at the very moment when I’ve gotten fed up with Amex or Discover, then POOF, their solicitation arrives, and they’ve got me.

I’d still love to hear about the conversion patterns in the data if anyone can speak to that. (i.e., how much more likely am I to apply for the card on my 3rd mailer than my 178th mailer?)

Credit by Sisyphus

Over the years, I have received approximately 200 direct mail solicitations to sign up for the American Airlines & Citibank credit card. (Guesstimate: 1 every 2-3 weeks for 10 years) Maybe you’re on the “spray & pray” list, too.

For a long time, I was irritated by the wastefulness of this marketing, but recently I have come to appreciate the sheer mindless persistence of it. And now I’m curious: Is there, in fact, data that supports continued marketing to a customer who has rejected your first 173 entreaties? Do AA/Citi routinely get signups from people on the 403rd direct mailer? If so, I’d genuinely love to hear about it — so if you know someone who knows someone who could answer that question, have ’em email me at dan@heathbrothers.com.

Food Rules

When it comes to our diet, we often get advice to “eat healthier” or to “eat more fresh foods and less junk.” But those recommendations are too fuzzy to be effective. For people to change, they’ve got to know exactly what’s expected of them.

Enter Michael Pollan, whose Food Rules are clear and pragmatic:

#11 Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

#36 Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

#58 Do all your eating at a table.

For more rules and Pollan’s explanations for each one, check out this article.

If you are trying to change behavior at home or at work — even if the change has nothing to do with nutrition — you’d do well to use these rules as a template.

Willpower as a muscle

Jonah Lehrer has a great piece in the WSJ today about the limitations of willpower. Here’s Lehrer:

“Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.

Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month. Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year.”

This is a key theme in Switch — that self-control (willpower) is exhaustible. Surely we’ve all experienced this fatigue personally; after a long, stressful day at work, we’re more likely to come home and snap at our spouses or to have one drink too many. We’ve run out of self-control.

But the same is true in organizational situations. Managers often lead change initiatives as though employees have infinite resources of self-control, rather than treating self-control as a precious resource to be conserved.

Switch in Parade

Yesterday, Parade magazine ran an adapted excerpt from Switch, with a particular focus on individual change. (It is resolutions season, after all.) Check it out.