French policeman, or gendarme, didn’t look happy as he got off his motorbike. He had waved over my car after seeing me talking on my phone, and driving around a roundabout twice. However, his expression changed to one of utter disbelief when I greeted him with “Thank God you are here!” Before he could react, I continued talking. “I have children in the back, plus a friend following me in a car behind with his kids. We are trying to find Marineland, but it seems to be closed. I am sure it must be open, so I am looking for another entrance.” “I don’t think it’s open at this time of the year.” “Oh no! Really? The kids were so excited about going,” I said sadly, before asking “Do you have kids?” “Oh yes, two,” he said. “What do you think I could do with mine near here? I don’t really know this area.” “Well, I guess you could take them to the old town in Antibes. They might like that on a sunny day like this.” He helped with some directions. “Ah, that’s a good idea. I will do that. Thank you very much for your help.” “That’s okay. Have a good day. But please, don’t use your phone while you are driving.” He smiled at us and walked off to his bike.
That gendarme was obviously a nice guy, and I was lucky to be given help and let off without a fine. But I must admit there was a little bit of psychology involved. People do like to feel important and useful, and I managed to switch his source of pride from being a prosecutor to being a caring father.
Getting people to feel one way or another is obviously very useful in business too, and I love seeing it in action. There are many examples. Apple has done a tremendous job of making fairly drab pieces of computer equipment look more attractive. Even better, they have managed to make mobile phones a fashion item. People’s urge to be seen with the latest iPhone causes huge demand, even though they may be only fairly minor upgrades from the previous version.
Big retailers are also very clever. They put a lot of thought into where things are positioned in the store, especially at kids’ eye level and for the impulse-buy products near the counter. Their offers of “limit five” items are designed to get you to do exactly that: buy five, when otherwise you may have just bought less.
Airlines are clever users of “market segmentation”. In most instances, the business class or first class services are not very good value compared to economy class. But it is important to have an offering for those customers who have plenty of money, or an expense account. Other companies will deliberately offer some overpriced options in order to make their other products look good value. So there are lots of tricks, and not just nice policemen are fooled by them.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.