Posted by: nickgerlich | November 14, 2007

Reality Programming

The last few days I’ve been exploring some touchy issues. Maybe you didn’t realize it at the time, but I have been trying to push everyone out of their comfort zone a little. We’re far enough along in the semester that I can start to challenge you and your core beliefs.

For example, we’ve looked at the outsourcing of our lives by hiring people to do our dirty work, all the various odd jobs we either don’t want to do, or for one reaon or another, can’t quite seem to get done. We also looked at generic and private label products and their well-heeled cousins, the national brands. Some harbored no ill feelings over the stigma attached with buying down or even shopping at the Poor Store, but others drew the line when it came to certain products.

And then there was yesterday’s essay on the Trek Lime bike, an interesting effort by a mainstream company to attract non-users. The responses were interesting, to say the least.

Central (sometimes explicit, other times implicit) to the discussion is price. Are you willing and/or able to pay someone to do your chores? Can you afford the national brands, or are you too cheap to do so? And just how much should a bike aimed at non-riders cost?

The most common rebuttal to the Lime bikes was indeed the price. And you know what? They’re right. For a hardcore cyclist, $600 is nothing, especially when a decent mid-level bike costs $2000-3000. But for someone who does not share that same passion, $600 is a lot of dough. Garage sales are full of cheap bikes, as is Wal-Mart. Trek may have designed a very cool retro-looking bike that is user-friendly, but it forgot the user’s pocketbook in the process. Shame, shame.

RealityWhich brings me to my point (and like Ellen DeGeneres, I do have one): Perception is Reality. Even if your perception is wrong, it becomes your reality. Back on the subject of Lime, a bunch of other people said they can’t ride their bike to work, school, shopping, etc. There was a litany of reasons: distance, weather, traffic, kids, etc.

But you know what? Many times when I hear people say can’t, what they are really saying is won’t. I would much rather hear someone say the latter than the former, because the former is often a veiled form of denial.

Take my wife, for example (and I’ll omit the obvious Rodney Dangerfield routine here). I am the vegetarian in our household, having been meat-free since 1993 (for matters of health and conscience). My beloved spouse, though, says “I can’t be a vegetarian. I can’t live without meat.”

I don’t give a sow’s ear what she eats or not, but she really means to say won’t. There’s nothing chemically addictive in meat, although I know most folks simply like the taste, and that is OK with me. I am not aligned with PETA, so this is not a political ploy on my behalf. I just want truth in speaking.

So when some people said they can’t mow their lawn, give up their brand, ride to work, etc., they were in many cases simply saying won’t. And in their mind, if they perceive something negatively, it becomes their reality. I am no different, for I have uttered that same c-word many times, when I should have been using the w-word.

But you know what? As far as marketing is concerned, all those people who simply won’t plus those who truly can’t are all the same: non-customers. And that is the big hurdle. Even if you can convince some people to ride their bikes around town, it matters little if $600 is too big a price objection to overcome. If people love the over-powering taste of a juicy T-bone steak, all the health naysayers in the world are going to have a tough (pun intended) time convincing people otherwise.

The burden is thus on marketers to figure out how to appease the Won’ts first and foremost, and if time permits, figure out how to assist the Can’ts. And this is no small task.

Because our Reality, whether it is simply perceived or truly based in fact, can be an immovable object.

(To buy the t-shirt, visit

Dr “Programming Reality” Gerlich


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