What do successful marketing campaigns have in common? 

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Great marketing taps into human universals.

“There has to be a way to ensure the success of a marketing campaign,” I thought in the summer of 2015. While many effective marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns were created by people just winging it, I suspected there was a known set of footholds in the human psyche which marketers could target to increase their response rates. What were they?

The question led down on a path of intellectual inquiry that began on Penny Lane and wound half way across the globe to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 1991 when the book Human Universals was published by Dr. Donald Brown. The book presents a big idea that flew in the face of the prevailing assumption in anthropology that humans were different.

Over five well-argued chapters of anthropological theory (which I do not recommend reading), Dr. Brown builds the case that despite cultural distinctions, humans are similar. This blog post provides you with the quickest path to understanding Dr. Brown’s closing argument which is found in the book’s sixth and most valuable chapter, “The Universal People” or “UP” as he refers to them. Understanding the “UP” is key to acquiring the psychological targets to design your marketing campaigns to produce the highest possible returns on investment.

Here is the fastest path you can take right now to acquire these psychological targets:

  1. Order the book Human Universals. It’s out of print, so you may have to shop here.
  2. While you’re waiting for the book to arrive, print and study this list of human universals or this one here.
  3. When the book arrives in the mail, save yourself a whole lot of time and read only Chapter 6, “The Universal People.” It will add context to the list you just read in the previous step.

The psychological traits you will learn to target from studying Human Universals will provide you with a new lens through which you can identify commonalities between other successful marketing campaigns. What you discover will likely be winning concepts that appeal to human nature. Remix them into your work, and stack the odds of success in your favor.

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