I used to think of placebos as sugar pills, only relevant in the medical realm.
The key here is in the presentation. Merely giving a patient a spoonful of sugar doesn’t help, despite what Mary Poppins tells us. But turning them into pills and presenting them as medicine works wonders.
If presentation is the key, I then realized that the placebo effect could be extended to the performance of a seasoned somallier as they pour a drink in an elegant restaurant. Even cheap wine poured this way tastes better. The same applies to the wrapping of a chocolate bar. A bar wrapped in purple velvet is likely to taste better than the same chocolate wrapped in plastic.
Why do we have lavish, traditional weddings with a big feast and plenty of guests? What is a massive cathedral for, if it not to fill you with a sense of awe and wonder when you fold your hands in prayer? And when people wed in a cathedral, aren’t they merely combining these two effects?
A placebo is anything around an experience that gives us the attitude to appreciate it better. Placebos aren’t merely a means to deceive – they are stories that magically transform experiences ranging from injesting sugar pills to a wedding in a cathedral.
Marketing is the placebo that we wrap around an experience.
I always draft blogposts on the same empty notepad file. I also use turn on a 30 min stopwatch timer while writing. When that timer is on, my mind knows that a blogpost needs to be drafted.
I always edit my blogposts on the WordPress editor. When the WordPress UI is open, my mind enters the editing state.
Before an important meeting or interview, I also listen to the same song, to enter a zone of high performance. That song is reserved only for these occassions.
I sit down to meditate in a fixed location in the house.
All of these routines are placebos for the acts that are performed in them. They condition my mind to enter a particular state while performing a habit.
Once we have done the difficult job of showing up and doing our best work, we can wrap it in a placebo. It’s free, and it makes our work better.
We might consciously detest placebos, but our bodies and minds embrace them.
A bar of chocolate wrapped in a regar purple cover that appears like satin will taste finer than that same chocolate sold in a transparent plastic cover. The quality of chocolate, as measured by a food scientist, is separate from these embellishments. But our minds cannot tell the difference.
In several blind taste tests, Coca-cola has lost out to Pepsi. But once you put wrappers on the drink, it is Coca-cola that prevails due to its stronger brand. The effect of the wrappers were real. Both drinks taste better, thanks to their wrappers. And the difference isn’t in the drinker’s eye or the tongue either. Regions of theier brain were found to respond to this difference.
Using a placebo is to wrap a product in a story that has little to do with the product itself. Just like sugar that is shaped and packaged like a pill. Given that the placebo effect is real, we can use it to our advantage. Once we have done the hard-work of creating an excellent product, we can then wrap it in a placebo that amplifies customer delight.