Holiday Tomatoes

Lance Ideas, Integrity, Leadership, People Leave a Comment

Gold foil wrapper … snowflake graphics … “LIMITED EDITION” … of course you’re buying those special Christmas cherry tomatoes over the ones in the nondescript green plastic basket, right? If you think both the question and the packaging effort are ridiculous because there’s nothing particularly Christmas-y about cherry tomatoes, you’re quite right.

And you’re missing the point.

The logic of a Christmas-themed package of tomatoes makes no sense: the tomatoes are no different from the non-holiday tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes are hardly a staple of holiday recipes. The tomatoes beneath the eye-catching, reflective gold label are not “premium” tomatoes in any sense, and contrary to the “Limited Edition” moniker, there is nothing special or collectible about either these tomatoes or the container in which they are packaged.

But the art of visual marketing is not slaved to logic. Tagging something as a “limited edition” and covering it with holiday iconography is about something much more persuasive: subconscious emotional connections. By using holiday imagery, marketers aim to stimulate the warm and fuzzy feelings often associated with the Christmas holiday season deep in our subconscious, visually associate their brand with those feelings, and subtly tip the scales of consumers’ near-instantaneous subconscious decision making — a realm of decision-making explored by Malcolm Gladwell in his national bestseller, Blink. By using scarcity concepts like “limited edition,” the aim is to stimulate a much different set of deeply embedded emotions: fear of deprivation and missing out. The pairing of these positive and negative emotional hues is a powerful combination.

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But this is a blog about leadership — not marketing and packaging — so, where am I going with this?

To lead is to persuade, and to persuade most effectively, a leader needs to understand how communicate to people in ways they will be felt as much (or more) as being heard and understood. Dr. Henry Cloud calls this leading so people’s brains can follow; Simon Sinek is singing a different verse of the same song when he notes that the best leaders make their people feel safe rather than afraid. Both messages are essentially the same: simply throwing logical explanations in front of your people without being mindful of the emotional effects your communication effort will stir up in them is a recipe for leadership failure.

To be clear: this is not a pitch advocating deeply cynical “positioning” that seeks to manipulate people through carefully selected wording and communication tactics. That’s one road to take from thinking about how subtle feelings shape reactions and decisions, but leading with Integrity demands a different path: communicating in emotionally mindful — even targeted — ways that are sincere, genuine, and truthful. Untether the science of what Roger Dooley calls neuromarketing from the ethical demands of Integrity, and the result is a nasty bit of dishonest manipulation. (You can listen to Dooley explain why during his recent appearance on The Learning Leader Show.)

The messages of effective leaders should be both informationally honest and emotionally aware, communicating with both integrity and insight. There’s a term for the leaders that make this balancing act look natural and routine: successful.

You might even call them “Limited Edition” leaders.

(Full disclosure: this post’s featured image is actually a photo of the new package of “Limited Edition” cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter this morning. Don’t judge.)