It’s the Quirks That Make You Irresistible: Three Case Studies in Quirkology

What’s this? Why, it’s a Word Carnival post! Every month, Annie participates in the Word Carnival, a collection of awesome biz bloggers who contribute a post on a pre-selected topic of interest to small biz marketers and owners on the web. This month, we’re tackling the topic of “Quirkology: How to Be Brandtastic by Embracing Your Weirder Bits.” Hit up that link to see all the fabulous posts from our Carnies!

Arm Reaching Out of Opening Closet Door

Annie Comes Out of the Closet and Shows Her Quirks

You want quirky? You have so come to the right place. I’m about to come out of the closet here, in a sense.

::::deep breath:::::

I freely and gladly own up to all of the following quirks:

  1. I love submarine movies. I’ll see your The Hunt for Red October and raise you Crimson Tide, K-19, Das Boot, and U-571. I don’t care what the plot is. You place the majority of the action on a sub and I’m watching. Probably more than twice.
  2. I am pathologically curious. I can’t just read Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I read it, then I dive down the rabbit hole and have to go learn more about Greenland, about snow, about Inuits, about Copenhagen … and before I know it, it’s five days later and Google is pleading with me to take a freakin’ break already.
  3. I went to law school. Graduated and everything. Basically, because I couldn’t figure out what I really wanted to do and figured it would give me another three years to find out. (I don’t recommend this approach.)
  4. I have a very strange type of ESP. I can tell that a particular song is coming on the radio within the next ten minutes. The song can be anything, from any time period, and it doesn’t always work, but more often than would be attributable to mere chance, when I hear a song in my head, I can find it on the radio within a few minutes.
  5. I love spoilers. Spoilers do not spoil the show, movie, or book for me, ever. (See: “pathologically curious,” above.)
  6. I hate flavored crap in my coffee, but I always shake a little cinnamon in my morning French roast. Those “hazelnut cinnamon creamers with a shot of pecan syrup” drinks? I derisively call ’em “circus coffee” and usually then whistle a few bars of this.
  7. I’m a space geek. I freaking love the NASA twitter feeds.
  8. I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek, the original, at least four times. This may or may not be related to #7 above. Or it might be because …
  9. I have a deep, decades-long love for Leonard Nimoy.
  10. Also Alice Cooper. Yes. That guy.

There you have it. Ten of my biggest quirks, laid bare for all the world to see.

Why Quirks Matter So Much

Erika Napoletano‘s been making waves on the web – well, for awhile now. But most recently, Erika’s new book The Power of Unpopular has been at the center of the hullabaloo. (Hullabaloo. Isn’t that an awesome word? We totally need to use it more.)

This book, which you should totally go buy right this instant (not an affiliate link – that’s how much I love it), has as its central thesis that in order to succeed at business, not only can you not appeal to “Everybody,” but you shouldn’t even try because that’s the kiss of death. Rather, the book suggests, embrace your oddities — your quirks, if you will — and narrow your focus to those folks who are by nature sympatico with those quirks.

That you should, as the book’s official site suggests, “get your black sheep on.”

Erika herself is probably the most compelling evidence that this approach works like gangbusters. Wherever she writes — at her own site, in the book, at Forbes — she very clearly communicates a persona that is definitely not everybody’s cup of dark French roast. And that? Is totally OK.

Not only is it totally OK – it’s preferable. Erika is crazy popular — with the right peeps. Her right peeps.


Because the more you embrace and communicate who you are,
the more appealing you will be to your natural good-fit tribe —
that is, the folks you’re truly best suited to serve. 

To explore this concept further, let’s look at three real-live case studies …

Quirkology Case Study #1: Maxwell House and the Anti-Press-Pot Crowd

Have you seen this commercial?

That actor – the “not in my house!” guy – is Todd Stashwick, whom I’ve adored since I saw him in The Riches and the “Monster Movie” episode of Supernatural.

But when I saw this commercial, I hated Todd Stashwick.

I was offended by Todd Stashwick.

Y’all, I wanted to kick Todd Stashwick’s ass.

Why? To understand this, you gotta refer back up to Annie Quirk #6: “I hate flavored crap in my coffee, but I always shake a little cinnamon in my morning French roast.”

What does that quirk tell you, as a marketer? It should tell you I take my coffee seriously, yo. In point of fact, I use a press pot, and my drip coffee maker sits neglected in the back of a corner cabinet.

‘Cause here’s the thing that Maxwell House and its ad peeps understand: people who use press pots and Take Their Coffee Seriously will NEVER USE MAXWELL HOUSE. 

They won’t use any pre-ground coffee because the grind is always too fine to work in a press pot which requires a much coarser grind.

Predictably, press pot lovers? Whoa Nelly. They were not happy with this ad. Witness this post and the comments after it from “CoffeeNate.”

Maxwell House is very smartly capitalizing on the divide between the press pot peeps and the anti-press-pot peeps. The latter doesn’t just prefer a drip coffee maker. In all probability, they don’t give much thought to their coffee at all. But they do react negatively to press pots, viewing them as MH’s “Ted” (Stashwick) does – a symbol of snooty pretension.

This — the attitude that press pots are pretentious — is a quirk of psychographics that results in a quirk of habit.

Instead of placating both groups and trying to convince the press pot peeps that Maxwell House is a good choice in some circumstances, MH went the opposite way and embraced the quirks. Not only embraced them — celebrated them. Made them BIGGER. MORE divisive.

Take another look at the comments to that CoffeeNate post. Look also at the comments under the YouTube video link. What do you see?

Emotion. Raw, amped-up emotion. The anti-press-pot peeps feel strongly about the pretentious asshats and their snooty plunger coffee. The pro-press-pot peeps are livid about the ridiculous assertion that they’re somehow inferior for their choice, which actually predates automatic drip makers by many years.

Yes, they’ve thoroughly pissed off a whole segment of the population – the pro-press-pot peeps. But they weren’t ever gonna buy Maxwell House anyway! 

Look at what they’ve simultaneously done for the anti-press-pot crew, though. It’s the advertising equivalent of a standing ovation! Those folks feel GOOD about themselves after watching this ad!

The lesson here?

Embrace the quirks and you’ll connect on a positive
and deeply emotional level with your targets.
And that sells more coffee.
Or whatever. 

Quirkology Case Study #2: Help My Awful Website and the Anti-Life-Coach Crowd

[Editor: The HMAW project has been redesigned and relaunched since this post was originally published.]

Here’s another example that hit a little closer to home for me recently.

Nick Armstrong and I recently soft-launched a new venture called Help My Awful Website. I’ll give you a minute to go check out that page.


:::Annie pours another cup from the press pot:::

OK, back? All righty, then.

I shared that link with a friend recently. This is a woman who’s extremely well-known in her field, who works with a lot of life coaches. Life coaches are her peeps. She speaks their language. They speak hers. Whatever. She gets them. She had them at “Hello, world!

I respect the hell out of this friend. She’s someone worthy of respect, basically, so her opinion does matter to me.

So, when she hemmed and hawed after I asked her what she thought about HMAW, my heart fell.

It’s … kind of angry, she said.

That picture of the woman and man yelling at each other, she mused.

And the “awful” thing … I just don’t know, she sighed.

But, but, but … I sputtered. The copy! It’s funny. We’re not really calling anyone’s site “awful.” Did you read the copy?

Uh, yes. Of course she did.

She just didn’t like it. 

Well, if that won’t knock the wind out of your sails …

That’s when it hit me — my friend’s peeps are not the HMAW peeps. 

Life coaches are much more likely to embrace a more touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy, strictly-positive persona than … well, what Nick and I are like. See, Nick and I have a lot in common. We’re both Star Trek nuts. We both have a tendency towards spicy language on occasion. We’re both dry wits. We tend towards sass, more than class. That feeds into our joint venture — it has to, when you’re talking about marketing a service.

And while a crap-ton of folks from all sorts of industries and professions might be interested in our service — professional, expert reviews of business websites from both the male and female POV — our service is not meant for folks from all industries and professions.

The people who’ll get turned off by a word like “awful” and that picture of the woman and man yelling at each other are not our targets. Our targets are folks who respond positively to our sassy, slightly sarcastic (but never mean or unkind) style.

That’s an example of marketing to a quirk of psychographics as opposed to the quirk of habit as in the Maxwell House example.

The lesson here?

Aim your offerings not only at a certain demographic
but at a defined psychographic if you want to work
only with people who respond positively to your personality and personal style.


Quirkology Case Study #3: Trauma Dolls and the Anti-Anti-Prescription-Pain-Meds Crowd

OK, one last case study in quirkology marketing before we call this post done, and again it’s a personal one for me: my chronic pain website Trauma Dolls.

About a month back, a friend of mine who’s a certain kind of coach, appealing very much to the New Age crowd, was asking me if I had any recommendations for websites that might be a good guest-posting opportunity for her.

Immediately, I thought of Trauma Dolls. But I wasn’t too sure. There was some nexus there – folks in chronic pain often are open-minded about new and alternative therapies, and so I decided to go ahead and share the link with her.

In sharing it, though, as I realized later, I didn’t quite make it clear that the site was mine.

So, she took a look, and came back to the conversation with a very strange impression, in my view. She said it turned her off – she mentioned “the language of victimization” – she mentioned an image of a broken doll – she mentioned the first line of the most recent post at that time, which started off “I’m about to make you very angry” – why would anyone want to be angry?

I was stunned. Anyone who’s read that site for any length of time knows victimization is exactly the opposite of what it’s about. That broken doll image? Had a caption reading “Put yourself back together.” That “angry” post? Was about two women who had DIED because their pain wasn’t taken seriously – anger was appropriate!

So, I gathered my courage, and wrote to her. And as I was composing my response to these points, something odd happened.

I laughed.

Because suddenly I got it.

My New Age, crystal-loving coach friend was so not my targeted peep for Trauma Dolls.

And it sounds odd, but I’d never really considered the question before of what, exactly, were the psychographics for the Trauma Doll site? It never came up because Trauma Dolls isn’t a money-making venture for me. It has nothing to do with business. Ergo, marketing the site wasn’t ever really a concern for me, so I never thought about the site in those terms.

But even so, psychographics and quirks are at play. Who reads Trauma Dolls? Anyone who has a chronic pain condition and gets one of the articles on that site in the Google SERPs. Anyone who gets a link forwarded from a concerned friend or family member.

But who comes back to read Trauma Dolls over and over? That’s a very different question, and a very different answer.

Once I finally started asking this question and doing a little digging around, I found out that the TD readers do, indeed, fit a particular psychographic profile: they’re the chronic pain patients who have felt marginalized and discounted by the medical profession, who do not embrace the alternative medicine field and completely reject the whole “traditional medicine” field, especially the prospect of prescription pain meds. They’re the chronically pained peeps who aren’t afraid to get angry, who use their anger to lobby and educate and push for reforms in the way the medical profession treats us, and the legal profession and justice system treat the medical profession.

They are the opposite of the crystal lovers.

That’s not to say the crystal lovers are bad, or silly, or wrong. They’re just not TD peeps. 

And that? Is more than OK. It’s awesome. Because now I know that, I can let that knowledge infuse future content and website revisions. I can more carefully target the right peeps with the right quirks. (“Right” not in the sense that anyone else is wrong – right as in “the right fit.”)

The lesson here?

Even a bad review from someone who’s completely outside
your targeted readership can help you tremendously
by drawing clearer boundaries around the folks
who are your targets.

 Takeaways on Quirkology Marketing

So what can you take away from this post in marketing your own small biz on the web?

  1. Know your quirks. List ’em out, just like I did. Get comfy with them. Own them.
  2. Figure out your business’s quirk zone. That is, understand where the nexus lies between your quirks and your targeted market’s quirks. That nexus — those points of connection, the quirks you share — this is the stuff you need to infuse throughout all your marketing content and across all your digital channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, your blog, everywhere).
  3. Don’t be afraid to take a stand. You don’t have to be confrontational or mock those who lie outside the quirk zone the way Maxwell House did, but have the courage to state a controversial opinion and back it up from time to time. That kind of content speaks to your targets on a deep emotional level, and that’s the level you need to connect at if you want to convert casual readers into fervent fans.
How do you embrace your own quirks in your marketing? Are you still confounded by the whole prospect, or a little fearful of letting go of or, worse, offending a subset of your potential market? Share your answers in the comments!


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Lynn Rivera May 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

Wow, Annie, I hate to sound like a cliche but this was totally brilliant. I WISH I could have said it half as well! This is the perfect and precise antidote to the usual tired blogs about “defining your target audience”. It’s also a point I would like to drive home to many people I know. Somehow no matter how many times you tell people to focus on people who “get it”, they always think they can find that secret sauce that gives them mass appeal, like hot dogs or something.

Your case studies are also perfect. That coffee one was the best – who cares what the snooty press pot people think?? Waste of time and money to care, and so much better to use that “disdain” as something that makes the non-snooty people feel empowered and create a sense of identity around that brand.

I think a lot of times ego gets in the way. Some business people just want to be liked and they have to smooth over the ripples and negate the criticism so the world will be in order again. I remember not too long ago when I had started blogging for business I wrote an article called something like “why your marketing sucks” and my mom got that email (yes, my entire family is on my list…) and she did not approve of the language. And for a few days I was all up in arms and worried about what everyone was going to think of it and I changed it four times and then I had that “a-ha” moment and thought… “she is SO not my target audience!” and I went back to telling people their marketing sucked.

Ok, before I write you a whole blog post here, I’ll leave you by saying that I love how ridiculously geeky you are. Live long and prosper.

Annie Sisk May 30, 2012 at 10:04 am

Thanks Carol Lynn! I totally agree with you on the ego thing. As one of the snooty press pot people, I was in an interesting predicament there – seeing how I instinctively reacted and at the same time recognizing what a friggin’ genius move it was. Not every one agrees with me, as you’ll see in the comments to that CoffeeNate post – but those peeps are *coffee* peeps. I’m a *marketing* peep AND a *coffee* peep, but mostly the former in this context. So we are coming at it from two completely different POVs. A lot of their anger is ego-based – nothing wrong with that, I totally get where they’re coming from – but if you step back out of ego and look at it from a marketer’s perspective, you have to admit: it’s working. People are talking about Maxwell House. When’s the last time you could say that and have it be true? LLAP, Carol Lynn and all my Trek buddies! 

Sandi Amorim May 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

love, Love, LOVE your quirks!!! Snorted out loud kind of love! 
And then you turned around and shared kickass wisdom about how to use them to grow our businesses! Did I mention how much I love that? 

p.s. The life-coach scenario is where I snorted loudest because I am so NOT that kind of life coach! Gimme the sass and quirks anytime sister! 

Annie Sisk May 30, 2012 at 11:14 am

LOL – why doesn’t that surprise me? 😉 I agree – I love the coaches who can kick my butt into high gear with the verbal equivalent of a sweet tae bo move. But y’know others prefer the sweet-talk thing … it’s all good. Which, when you get right down to it, is the whole point, right? 

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef May 30, 2012 at 11:16 am

You have ONCE AGAIN proven exactly why you belong in our carnival. Your writing is sassy AND wise, and your fearlessness helps us all learn how to be better biz folk. I second what Carol Lynn said: totally brilliant. :::wipes tear from eye::: I…I’m just so happy you’re on our team, Annie!

Sandi Amorim May 30, 2012 at 11:27 am

It IS the whole point, which is so freakin’ awesome! 
I am not that touchy-feely coach. Doesn’t mean I don’t love my clients to bits, but I’m not interested in just having them feel a little better. No. I will do whatever it takes to have them feel good AND produce kickass results. And when that happens? Everybody wins 🙂 

Sharon Hurley Hall May 30, 2012 at 11:52 am

Love those quirks, Annie (and I’m with you on 2, 8 and 9). And I love the way you showed how to identify and use quirks in marketing your business – awesome!

Sharon Hurley Hall May 30, 2012 at 11:52 am

What Tea said. 🙂

Michelle Church May 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I love press pots too! I thought the same thing when I saw that commercial, I was insulted.  I love the story about the targets.  I amazes me that many don’t have a specific target and not real clue as to the importance. You hit that puppy!  As always you are da bomb diggity!

Creative Katrina May 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Fabulous in-depth post! You give a lot of great perspectives, angles and resources for people to chew on. And of course, the quirks! Thanks for sharing them — and the sass : ) Yay sass! 

evan austin May 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Submarine movies, really?! Did NOT expect that! 🙂
I’m saving this one for a re-re-read, Annie…lots of meaty, important stuff here. I think I’m still a bit in the “a little confounded by it all” space, and that’s okay.
I like the “case study” approach. When I wrapped up my post by characterizing it thus, I didn’t know if that was maybe a little weak, but now I feel like that’s a valid way to present something and make a point. Thanks!

Melanie Kissell May 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Quirky quirks, for sure, Annie!
(Don’t mention this to anyone, but I love submarine movies, too)

I especially love the case studies you’ve shared.  I hadn’t seen the Maxwell House commercial before — whew!  Sounds like that one sent coffee-loving viewers into a tailspin.  Great!  A tailspin can get your business … well … spinning. 😉

I’m anxious to read “The Power of Unpopular”.  Just to set the record straight, I’ve never been popular and wouldn’t ever want to be.  So there.

Very enjoyable post … and quite revealing. 🙂

Fellow Carney

Nicole Fende May 31, 2012 at 9:08 am

This meaty post really delivered Annie.  First – I’m totally a Trekkie.  I own the entire original show on DVD – which hubby and I love to watch on a regular basis.  

Second the case studies are brilliant.  The coffee thing – yeah I was offended but hey I don’t buy Folgers either.   My personal fave is the second, with the reaction to your Help My Awful Website.  I too initially struggled with the backlash of my quirks + finance.  Now I embrace it.

You also make a good point about business quirks and still keeping that line from personal.  There is such a thing as TMI.  

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Aw, thank you, Tea! And thank you Sharon. I’m humbled and deeply pleased to be in y’all’s company. 

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm

It’s HARD to get over our initial “but … but … I want EVERYONE to love me!” thing, ain’t it, though? *sigh* When I figure out the cure for that, I’ll let ya know, sister. LOVE the new ‘do, girlfriend! 

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Y’know, it’s funny – through my daughter, I’m struggling with that popular thing in the classic context: middle school. I have tried as her mom to model a more thoughtful approach based on the philosophy that it’s far better to be loved than be popular, and hence what we need to do is be kind, generous, and friendly. She knows this – yet part of her quite naturally craves popularity. It’s my job to teach her the difference between love and popularity, and which is truly valuable. I think it’s basically the same thing in the biz context, too. 

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Ha! I felt pretty sure that one was gonna get at least one raised eyebrow. 😀 Not weak at all – honesty is the thing. Saying “I don’t know” can be sooooooo freakin’ powerful. 

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Yay sass indeed! Thanks for popping in, Lady K! 

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm

ZOMG the Godmother called me “da bomb diggity” – I’m so geeking out right now. 😀

Annie Sisk May 31, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Glad you liked it, Sharon! I think you’re the only other person I’ve ever come across who loved BOTH Nimoy and Cooper! (Tell me you also have Barry Manilow on your iPod and I’ll know we’re actually twins separated at birth.) 

Sharon Hurley Hall May 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Not on my iPod currently, Annie, but I used to know and love quite a few of his songs. 🙂

Nick Armstrong June 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Annie – <3 you even more after this.

I think both you and I have had many an "ah-ha" type moment after swearing a bit in business contexts and seeing people flee in record numbers, but those folks who stay – the ones who get it – those are the peeps that we couldn't pay to get rid of.

There are some episodes of the original trek that I absolutely refuse to watch (many from Season 3) but every once in a while, I come across Amok Time ( and I have to watch it all the way through.

It reminds me that the people who matter the most are the same folks who are willing to fight you to the death in order to save your life. An important lesson for small business owners, indeed.

That, and, if you delay pleasure every single day, once every seven years you'll go absolutely bat-shit nuts until you get some.

Great post Annie!

SandyMcD June 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Ahh Annie who I still think of in pyjamas, but now in pyjamas on stage!  

What a gift this post is.  Here I am writing about impassioned communications to create a clan and what do I read in your post but this: ” Because the more you embrace and communicate who you are, the more appealing you will be to your natural good-fit tribe – that is, the folks you’re truly best suited to serve.” It just summed up the entire chapter.  So with your permission I am quoting you in the book.  Awesome, funny, pertinent, spot on post.  So glad you’re back.

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