The Book that Scared Me
Posted on July 19, 2018

Recently, I read a book that actually scared me.

Ok, not in the same way that spiders or horror films scare me. Scared in a completely different way.

Because this book has the real potential to not only help you achieve things that you wouldn’t think were even possible, but also can simulteniously cause a lot of pain for the world. The techniques it reveals and uses are like explosives. They can be really great for mining granite from a huge quarry or can blow up enitre cities; it simply depends how you use them.

And I’m not saying that this book is inherently evil because you can actually create really good things out of what you learn. It simply is a matter of where you draw the line of what’s moral and what’s not.

Yet this book blurs that line. A lot. You’ll see why.

To understand why, though, we are going to first look at certain belief I have (that I wouldn’t be suprised if you share), why I have them, and then how those beliefs interact with this book.

Oh, and what is this book? It’s a sales book called Dot Com Secrets1, and it’s all about how to get larger sales with an online platform.

And I’m sharing this with you that way you not only have the knowledge to help make your daily life better, but also to put up your guard whenever you see that you might be the customer with one of these “secrets” being used on you.

Understanding Human Relationships

First of all, it you haven’t yet read my post on the Ultimate Greedy Algorithm, you might want to read it. Much of what is said here will actually start to make more sense with that backstory. It’s not necessary, though, so for those who aren’t going to read it, let’s just dive right in.

Relationships are a series of repeated interactions.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend/friend, parent/child, collegue/collegue, boss/employee, boyfriend/girlfriend, or some other kind of relationship. They are all based on repeated interactions.

And the quality of those repeated interactions determine how strong the relationship is. Obviously, good interactions produce good relationships. Great interactions produce great relationships. And horrendous actions produce, well…

And as the quality of ineractions change over time, so does the quality of the relationship.

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Isn’t all this obvious?

And by the way, what defines a great interaction?

Glad you asked. This all may seem obvious, but it is the groundwork for what lays ahead. To understand what makes great interactions (and hence great relationships), we have to look into the Emotional Bank Account.

Emotional Bank Account

Emotional Bank Account

You’ve heard of a bank account, right? It’s the place where you can deposit money and it gets saved. You can also take out money from time to time. It can often be the center of your financial life.

Well, like bank accounts are at the center of your financial life, Emotional Bank Accounts are at the center of your emotional life. The amount of “money” you have saved up in your emotional bank account determines the amount of trust, fondness, and confidence that you have in any given relationship.

And this isn’t just some ad hoc theory that I’ve made up. In fact it’s one of the key points in the (literally) world famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.2

I’ve mentioned this book before, and it’s definitely worth your read. There’s a reason why over 25 million copies have been sold, over 3700 5 star reviews on Amazon, been translated to over 40 languages, and is the very first book on my recommended books list. Seriously, read it.

Here’s a little story from the book:

There was a dad whose son had an avid interest in baseball. The dad, however, did not. Yet the dad was a good dad and one summer went on a trip with his son to see every major legue baseball team play a game.

Of course, this cost lot’s of money and time. All for something that the dad didn’t like. The trip was 6 weeks.

Imagine that.

When the came back, the dad was asked, “Do you really like baseball that much?”

His reply: “no, but I like my son that much”.

The dad knew how to foster good relationships. And the best part, you can use the same principles he used in your life.

Deposites and Withdrawls

Like any bank account, you can deposit “emotional money” or withdraw it. The key is knowing what will add and what will subtract:

  1. Understanding the other person: Seek to understand, then to be understood. 2 If you don’t know what the other person likes or dislikes, how can you ever create a meaningful relationship? You need to remove yourself from your shoes and understand (and empathize) with what the other person feels. Unless you know how the other person feels, you cannot make a good deposit anywhere else.
  2. Keeping Commitments: How does it feel when a friend says they are going to hang out with you and then later bail? Not so great, right? How do you think they will fail if you do the same? This is integrity. You need to do everything you say you are going to do. Show up on time. Like credit scores, you also have to make commitments. Being non-commital is not a way to keep commitments. You have to make a commitment to keep it, and you need to keep it to make a deposite.
  3. Clarifying Expectations: I hate to break it to you, but I can’t read your mind. Nor can anyone else. You need to create an open flow of communication and both let the other person know what you expect from them and make sure you know what they expect from you. If you don’t know the other person’s expectations, you can’t keep your commitments nor have you understood them.
  4. Attend to the Little Things: Simple guesters, like opening doors for others, smiling at them, or even saying thank you are little things. Yet they make a big difference. If someone cares enough to do little things for you, then they must actually care. It’s a lot of effort to do the little things, so those who only act like they care will do the big things but not want to waste the time on the little things (you aren’t one of those people, though).
  5. Show Integrity: Can you trust someone who does not have integrity? No. So be a person of integrity. Don’t do one thing and say another. Your actions should be an extension of what you believe. Start with the why. Most importantly, you should not be making deposits to the Emotional Bank Account because that’s what you’re supposed to do or because that will make your relationship better. That’s sycophantic. Make deposits because that’s what you want to do. That’s integrity.
  6. Sincerely Appologize for Withdrawls: Doing this opposite of any of these things is a withdrawal. You shouldn’t make them, but we’re all human. When you do, though, you need to appologize. Of course, you have to actually sincerely appologize otherwise you don’t have integrity. We’ve all gotten fake appologies as well as real ones. You can tell when it isn’t sincere.

And of course, the more deposits you make, the more frequent that you make them, and larger the deposits are, the better the relationship.

Let’s get back to the baseball story for a second. Going to the games could only happen if the dad knew his son liked baseball (understanding). He could have said one day that they should do it, but he actually went through (keeping commitment). And he did it purely because he liked his son and not because he specifically wanted more out of his relationship (integrity). Because of all the money and time, this was a big deposite.

Now this is all and good, but “Nick,” you may be asking. “we’re over 1,300 words in and have yet to get to sales and Dot Com Secrets!”. Yes, that’s true. We’re getting there.

“I’ve figured it out!” you say. You think that this book scares me because the premise is all about withdrawing “emotional money” from the Emotional Bank Account? I’m sorry, but that’s not it. In fact, that’s very much not it.

“Then what is it?”

We’ll get there. But first, we have to do some grocery shopping.

Manipulation, Carrots, and Celery

There’s a metaphor with Carrots and Sticks.

Want to make your horse go faster, incentivise it with a carrot. Still not going, punish it with a stick.

That is how you get your horse to do what you want: with carrots and sticks. These are manipulations.

And manipulations are everywhere in the world of business. Simon Sinek gives just a few examples in his book Start with Why:3

These tactics work. That’s why they are so prevelent. They will drive up your sales. The manipulations are just carrots dangling in front of horses.

But they will only lead to transactions, not loyalty. This is great if you are looking for one-time sales. But loyalty is about repeated interactions. Loyalty is about depositing into an Emotional Bank Account.

Loyalty comes from not manipulating customers to buy, but rather by forming a relationship with them. It comes from listening to your customers, finding out their needs (understanding). It comes from providing them solutions not because you want their money but because you want to solve their problem (integrity). It comes from polishing the experience so that way they leave happy and not making them fearful if they don’t buy (little things).

And when you make a mistake, appologize.

Perhaps there is no better example of this than the crisis management of Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol Crisis of 1982.4

Tylenol Crisis Stats

In Chicago, there were several deaths that mysteriously looked like cyonide deaths. 7 died. And after a quick investigation, the police made a connection to Tylenol.

Of course, because there were deaths, there were reporters. And like many reporters, one Chicago reporter called Johnson & Johnson to get their statement. The problem: Johnson & Johnson had never heard of the problem. In that first phone call with the reporter, the company learned more about the incident than the reporter learned from the company.

And so immediately, chairman James Burke of Johnson & Johnson set up a team of 7 people to find the best plan of action for the sitation. His instructions were to first “protect the people” and second “save this product” in that order. People over profits.

What sets this situation apart from most other crisis management scenarios is what happens next. Instead of simply giving out press releases and giving public apologies, Burke lead the company through a series of actions that showed beyond a doubt that the company apologized. And these actions made this particular scenario the most analyzed crisis management situation to date.

By this point, there was overwhelming evidence that the bottles had been tampered with. So Johnson & Johnson were not at fault. Yet the immidiately took responsibility. They alerted customers to immediately stop consuming Tylenol. Not just in Chicago where the deaths were, but all accross the country. They also stopped production and advertising.

In fact, they ran ads to warn people about the dangers of their own product!

Because this was in Chicago, they ordered a recall in Chicago to make sure no one else could buy or take Tylenol. Yet they found two more tampered bottles. Only two more. And in the grand scheme of things, two more deaths isn’t a huge number. Nor was the original 7. But any deaths was too much for the company.

So they withdrew every capsule nationwide.

There was a very small chance that they would find more cyonide, but any risk was too large. Plus, they still didn’t know the extent of the tampering for sure.

This cost them 100 million dollars. Furthermore, Tylenol was their largest product. If this didn’t show that they cared more about people and their relationships than manipulations and profit, then nothing could. But Burke was committed, so they didn’t stop there.

They knew many customers would have multitudes of questions about the safety of Tylenol, so they setup a toll free 1(800) hotline so customers could get answers directly. They used every marketing tactic they could to communicate their exact plan of recovery. And after the crisis, instead of reintroducing the product, they made it safer.

Tylenol became the first medication with tamperproof packaging.

They not only mitigated the damage in the crisis, but made sure it would never happen again. This is perhaps one of the best appologies ever.

Did I mention that this was the first recal ever? For any product?

This is how you build loyalty. You build it through depositing into the Emotional Bank Account.

And not through “loyalty” programs. These programs often include discounts/savings, special products, and better service. These are all manipulations. If you truly valued your customer, why only give these benifits to those in the “loyalty” program?

The Celery Test

So you’re going grocery shopping and one of your friends says, “Oreos. You need oreos in your life. They’ll help you enjoy your life more”. And so you pick up oreos. Someone else says, “Rice milk. Regualr milk is animal cruelty so you need rice milk in your life”, so you pick it up. Another person says, “M&Ms. M&Ms are good for snacking on. You need M&Ms in your life”. So you pick them up. And one last person says, “Celery. Celery is good for your body. You need celery in your life”. So you pick it up.

The problem is that you don’t really know what you believe. You are getting things simply because other say you need them. And you’ve spent a lot of money.

Yet as soon as you realize that your goal is to eat healthy, you instantly know to only buy the celery.3

This is the celery test. Figure out the why. Then decide if what you are doing fits.

And while the celery test is a way to ensure integrity, it also makes sure that you are not manipulating. It can be a great defense against carrots. People are loyal to people and companies that believ what they believe. And if all your actions show what you believe, then you will attract those who believe what you believe.

Money and Social Norms

Now all this is good. It’s great to understand how relationships form and the difference between manipulating and building loyalty, but there is a distinct difference between this theory and business.


Money is a game changer. Because when money is involved in a situation, new norms are at play. Money transforms us from the world of social norms to market norms.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re walking to your house and you notice your neighbor washing their car. It looks like they are having some trouble doing all the work themselves. He asks you to give him a quick hand helping out.

Now you know the ways to build stronger relationships and know that doing the little things help build relationships. So you help out. Simple, right?

But what about this? Instead of asking for your help, he offers to pay you a dollar to help out washing his car. If you’re like most people, you’d turn him down. Washing a car is not worth a dollar for your time and energy. This will take 15 minutes of your time, and $4/hour is well below minimum wage, let alone your job. If anything, you’d think he’s being rude.

The reality is, though, that you should accept the dollar. If you’re willing to do it for free, then earning a dollar at the same time is strictly better.

So why did you turn it down? It’s becuase the simple addition of money transformed the scenario from social norms to market norms. Money changes the rules, and therefore changes the outcome of the situation. You are no longer doing your friend a favor, you are getting hired for a job.

Now this is all hypothetical so far. So Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and professor at Duke University, put this theory to the test.5

He designed an experiment using circles and boxes. It was a mundane task. For a full five minutes, volunteers would drag a circle into a box on a computer screen. Then, another circle would randomly reappear and they’d have to drag that one into the box. Then another circle would appear in a random spot. Etc.

He segmented all the volunteers into three groups. The first would be paid $5 in compensation for their time and effort. The second only 50¢. And the third nothing. They were told that they were simply doing him a favor. Here are the results:

Group Circles Dragged
$5 159
50¢ 101
Free 169

In other words, the $5 group got paid 10x the original amount yet was only 50% more productive. And the group that didn’t get paid was the highest performing group. And none of the volunteers were told that the experiment delt with money.

What this shows is that social norms are far stronger than market norms and that there is a very clear divide between the two. People worked for relationships in the free group but for the money in the other two groups. A stark contrast of motivations and norms.

This also means that if you can somehow bring social norms to the area of business, you can blow away the competition…

Oh wait, there is no competition because we’re dealing with social norms.


Not the dreaded cliffhanger!

I originally wasn’t going to break this up into two parts, but I decided to in the end. You have all the background you need. But you still don’t know anything about Dot Com Secrets.

And that’s for next time.

Why does there have to be a next time? Because this blog is over 3,100 words long. Can you believe that? You read almost half of a standard book chapter! And next time you’ll read the other half.

So to find out why this book actually scares me, stick around for part two by subscribing below.


  1. Brunson, R. (2015) Dot Com Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Growing Your Company Online… New York, NY: Morgan James Publishing. 

  2. Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Free Press.  2

  3. Sinek, S. (2011). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. London, England: Penguin Books, LTD.  2


  5. Ariely, D. (2008). Predictibly Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions. New York, NY: HarperCollins.