‘Yanny or Laurel’ is the Key to Marketing (and Maybe Fixing America)

If you are tapped in to social media or have teenagers, by now you’ve probably heard the Yanny versus Laurel audio clip. Some swear the mechanized voice says “Yanny”, others can only hear “Laurel”. The ensuing debates are far more intense than the blue/gold dress: whereas the shades or colors could be perceived differently after repeated views, audio feels REAL – seriously, you hear “Laurel/Yanny”? You’re kidding! You’re wrong!

The explanation for the differences in audio perception hinge on high or low frequencies. Supposedly the musically discriminating can hear both, but for the rest of us one frequency dominates, thus one single name’s perception seems to be fact. Herein lies the profundity of Laurel and Yanny. As my husband and I incredulously debated our differing perceptions this morning, we channeled our divided society. When you’re only taking in information on one wavelength, it’s hard to understand how anyone can interpret reality in any other way.

As we learn to make sense of the world, developmentally we assume we’re at the center of the bell curve of rational behavior. “I think this, I’m pretty normal, so everyone who is normal probably thinks this way.” Maturity is realizing where we are outliers. It can be scary to encounter thinking that is radically different from ours, so we can get angry that other people are interpreting the same situation differently. If we realize they’re making rational interpretations from a different wavelength of information, fear and anger may be replaced by curiosity. Truth is a kaleidoscope, or to keep the metaphor, parts of truth are broadcast on many different wavelengths.

In marketing, understanding where the customer is can be like Yanny and Lauren. You can hire someone who hears the same thing your customers do, or make the effort to understand why some customers hear your pitch in a completely different way.

As a pediatric emergency doctor, I spent ten years trying to explain to other doctors why needle pain mattered. Their reality was that needles truly didn’t hurt, and truly shouldn’t matter. If I were able to use the example of Yv.L, perhaps it would open a channel to help skeptics understand people actually can have different physical perceptions.

If nothing else, understanding that someone you respect hears on a different frequency introduces the idea that others experience the world differently. Once we accept that ‘different’ can still be reasonable, we may take more time to understand what signals others perceive that explain our differences.

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