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The 76º Rule

Consumer psychology has always been of interest to me. One of the earliest books to grab my attention was The Customer by Bob Ansett of Budget Car Rental fame. Bob understood early is his business career that there was more to building a relationship with customers than simply facilitating the exchange of money for goods or services.

Apple Store
Apple Store

In his book, Bob presents a powerful case for understanding consumers and building a business model around that understanding. Arguably, he was ahead of his time in appreciating the link between customer service and business success.

The extent to which successful businesses go to build a relationship of value with their customers might surprise you. Often, early engagement strategies are implemented long before any financial transaction has taken place. It is a holistic approach, an evolving science that provides a very generous return on investment for those who appreciate and employ this smart business practise.

Apple, for example, understands this better than most. One of the best illustrations I can provide comes from their Retail Stores. Revolutionary in its design, an Apple Retail Store is the result of a thorough understanding of consumer psychology. The 76° rule is one such example.

In an Apple Retail Store, every MacBook computer model (Apple’s laptop) sits proudly on display, powered-up with the lid open inviting you to use it, to ‘have a go’. Cleverly, every machine has the lid open such that the back of the screen makes an angle of 76° with the desk. Exactly 76°. For most people of average height, viewing the MacBooks on display means that the screen angle is not quite right. Sure, it is open and we can see it, but we are not looking square-on, the screen is not at the optimal viewing angle.

And that is precisely the point of the 76° angle. It is not quite right, on purpose. 

Apple Store Palo Alto
Apple Store Palo Alto

Apple wants us to touch it. They want us to adjust the angle so that it suits us perfectly. They want us to feel the texture of the surfaces, to marvel at the thinness, and to appreciate the engineering within the screen hinge mechanism that provides sensory feedback beyond description.

The 76° rule allows Apple to introduce half a dozen aspects of the MacBook, without asking, prompting, or ‘selling’. You touch it and it’s beautiful, you position it just right, and before you have pressed a single key powerful things are happening in your brain.

I appreciate that most of us don’t sell laptop computers at our workplace. Yet I am convinced that the concept of the 76° rule has a place in automotive repair facilities. You might reflect on conversations you have with your customers time and time again – an explanation perhaps, describing the same set of circumstances to different customers every day.

Now consider how the use of a prop or teaching aid, an interactive demonstration, or some other clever 76° rule in disguise, may provide both an avenue for early engagement and the opportunity for consumer self-exploration of your goods or services. 

As an early engagement strategy, the 76º rule is designed to do some of the heavy lifting required when growing a relationship of value with a customer. Sure, Apple uses it with MacBook displays, but we should be looking at the consumer psychology behind the rule and explore ways we can implement this thinking in our own workplaces. Good customers are well worth the effort.