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Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland

Sutherland’s book – Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life is one of my all-time favorite marketing books. I’m excited to share my book review with you because it’s one of those books that will blow your mind and get you to look at marketing in a VERY different way.

If you’re someone who is struggling a bit as an entrepreneur and tried all the traditional marketing strategies and has gotten minimal or ok success, then this blog will help propel you forward to increase your success.

In my many years of being a Strategic Online Marketing and Launch Expert, what trips most entrepreneurs up is focusing too much on rationality and logic – on the features of what they’re selling. They’re too much in their heads with rational thinking and can’t step back and look at their marketing from their dream client’s perspective.

Remember – people buy on EMOTION, NOT logic.

In Sutherland’s book, he emphasizes how important it is to focus on the emotional and psychological factors of what you’re selling. THAT’S what influences consumer behavior.

One of the best ways to do this is by using storytelling to create emotional connections with potential dream clients. Then frame your product in a way that highlights its unique and meaningful features.

One of the techniques he describes in the book is using what he calls “Mental Alchemy – a powerful tool for creating magic in marketing and business.” It’s about using psychological techniques to create a deeper connection between consumers and products or brands.

It’s about transforming the way people perceive and experience your products, services, and brands. By tapping into the way people’s minds work, you can create experiences that are more engaging, memorable, and impactful. He goes into some pretty fascinating real-world examples – it’s a must-read.

An example of mental alchemy is the use of storytelling to create emotional connections with your prospective dream clients. Sutherland suggests that by telling compelling stories about a product or brand, you can tap into the emotions and aspirations of consumers, creating a sense of belonging and identity.

Another example is the use of “social proof,” where you use testimonials, reviews, and endorsements from satisfied customers to persuade others to invest in your products or services. This technique takes advantage of the way people are heavily reliant on the opinions of others when making buying decisions.

Sutherland also discusses the importance of framing and context in mental alchemy. By presenting information in a certain way or in a particular context, you can influence how people perceive it, leading to better associations and for them to be more likely to take action.

A Book Summary to Inspire You To Read It!

Quick Summary: Sutherland explores the power of psychology and emotions in marketing and business. He uses some terrific real-world examples, along with his engaging storytelling. What I love about it is how he argues that traditional marketing just isn’t enough. You need to understand human behavior and with that, you need a more holistic and creative approach. I’d also HIGHLY recommend you listen to the AUDIOBOOK. He’s a funny guy and the book comes to life when you listen to it – truly.

WHO Ought to Read this Book: Alchemy is a must-read if you’re an entrepreneur and a marketing strategist (or if you have any position in marketing). And if you’re interested in human psychology and the behavior of why people buy – this book will blow your socks off.

Why Read this Book? It’s an incredibly thought-provoking and insightful book that is well worth reading if you’re interested in understanding how psychology and emotions influence decision-making and how businesses can use this knowledge to create effective marketing campaigns. Plus, he gives you some really interesting examples of businesses that I haven’t heard of before – that are UK-centric.

Things You Will Discover:

There are two lenses through which we can view the world and understand human behavior.

  1. The rational lens: This lens views human behavior as purely rational and logical. It assumes that people always make decisions based on facts, data, and objective analysis.
  2. The alchemical lens: This lens views human behavior as influenced by a range of psychological and emotional factors that go beyond pure logic and reason. It recognizes that people are often influenced by emotions, biases, and social factors that can shape their decisions and perceptions.

My favorite thing is Sutherland argues that mental alchemy is a powerful tool for creating “magic” in marketing and business. By tapping into the way people’s minds work, marketers can create experiences that are more engaging, memorable, and impactful.

Gain a new perspective: The book challenges traditional thinking about marketing and business by emphasizing the importance of understanding human behavior and the role of psychology and emotions in decision-making.

Real-world examples: Sutherland uses numerous examples from his own experience in advertising and marketing to illustrate the concepts he presents in the book, making it easy to understand and apply to your own business or career.

Engaging storytelling: The book is full of entertaining and insightful stories that make it a fun and engaging read.

Practical applications: The principles and strategies outlined in the book can be applied to a wide range of industries and professions, making it relevant and valuable for anyone interested in marketing, branding, or business.

New insights: Sutherland’s ideas and approach to marketing are fresh and innovative, providing readers with new insights and tools to create effective marketing campaigns that resonate with consumers.

  1. The importance of context and framing: He argues that the way we frame and present information can have a significant impact on how people perceive and respond to it. By changing the context in which we present information, we can influence people’s decision-making in powerful ways.
  2. The power of mental alchemy: What is mental alchemy? It’s using psychological techniques to transform the way people perceive and experience products, services, and brands. By understanding the psychology of human behavior, we can create experiences that are more engaging, memorable, and impactful.
  3. The role of emotions in decision-making: He emphasizes the importance of emotions in decision-making, arguing that rationality alone is not enough to explain how people make choices. By tapping into people’s emotions and aspirations, we can create more meaningful and effective marketing campaigns.
  4. The value of storytelling: The importance of storytelling in marketing is huge. The better and more emotionally driven stories, the more it engages your audience. He argues that stories are more engaging and memorable than statistics or facts alone. By using storytelling to create emotional connections with consumers, we can build stronger and more loyal relationships with them.
  5. The need for experimentation and creativity: Sutherland encourages businesses to experiment with new marketing strategies and to be creative in their approach. By taking risks and trying new things, businesses can differentiate themselves from their competitors and create more memorable and impactful marketing campaigns.


Context is Mega Important:
“Context is everything. When people make decisions, they don’t make them in a vacuum. They make them in a context.”

It’s Not About Persuasion:
“Marketing isn’t about persuasion, it’s about seduction. It’s about creating an environment in which people are inclined to make the choices you want them to make.”

Don’t Persuade People to Switch:
“Great advertising is not about persuading people to choose your brand over others; it’s about persuading people to choose your category over others.”

Create Value that Can’t Be Commoditized:
“The future belongs to those who can create value that cannot be commoditized – experiences, relationships, feelings, and emotions.”

Focus On What Can’t Be Measured:
“In business and in life, it is often the things that cannot be measured that are the most valuable.”

Whispering Works Best:
“In a world where everyone is shouting, whispering is often the most effective form of communication.”

New Perspectives Spark Creativity:
“Creativity is the act of discovering a new perspective or a new way of looking at something.”

The Art of Creating Meaning & Value:
“Marketing is the art of creating meaning. Business is the art of creating value.”

Change the Environment:
“In order to change behavior, you need to change the environment in which that behavior occurs.”

My Favorite – Reminds Me of What Soulful Marketing Ultimately Means:
“Good marketing is not about manipulating people, it’s about helping them to achieve their goals and aspirations.”

The Psychology of First Impressions:
“Smoking – stair out the window with one -you’re a philosopher – without one – you’re an antisocial dolt.”

About the Author: Rory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland is the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, where he has worked since 1988. This attractively vague job title has allowed him to form a behavioral science practice within the agency whose job is to uncover the hidden business and social possibilities which emerge when you apply creative minds to the latest thinking in psychology and behavioral science.

Before founding Ogilvy Change, Rory was a copywriter and creative director at Ogilvy for over 20 years, having joined as a graduate trainee in 1988. He has variously been President of the IPA, Chair of the Judges for the Direct Jury at Cannes, and has spoken at TED Global. He writes regular columns for the Spectator, Market Leader, and Impact, and also occasional pieces for Wired. He is the author of two books: The Wiki Man, and the best-selling Alchemy, The Surprising Power of Ideas Which Don’t Make Sense, and, co-written with his former colleague Pete Dyson, Transport For Humans on the behavioral science of transport.

Rory is married to a vicar and has twin daughters. He lives in the former home of Napoleon III – unfortunately in the attic. He is a trustee of the Benjamin Franklin House in London and a Patron of Rochester Cathedral.

Get Your Copy:

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland’s TED Talks:
Life Lessons From Ad Ad Man

Perspective is Everything

Other Books You Might Be Interested In:

Almost Alchemy: Make Any Business of Any Size Produce More With Fewer and Less by Dan Kennedy

Magnetic Marketing; How to Attract a Flood of New Customers That Pay, Stay, and Refer by Dan Kennedy

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends, And Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See by Seth Godin

Unleashing The Idea Virus: Stop Marketing At People! Turn Your Ideas Into Epidemics by Seth Godin

Soulfully Yours,

Shannon McCaffery

Shannon McCaffery

Strategic Marketing Coach & Consultant

Previous Book Review

Alchemy The Dark Art and curious science

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland


Hey there, I'm Shannon! Being a voracious reader and passionate about learning, I started this site in the hopes of sharing my thoughts and my love of inspiring nonfiction books that can help you. It's kind of like Buddha meets business. I truly hope you enjoy!

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