The Simple Secrets That Make People Fascinating

Whether you want to be a star in your field or make your product irresistibly interesting, being fascinating is about standing out from the crowd—and doing a little self-marketing.

What makes someone fascinating?

Americans are often fascinated by celebrities—for reasons good and bad—but who’s hot one day is often who’s not the next. We’re also fascinated by people who accomplish extraordinary feats or who respond well to extraordinary circumstances. But the truth is you don’t need to be famous, daring or in the right place at the right time to captivate the attention of others.

"Fascinating is in the eyes of the beholder, and everyone can wield its power," says Sally Hogshead, CEO and founder of Fascinate, Inc., a marketing research and consulting firm.

She came to this conclusion after working as a creative director in advertising for brands such as Coca-Cola, BMW, Nike and Mini Cooper: "I realized that there were patterns to the brands that seem to fascinate consumers most," she says.

She identified seven reasons, or triggers, why people pay attention:

  1. A brand shows power
  2. it demonstrates passion
  3. it has mystique
  4. it offers prestige
  5. it gives alarm
  6. it has rebellion
  7. or it evokes trust.

For example, Godiva triggers prestige, and Brooks Brothers triggers trust, Hogshead says. But these same seven triggers don't just apply to brands, they can apply to people, too.

"We’re used to traditional personality tests, such as Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder, that show you how you see the world," says Hogshead, whose book How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value through the Science of Fascination, comes out in June. "It’s a good metric, but as the world becomes more distracted, it matters less and less. What does matter is how the world sees you."

Hoghead offers a personality test on her site for users to identify what she calls their "fascination trigger." But you can also ask friends and colleagues to describe your personality and the value you add to your relationship. Once you understand how the world sees you, use it to your advantage and apply it in your work. Hogshead offers three ways to fascinate others:

1. Don’t try to fit in.

Too often, we search for similarities in an effort to fit in with the environment, but it’s the person who embraces their differences that is interesting, says Hogshead.

"Chipotle, Southwest and Apple have all told great brand stories on why they’re different," she says. "Once you identify what makes you different, concentrate on it. To be successful, you don’t have to change who you are; you have to become more of who you are."

Hogshead adds that managers and business owners often make a mistake by replicating themselves when hiring. "They go for the rapport and chemistry, but the problem is that you have the same advantages and the bigger problem is that you have the same disadvantages," she says, adding that this causes a company to be brittle. Instead, build a stronger team by hiring the opposite of what you naturally have.

2. Rethink your strengths.

You probably already know your strengths, but in a crowded market, strengths become a commodity, forcing you onto the spinning hamster wheel, says Hogshead. Instead, identify your competitive differences.

"Strengths point to what you do, a specialized skill or job, for example," she says. "But your differences point to who you are, a personality trait that gives you a natural competitive advantage."

For example, instead of being a good writer, focus on being a meticulously detailed, irreverently funny or results-oriented writer. It’s how you do what you do, and how you do it differently than everyone else, says Hogshead; it’s your highest value.

3. Create your tagline.

Research has shown that when people are fascinated by a product, they will pay up to four times more for it, says Hogshead. The same is true in workplace. If you can learn to quickly articulate your differences, you’ll be seen as valuable.

Similar to a brand, it’s helpful to write a tagline, or slogan, for your personality. BMW used the slogan "the ultimate driving machine" in 2012. This not only describes the car but the company and the kind of person who wants to own it, says Hogshead. Employees at her company have created their own taglines. For example, Corey Stewart, content manager, has the slogan, "meticulous follow through."

"It’s not just a sound bite; it’s a phrase you can orient your entire career around it like an anthem," says Hogshead.

[Image: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker]

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  • I, too, did the "How to Fascinate" quiz to learn where I fit into her work. I found it to be THE most accurate personal test I've ever taken. How did she understand me SO well? Well, that's why she does what she does. I haven't used it in a larger company format (my company is me), but I will say that it is spot-on and helps me focus on knowing how to present, what to present and to be very confident in knowing that I'm being true to myself, not "toeing the line" set forth for Everyman or Everywoman. Thanks for this article, Stephanie.

  • Cris Gladly

    I am an enormous fan of Sally Hogshead's work. It is so spot on and I'm thrilled that she is doing a follow-up book to help people take the tenets of Fascinate to the next level: their personal lives. Understanding how to fascinate as a brand is great, how to fascinate as a person is even more important.

  • I've read, well more like listened to Sally's book Fascinate at least six times. I have the seven triggers on the wall in my office and I've been using them within our advertising. It surely has helped to strengthen our communication. My other team members have also took the test. Mystique+Passion = ME

  • Tim Owen

    Wonderful Article Stephanie!
    And an Inspiring example you have sourced in Sally!

    As we say here in Norway, "Tusen Tusen Takk!" (Thousand Thousand Thanks :-))

    Fascination is a Brilliant triangulation of Fun and Entertainment, resulting in our modern day Education. I daily experience this eyebrow-raising while watching our 4 year old wield mama's iPad. What's Fascinating is what gets his attention, mine too!

    An interview I was honored to do with Rich Schefren of Strategic Profits I believe adds nicely another fascinating "know your strengths" example to your article here.

    Press on you Fascinating people, we support you!

    Timothy Bert Owen Optimize Attention, Instantly. Http://

  • I've found Sally's system to be incredibly empowering and effective. A lot of times people try to fit into this perceived mold of perfection, not realizing that hiring or project managers look for specific skills and strengths. There's no one size fits all profile, and knowing how to play up your own competitive advantages really does help you stand out from the crowd.

  • "They" say that opposites attract. The problem is, we've distorted the conversation. Consistently, organizations spend a tremendous amount of time, money and effort to discuss "diversity". Unfortunately, it has become a function of "compliance", in that the intended discussion of embracing the idea that what makes us different makes us better gets lost in a discussion of people who have different skin color, religious practices, or gender. Further that message is often sterilized by a thin veil of legal compliance (e.g. lawsuit avoidance - "but we PROVIDED diversity and sensitivity training"!)

    "Embracing diversity" should also include people who process information differently than us, have richly different cultural and life experiences from us, and especially those who have different personality styles from us - regardless of color, sex, religion, sexual orientation. Stand out. Be different. CONNECT!

  • My boss and I have opposite fascination triggers, and our company probably has even a different one from that. How can we figure out how to leverage our differences from our competitors...and work together to balance our strengths?

  • Jim Helgeson

    Sally is BRILLIANT! I took her "test" a few months ago to see how the world views me. It was fascinating and it can add to your business, can show you how to capitalize on who you are---as the world sees you. Great stuff! I highly recommend her and her "system"!

    Jim Helgeson
    JDH Financial Services, Inc.
  • GREAT ARTICLE. I was inspired at a time when I needed to hear this the most. Entrepreneurship is a spiritual journey and you can never get too much nourishment, ahhh! I feel satisfied and ready to fascinate.

  • Nicole Mangina

    Sally and the Fascinate system are amazing! At a time when I was really struggling to figure out why me? What makes what I offer different and relevant, understanding my Fascination Archetype made it crystal clear.

  • Sally Hogshead's Fascination System is exceptionally good at helping you understand what makes you unique. When you understand how you are different, you can use that as part of your marketing. This works for entrepreneurs as well as employees. It is a brilliant methodology that gives you great insight into how the world sees you. Strongly recommend.

  • Tara Schmakel

    I love this system! I took the test 4 years ago and then promptly bought the book! I read it with a highlighter and then again with a pen. The content was so different than anything I had found before. I realized how to be the most authentic and best version of me. It has changed the way I do business and I've become more successful because of it! Thank you Stephanie Vozza for the great article and also thank you Sally Hogshead!

  • Marianne Chalmers

    I first learned about Sally's work when I read her book "How To Fascinate" and watched her videos. I was immediately captivated and wanted to learn what my archetype was, or rather, how the world saw me as fascinating! Once I discovered I am "The Catalyst" and understood what that meant, I was guided to create my anthem "Transformational Insights", which is my signature I put on everything I do - from the conversations I have to the highest value I deliver for my clients. This science has been helping me formulate the foundation of my business and has helped me become even more clear as to the work I do. Sally's work is not only fascinating, it's EMPOWERING!

  • Aime Hutton

    I met Sally at the eWomen Network International conference in Aug. 2013. She cemented in my soul that it's okay to be ME, to be different. In turn, now I help my clients be okay with being themselves too!

  • Joe Schmitter

    I've been fascinated by Sally Hogshead for the past few years. Her 7 Triggers concept has helped me understand how to better serve my advertising clients, and how to help me stand out from all of my competitors. The information she offers is easy to understand and will forever change how you see marketing.