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.

The Simple Secrets That Make People Fascinating
[Image: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker]

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.