I’ve been doing a lot of research on introversion for a talk I’m giving. So I’ve been thinking about the Meyers/Briggs personality types as they relate to business. I’m an INTJ and have been lucky enough to have learned how to have a career that has taught me how to solve problems big and small systemically. This has not always been a way of thinking that clients or bosses have wanted in this quick twitch world.
When I have been successful in conveying that vision, that system, for solving the client’s business problem, it’s come down to the ability to capture it in story and/or metaphor that makes the benefits come alive. However, I can remember a disastrous client dinner when I was trying to make the connection between an article I’d done on Michael Jorden and the impact of one small inaccuracy in it and the client’s belief that his one data point was worth hanging his whole marketing plan on.
What I had hoped would be a colorful and entertaining way to make the point that just because the name on credit card payment for a rental car was male, did NOT mean that the shopper/decision maker was male. The client was offended by what he took as my bragging about having interviewed Michael Jordan. My lesson: know your audience and how they learn information. I hadn’t done my homework on the client—though I had on his target audience. That meant I’d missed a critical part of the sell-in by leaping to the story’s end and over the middle, which was selling him part.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said George Bernard Shaw. And as a in introvert, I’ve had to learn as much as I’d like to have people just “get it”, I’ve learned to invest the time in building teams that are all on the same page.
Saul Kripke, a philosopher and logician, supposedly once negated a conference lecturer whose subject was how a double positive never made a negative. Kripke, shouted “yeah, yeah” from the back of the room, his voice dripping with sarcasm and left. That’s the way a lot of the people we marketers pitch feel about our clients’ brands and products. Because of the promises we help them make. It makes it hard to look in the mirror some mornings, doesn't it?
While we all espouse transparency and straight talk, somewhere in the backs of our heads too is the question “What’s the real story?” or sometimes “What’s the whole story?” All too often we don’t challenge our clients and ourselves to come clean, we rely on the fine print and disclaimers to do our legal CYA but is that really good for anyone? Does it make us feel good? Is it an ethical CYA?
I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of brand promise when it’s turned out not so swell. Sometime it matters a little (ok the battery buried in the specs for those wireless earbuds doesn’t actually get me through a movie on a plane).
But sometimes it does matter (I really, really can’t see through those glasses you sent me without having them perched on the end of my nose). It’s then that someone should have communicated that sometimes that happens and you can’t send them back without crawling the stations of the cross. Then I eat the cost and tell friends don’t use THAT company…ever. (BTW, it is NOT Warby Parker, with whom I’ve had the opposite experience).
My point is the down side (and every product or service has one), doesn’t need to be the hook or the headline, but wouldn’t it be great if we challenged ourselves to find it—and find a way to make it honestly a part of the promise? Our glasses are great and low cost but not if your prescription requires your frames fit exactly. Being upfront about your limitations only elevates what you’re great at delivering and strengthens your brand. Then a marketer can look at them selves in the mirror and feel good.
In her thoughtful and insightful article on UX Principals for Better Content, Lucia Z. Wang, discusses content personas as being different (slightly) from marketing personas. This is something we fundamentally disagree with, like a project brief, customers need one holistic persona that captures all their facets without this there can be no alignment between experience, product and marketing.
We use the analogy of a architect building a house (the software developer) but then the landscape designer (the media planner) building the path to the front door on the side of the house. Because they have fundamentally different specs. Ideally the personas capture each type of customer from 360 degrees, because the their needs can differ by time of day, role during the day, etc. It is a blending of not just one use case but of media insights and data points as well as geographic and behavioral information. Even if the persona isn't granular, it at least needs to address all the different stakeholders creating the experience.
So all the creation stakeholders, including of course the client, need to align with the persona before anyone starts pouring the house's foundation.
Inspired by the crashing and burning of Democratic fundraising strategy, Cathy O'Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, and programmatic media buying I’ve been thinking about what the role of humans in marketing is today and tomorrow.
In a future world run by algorithms, big data, and AI, what is the role of the human being in marketing, heck in work, or life at all. Maybe this why the grassroots craftsmen movement has taken root? We want to celebrate imperfection (the not the same, not the perfect) somehow, somewhere.
Now more than anything, it seems our role in marketing is to make mistakes; to bring the imperfect opportunity to do something new through error, guesswork, and serendipity. Perhaps as Leonard Cohen so eloquently put it, “the cracks are where the light gets in” to marketing.
One of the most infamous mistake in modern marketing was when Spencer Silver, a researcher in 3M Laboratories, who in trying to make a stronger glue came up with the weaker glue that made marketing researchers iconic symbol, the Post-it note, possible. And what AI would have gotten from serial killer Gary Gilmore’s last words, “Let’s do it”, to “Just Do It”? There are other versions how the tagline came into being but there is only one Dan Wieden.
Big Data and AI, can move us incrementally forward but only human intervention can make the big leaps that transforms marketing from Robocalling to cultural mantra.
A couple of times when I have been client side I’ve gone fishing. It’s a bad habit and I’m not proud of it, especially now that I’m running my own small group. You all know what I’m talking about: it’s the cheap way to get ideas, insight, perspective on your business by asking a few agencies to come in and suggest what they think they could do for you.
In for-profit companies, no matter what their size, it’s a not so honest way of getting consulting thinking for free. For agencies, it’s a time sump and an opportunity cost much like buying a Lotto ticket. Sometimes it’s completely overt, think the Sears controversy a few years back when its RFP said that Sears would own any submitted material. This led to a 4As position paper defining how to avoid this behavior.
The challenge for any small agency without the leverage of a big holding company behind them: How much do you give away without charge to show your thinking? How much product do you share for free as part of a sampling? Too much product shared, like bait in the water, and the fish goes away with the free meal.
I’m pondering this because we had a meeting with a small digital startup that is have both customer acquisition and retention issues. After an hour of reviewing Google Analytics and the acquisition sources, we had a pretty good idea on how to approach the problem/s. The obvious next step: how would you like us to help you? We can propose an overview of your customer journey and identify the low-hanging fruit to address your issues; you can point us at the areas you believe are causing the problems.
What we got was a well, why don’t you do a deep dive into our GA and then tells more things that we should look at. We’re a bit stymied because we are curious and want to do the right thing but we are a business to and there is that darn opportunity cost.
You are not in competition with your agency/consultancy/marketing support. Having been on both sides of the client/“vendor” fence, I have often seen the interaction and, not to throw stones, on occasion participated in this “I know more or something you don’t know” dance.
We just experienced it in a new biz pitch and it just isn’t helpful for a client to do oneupmanship or to withhold the valuable insights in order to create a superior position. We’re a small agency and we can’t always insist that BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) stakeholders attend pitches or every client meeting. But we go in good faith because that’s our value system and we want to believe it’s most clients’ value system.
The lack of transparency and posturing wastes valuable time on both sides since it obscures the reason for bringing an agency in: the need to solve a business, not an ego, problem (though they may end up being related). Most importantly, marketing consultants need to get aligned with their clients so that they can offer real advice, real solutions. This seem to be a even bigger issue when technology or paid media is involved.
A lot like the chicken or the egg, in our most recent pitch, the potential client was reluctant to provide an allocated budget figure for the project in the fear that miraculously, the recommend plan would be exactly that budget. But without realistic business or budget goals, media or most work will come in on the high side because with the vague brief, it forces an “ideal scenario” pricing—what the consultancy would suggest in it’s best case solution to a problem it is guessing at.
In our recent proposal, we tried to steer a middle course between what we gathered from research, the technology solution that was low hanging fruit, and marketing tactics which we felt would be effective but which we couldn’t do in house. Not surprisingly, we were told that our paid technology budget was too high.
But on the upside, the client liked that we’d provided ideas that he could execute with his internal team or another group. After seeing too many train wrecks when agencies pitch solutions that they don’t know how to deliver, we’ve decided to just be upfront and say we don’t do that stuff or we can manage another group for you instead.
As for the pitch, we’ll see whether we end up with a client or just good will.
The Agile development process is all the rage in delivery solid software development but I’ve recently noticed a trend by software developers and development companies to leave the account management to PM leads. From what I’ve seen, the results from an account management perspective have been less than optimal when there has been no client management presence on the engagement. In the past year, I have seen several large accounts who originally committed to long-term work streams of multiple projects cancel before the original term of the engagement.
Why? All were run by exceptionally strong teams from strong PMO’s, but two common factors resulted in failure: the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) concept for initial delivery and the lack of strong account management oversight. The first of these is baked into the Agile process and typically delivers a stable, on-time product to market but with a reduced feature set than the business initially agreed to. The second seems to be a vestigial tail left over from the project delivery mindset of software development which is short-term, driven by production efficiency and deadlines, and forgets about long-term value and post-launch customer adoption.
Managing business client expectations (not just from an IT delivery perspective), especially when the sales team has sold in a much broader feature set, is a mission critical piece of account strategy work that neither the PMO or the sales team addresses. It is a relationship and communication piece that comes with a truly integrated and aligned team. The alignment piece is about allowing the PM to make sure short-term delivery goals are met in conjunction with an account management or strategy relationship that makes sure the client business understands the tradeoffs in the Agile process. Without this later piece, disappointment is built in. Some of my worst new business wins were soured by a sales person’s admonition to “remember this is sales, not delivery”. That was the canary in the coal mine for unmet expectations and account churn.
From a software business perspective, the choice comes down to style: Do you have a combine harvester business or a sustainable agriculture model? The combine harvester model depends on always having new fields to move on to while the sustainable agriculture model is one that tends and cares for what exists. If you believe in the second but practice the first, maybe it’s time to invest in some real account strategists to manage your accounts.
I was talking with a client the other day who had just run a panel discussion about wearables, big data and retail. Years ago at Nike, I had tried to get the NBA to let us have the statistical data for the players. I was a bit naïve and the NBA turned me down. They owned the league where the athletic performance had taken place, they not the athletes, owned the data was their argument. (I had envisioned a way that consumers could compare their basketball stats with the players.) It was something that irked me but they had a point, if the league didn’t exist there wouldn’t be any performance data.
So what does that have to do with consumers and retail? Well, think about how much data retailers are collecting on you when you shop in any of their channels. Should you, the consumer, “own” your shopping data and be able to chose to allow retailer to use it to help sell you. Should they pay you to use your data? For that matter does Experian “own” your data? When consumers signed away the rights to their financial data it was a different computational era. We had a different understanding about just how personal data could become.
Having spent some time in Europe, where there is much more emphasis on personal privacy—including transaction data. Permission must be explicitly asked for and given (not that fine-print language that we Americans see all the time and ignore).
So as big data becomes big personal data, Ashley Madison aside, perhaps it’s time to start thinking more closely about just who or what business should “own” your digital persona.
I first read Transtromer as a graduate student of James Tate. Transtromer's book Truth Barriers, literally introduced me to the world of words and images in a completely different way. It was a window into the same world I lived in but a different view. Appropriately since windows and walls were images he used often. But most importantly, then and now for me was the way he captured human truths. This from “Preludes”:
Two truths approach each other
One comes from within,
one comes from without — and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
It still resonates to me as a marketer. Companies like to tell their truth from within but many are not yet prepared to accept the truth that comes from without. Great brands have met themselves in their customer’s eyes and reimagined what might be.
What a crazy experience it was working with Apple, iTunes U documentation or lack there of and tweaking the marketing of the collection across a global audience. What started as a simple idea: share the retail marketing, trends and opportunities that The Store curates over a year became an ultra marathon of good intentions bouncing off good intentions. More on the process later but let's just say, I understand the David and Goliath myth MUCH better now. There's some great information in the collection from a white paper by Jon Steel to a presentation by Kantar's Bryan Gildenberg that has some great counter-intuitive thinking. Please check out the material: http://tinyurl.com/nb956jd