Planning

In the long run, we’re all dead

Image: Genista

That’s how John Maynard Keynes put it and although he wasn’t talking about marketing, his words certainly ring true to all of us working with marketing or advertising strategy. This became apparent to me after reading a post on Micco Grönholm’s “The Brand-Man” blog (Swedish only), where he discusses an experiment from behavioral economics dealing with the role of emotions in decision-making and why we don’t learn from our mistakes. Micco’s post was great in itself, but it also made me think of this clip where Daniel Kahneman makes a distgustingly excellent observation: “For a firm, in principle, there is a long horizon. People have a much shorter time-scale. They have to have three meals a day, a salary every month, a bonus every year…”

Bam! Right there, just like that, he blew strategy work right out of the water. Since strategy, in essence, deals with long-term planning and people concern themselves with the here and now, there isn’t much hope for the former. Sure, most marketing people like talking about strategy, workshopping their way through strategy processes and producing strategy documents. Maybe because it makes them (or should I say “us”) feel important. Maybe because it’s fun (it is).

But does it matter?

I’m thinking maybe not, because not only does adhering to strategy require people to be able to reason in abstract concepts, it also often means sacrificing small but concrete short-term gains for larger but long-term, and thereby more vague, ones. And as the Allais paradox shows, when faced with a situation of certainty vs uncertainty, people maximize utility over value, i.e. prefer the more certain outcome even if its value is smaller. Also, focusing on the long-term doesn’t seem to be very conducive to most marketing people’s careers.

However, I’m not prepared to throw my hands in the air and open a coffee shop on a small Greek island just yet. I haven’t given up on strategy, I have merely reached a couple of conclusions. For a strategy to even have the slightest chance of making a difference it has to be:

1. Dead simple (pun intended). If it doesn’t stick the first time, it never will. And nobody’s going to read the documentation.

2. Expressed as an idea. An idea that can actually inspire people. Not something that makes you nod your head going “yeah, that makes sense” but the kind of thing that makes you feel two inches taller.

I guess what I’m talking about is what is normally not labeled as strategy but as “vision”. Like Disney’s “We shall make people happy” or Nike’s “If you have a body, you’re an athlete”. The Romans called it casus belli, something to go into battle for. And possibly to die for. Perhaps that is the most realistic way forward for most companies – good tactics and good people combined with a clear casus belli that can energize them in the same direction.

Enough of this talk of death. To summarize, and to end on a somewhat more cheerful note, I’ll let Robin Williams express the essence of what I think any good strategy should be able to answer:

Standard
Observations

A snowball on the tip of an iceberg

I’ve just started reading a new book and already six pages into it, I’m delighted:

“According to the modern perspective, Freud’s view of the unconscious was far too limited. When he said (following Gustav Fechner, an early experimental psychologist) that consciousness is the tip of the mental iceberg, he was short of the mark by quite a bit – it may be more the size of a snowball on top of that iceberg. The mind operates most efficiently by relegating a good deal of high-level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious, just as a modern jumbo jetliner is able to fly on automatic pilot with little or no input from the human, ‘conscious’ pilot. The adaptive unconsciousness does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner. It is a necessary and extensive part of a highly efficient mind and not just the demanding child of the mental family and the defenses that have developed to keep this child in check.”

The book is “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson. More to come, I’m sure.

Standard
Observations

Happiness is to learn something new every day

And this is what I learned today, starting at 26:30 into this speech:

So…dopamine isn’t about reward, it’s about the anticipation of reward. And if you block the dopamine rise from occurring you won’t get the work done, which means that dopamine isn’t only about the anticipation of reward, it’s also about goal-directed behavior. Perhaps most interesting of all: if a “maybe” is introduced into the equation, i.e. if you don’t get the reward 100% of the time, your dopamine will increase even more. So there you have it, the reason we are suckers for playing lotteries, slot machines and other games of chance.

Do watch the whole clip and just bask in the genius of Robert Sapolsky. And, not the least, in the fact that someone who is one of the most outstanding professors at the second best university in the world can look this cool.

Standard
Planning

“Touching eternity”

Image: aftab

What exactly is “an insight”? Something that’s bothered me since I started as a planner is how people throw that word around as if it were synonymous to “a conclusion” or even “a fact”. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen powerpoint slide after powerpoint slide listing 10, 15, 20 “insights”. “Our insight is that 37% of the target group buys milk four times a week” – you know what I’m talking about.

Then, the other day, when I was putting together a presentation on what makes good advertising good I was finally forced to come up with a definition of “insight”. What I ended up writing was that an insight is an informed revelation. It’s not something that is a mere conclusion as a result of purely linear thinking but rather something that is based on fact but then makes a leap of faith. Call it lateral thinking. Call it connecting the dots. Call it an aha-moment. But you know that you have an insight when people around you go “yeah, that’s it! I’ve never actually thought of it that way but now that I do, I realize that’s exactly how it is”. I was pretty happy about it.

But now I’ve been trumped. Then again, the one doing the trumping is Plato, so I’ll try to take it as a man.

What happened was that I was listening to an audiobook today and learned that Plato, talking about insight (he was really talking about intuition but since intuition translates into “to see”, it seems related to insight) in relation to his theory of forms and shadows, said that to have an insight is to get a glimpse of the forms, i.e. of the true being of things. He defined it as “touching eternity”.

Not a bad way to spend your work day.

Standard
Dayjob, Random

I’m trying out this new thing. It’s called “productivity”.

300269602_7ad91da648

Image: dkuropatwa

As of today, I’m trying out a different way of working. Instead of setting out to do a job overreachingly perfectly and letting it take the time it takes, I’m starting at the time-end. The first thing I’ll do is simply to say to myself “I can spend a maximum of x hours on this” and then adjust the quality of the work accordingly. When time is up, the work is done.

Not that you care. I’m only writing this because I want to be able to go back six months from now when this plan of mine has burst into a million little electrons and laugh at my own naivety.

Anyway, it worked for 60 Minutes.

Standard
Planning

The best way to think about branding that I’ve heard of so far

387391280_311c65f446

Image: yozz!

The other day, Steve Rothman over at his blog The Social Media Soapbox introduced me to this presentation by CMO Mark Addicks on how General Mills is embracing the Conversation online. It’s a really good presentation that I highly recommend, most of all because it’s a fine and very rare example of how an “old”, “traditional” company has made sense of and leveraged social media.

But the one thing that I love the most about Mr Addicks’ presentation is something that isn’t relevant to just social media but to all marketing – regardless of brand, category, discipline and what have you – namely this:

“We try to turn our brand into their brand.”

Brilliant. It’s what branding ultimately is all about. Not necessarily in the hands-on, interactive, conversational way but always in the emotional, sense-of-ownership respect. If a person starts thinking about your product or service as “my brand” – well, that’s damn powerful stuff bound to drive business.

Standard
Advertising, Observations

Why do you sales people think you’re bloody neuroscientists?

head_up_ass

Bloody news flash: you’re not. Yes, I fully respect the fact that you’ve been in a gazillion sales meetings with clients and therefore (hopefully) know something about what makes them tick and how to get them to buy what you want to sell. But no, you don’t have the full picture. Far from it. Far, far from it. You seem to have no bloody idea that people make all their decisions – small, large, B2C, B2B, private, corporate – using emotion, not fact, as a starting point. In essence, we are feeling animals who think rather than thinking animals who feel. Or as Tim Ambler put it: “When nothing else works, we think”. And Daniel Kahneman even won a Nobel Prize showing just that, for heaven’s sake.

And since you got all this backwards you also have no idea what the role of advertising or other forms of market communication actually is in the context of the sales process. You either hold one of two cosmic misconceptions: you think that a) clients are bloody robots and advertising’s role is to program that robot by means of facts, figures and rational benefits, or that b) clients are bloody robots that can’t be influenced by advertising, base all their decisions on price and personal relationships and for whom advertising is therefore pointless. You seem to think that theirs is an existence taking place in a bloody vacuum, cut off from the rest of the world. You just don’t get that advertising is about tilting people your way by creating familiarity, associations and brand relationships.

You do great work in the field, I’m sure, but if you ever want your job made easier by advertising, here’s my advice to you: Read a bloody book.

Standard