Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

Tag Archives: marketing blog

Is Annoyance A Media Strategy?

Again and again, I have ads served to me that interrupt my digital and mobile actions. Popups are delivered that force me to landing pages and app store opens I didn’t ask for. Digital ads presuppose my interest in irrelevant products and services with no frequency cap. Despite the well-documented death of push marketing and the rise of the era of consumer control, it seems that many marketers believe that annoyance is still a viable strategic approach.

So, if you want to up your “annoyance marketing” quotient, here’s a simple five-point plan:

1. Ignore user experience and expectations when serving your advertising.

The new world of digital advertising affords marketers a plethora of tools and strategies for developing brand programming and campaigns that are relevant, timely and in-tune with a user’s mind-state and expectations. But flying in the face of this could also certainly help your brand stand out — and never mind the negative light it might shed on your brand.

With this in mind, it makes sense to serve an interstitial to an app user looking for a quick answer to a question like a train schedule or sports score. Or a page take-over to a mobile web browser looking for a phone number to tell a restaurant he’s running late. Don’t worry that you’re annoying them, slowing them down, preventing them from accomplishing a task – they’ll remember you!

2. Count impressions not engagements

By now we all know the hoopla and to-do caused by viewability concerns, ad fraud, bots, and ad blocking. The industry is beginning to realize that, in general, a media “impression” is unlikely to actually make an impression. But the addiction to low-priced CPMs and flowcharts with tens of millions of impressions is too hard to kick.

So, since all we care about is the delivery of quantities of impressions, then be unconcerned about repetitive ad messages and overly high frequencies. If we believed the old rule of thumb that reaching someone three times was an effective reach, then reaching them with the same message 30 times is 10 times effective-er, yes? So Lyft, please continue to serve me dozens of mobile app ads, unabated. And Game of War, bravo, for your 100+ ad frequency!

3. Do not waste time creating customized and diverse content

It’s been proven repeatedly that having personalized, contextually relevant messaging improves effectiveness for advertisers. And that simply cutting and pasting executions from one platform to another is not only lazy but also frustrating to consumers and sub-optimal for advertisers.

But all that work and thinking is hard. So by all means, take that TV ad and use it as pre-roll. Use your print ad as a banner. And don’t worry about creating multiple executions, stick with a single one and run it to death. Ideas, creativity and likeability are over-rated, right?

4. Ensure click-throughs by all means necessary

Making life painful for your consumers can’t be a good thing. Forcing them to jump through hoops, lengthening their process or experience, and providing disappointment are recipes for disaster. After all, customer experience is the new favorite buzzword of the industry.

However, since getting clicks is often an important data point, let’s make click-throughs unavoidable. Hide the “x” box on the interstitial. Or make the box insensitive to a mouse. Or even better, just open the link anyway even if the user tried to click away. I’m sure there will be some folks who will be happy with where the link leads them, right?

5. Spam away

I subscribe to lots of blogs and e-newsletters. But somehow I get many more than I subscribed to. I don’t like getting what is essentially spam; does anyone?

However, since newsletter subscribers are an important metric for many marketers, it’s a great idea to start sending your email to people who have never asked for it. Or ever expressed interest. And perhaps the best idea is to hide the unsubscribe link. That way you can count them as a subscriber for another mailing!

There you have it. If you believe that annoying your customer is a great way to market, follow these tips and you’ll be up there with the best. Of course, you could also try the exact opposite — if you’d rather avoid annoying them for a better customer experience.

Alexander Hamilton: A Would-Be, Modern-Day, Marketing Genius*

It’s our nation’s 240th birthday on Monday, so it’s time for a shout-out to our Founding Fathers. And there’s no founding father currently hotter or hipper than Alexander Hamilton. However, despite what many current Hamiltonian bandwagon-jumpers may think, he was neither a singer nor a dancer. But, as a thinker, doer and creator, Hamilton was in many ways a master marketer. Here are seven marketing tips from this brilliant man and Tony award winner:

1. Challenge the norm: Hamilton was a classic challenger. First is the fact he came from nothing in an era of limited upward mobility — bastard child, abandoned by his father, living on a poor Caribbean island without education — and ended up at the highest reaches of government and power. And then there was his very vocal opposition to the British rule, an unpopular position to take.

2. Be an innovator and experimenter: The “maker” culture and the idea of being “always in beta” may seem like new ideas, but Hamilton was a constant ideator who came up with and initiated the 1.0 of many great concepts. These included the U.S. Constitution, our national finance system (completely his idea, which he fought tooth and nail for), our U.S. Coast Guard and the New-York Evening Post.

3. Execute off of a defined vision and a core idea: Hamilton had a core belief that the United States needed a strong central government in order to deliver on the promise and opportunity of the young nation. He built his actions around that to demonstrate and advocate his point of view. Nearly every action, argument and proposal supported this and brought it to life. This is exactly what a good brand should do.

4. Create content to demonstrate your ideas: There’s no hotter current trend in marketing than content marketing. But Hamilton was all over this as early as 1774, with his anonymously published (“un-branded,” that is) essay supporting the colonial cause against the loyalists. In 1787, he initiated and wrote an overwhelming majority of the Federalist Papers — 85 articles and essays that supported a strong central government and defended the development and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. This content was so influential and effective, it not only swayed opinion of its time, it remains one of the foremost expositions on the Constitution. Wouldn’t any brand salivate for that kind of engagement? In addition, Hamilton was an early progenitor of the idea of creating “owned media” for the distribution of ideas, and he began his own “content hub,” the New-York Evening Post.

5. Solve your consumer’s problems: Hamilton didn’t just deliver pie-in-the-sky ideas or points of view, he recognized that, to get buy-in and engagement, he needed to wrap his thinking around the needs of his readers and “prospects.” For example, his creation of a naval police force in 1790 (universally recognized as the birth of the Coast Guard) was an action in response to the needs of shippers and ship employees.

6. Create a “tribe”: The idea that your brand should either create or tap into a tribe is a modern one. But Hamilton proposed a similar idea at the advent of our country. He recognized that for the United States and its government to succeed, Americans had to view themselves as national citizens, not just citizens of their home states. This idea slowly took hold – and soon U.S. tribalism became a reality along with the growth of the U.S. power.

7. Create mashups: Most people think mashups started in 2004 when DJ Danger Mouse combined Jay Z’s “The Black Album” with the Beatle’s “The White Album” into his seminal bootleg “The Grey Album.” But as a voracious reader and researcher, Hamilton created positions that were mashups of everything from Adam Smith and Montesquieu to Hume and Hobbes. His ideas leveraged “combinational creativity,” just as yours should.

In 1776, the stakes were much higher, yet innovation and creativity persevered. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers courageously forged the path we’re on today. They worked together, demonstrating the impossible is possible when you share a vision and believe in something strongly enough.

As Hamilton once said, “Real firmness is good for anything; strut is good for nothing.” This advice is as welcome today as during his time. So let’s all dispense with posture and superficiality and get on with the hard work of marketing and innovation. It’s what he’d want us to do.

Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily, July 1, 2016

5 Ways You’re Doing Mobile Wrong*

bad mobilestreetfight mag 2danger toxic There’s no denying we’re deep into the age of Mobility. Mobile phones are universal, and smart phone penetration has neared 70% of all mobile devices. More smart phones have been sold than desktops for years now. Online time on phones passed that of desktop over a year ago. And mobility has spawned tablets, phablets, and, now, “wearables”. It’s a constantly evolving and growing space for consumers and brands. And, finally, marketers have dove into mobile in a big way.

But here’s the thing: mobile marketing requires new ideas, new approaches and new use cases. What worked before with other media types won’t necessarily work on this completely different, more personal platform. So, if you’re like most marketers, you’re likely getting mobile wrong. Here are 5 reasons.

1) You’re treating the mobile screen as just another screen.
Yes, the phone has a screen. And people are viewing lots of the same things that they view on other screens, like email, search and video. But that doesn’t mean your brand can act exactly as it has on the TV or PC screen. Because consumer behavior, and their expectations, are fundamentally different on the mobile screen. The phone is a highly personal and unique device, and not simply an extension of the desktop that you happen to carry with you.

But so many marketers are simply using the approaches, images, and videos they are using in other channels and just applying across all mobile placements. That’s a recipe for failure (or at least weak performance). For best results, you have to design and optimize for the mobile screen and the mobile user experience, taking into account context, environment and user location.

2) You’re impeding people from doing what they want.
Interrupting consumers with advertising in exchange for free content in “lean-back” media became quid pro quo long ago. Plus, irrelevance and annoyance in these media can be easily ignored. But the interruption-based ad model is DOA on mobile. Interrupting someone from accessing the information or activities they want on the phone – e.g., interrupting access to the weather report; stopping someone before they can check the game score; disrupting an entertaining video from playing – is not ignorable. It’s deplorable. Instead, your brand needs to figure out how it can add to those experiences, not simply take advantage of them.

3) You’re selling, not adding value.
I’ve heard the smartphone called a “companion”, because it’s always by your side, constantly helping you. But for some reason, brands don’t feel like they need to follow suit. Marketers seem to view mobile just as a handset to “ping”, and forget there is a person holding it. But Brands do have an opportunity to participate in the “companion” model. When they go beyond simply selling, and provide value beyond their own products and services, they can gain trust and long-term loyalty.

4) You are focused on awareness and acquisition, but not on loyalty.
Marketers see the enormous scale of mobile and think about the top of the funnel. It’s easy now to buy hundreds of millions of aggregated impressions. But where mobile is most effective is in driving deeper engagement, conversions and loyalty of existing leads and customers. The ability to reach those who already have your app, those you have data on, and customers who can take an immediate action on your brand’s site or app allows marketers to grow their relationship with existing customers and to make them feel more personally connected to the brand. Two approaches that successfully do this are push notifications and location-aware/geo-fenced notifications, which have proven to be extremely good at driving leads down the funnel and increase usage, sales and loyalty of existing customers.

5) You’ve gone gaga over in-store beacons, but not about driving consumers to the store.
It’s been said that marketing loves it buzzwords and fads, and iBeacons are among the newest and buzziest. And there’s nothing wrong with that – iBeacon and BLE are great new ways to engage with and gain data on your customers in store. But don’t disregard technology and approaches that help drive your customers into your store in the first place, like geo-fenced notifications. These can be particularly valuable in targeting your customers, even at your competitor’s locations, and giving them reasons to come visit your location.

Mobile usage and mobile marketing have matured and grown over the past few years. For Consumers, it’s basically a mobile-first world, with mobile phone no longer the “third-screen”. So it’s time for marketers to shed the old approach, as well. As more and more money and activity moves into the mobile advertising ecosystem, marketers must move beyond the old status quo TV and digital models and start to think like consumers – mobile-first.

* Originally published in Street Fight e-magazine on April 14, 2015

What you DON’T do is as important as what you do*

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It being Academy Awards season, I thought it made sense to give the Oscar for best Marketing Effort of the year. And that would go, hands down, to CVS, for their decision to stop selling cigarettes in all their stores by October 2014. Saying that, “the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose”, CVS is removing cigarettes and tobacco products from all its stores – representing an annual loss of $2 billion in revenue from tobacco shoppers. Yep, that’s right – I said $2 BILLION. But this simple act solidified and clarified what the company does – “help people on their path to better health”, as their President and CEO stated. It doesn’t take a genius to see how cigarettes are in conflict with that goal.

Now, I’m not aware of any Oscar (or Addy, Clio, or Cannes Lion) being given out for what a brand or agency didn’t do, but I think maybe there should be. Because often in Business and marketing, it’s just as important what you DO NOT do as what you do. There are number of reasons this is so.

Firstly, there is nothing more important than clarity. Most companies have complex, 100-page strategies that allow for all kinds of activities and lots of interpretation. That might be fine for diversification, but it’s terrible for clarity of direction, purpose or meaning for consumers. And when consumers aren’t clear what you are about or stand for, forget about being anything but a commodity. As a drug store that sold all the stuff you find at any drug store, CVS was a commodity. But CVS now firmly differentiates itself as being in the healthcare business.

Nothing makes things more clear than contrast. In fact, there’s a concept in Neuroscience called the the “Contrast Principle”, which states that we understand something better when we see it in comparison to something else than in isolation. So when a company makes it clear what they will not do, that helps us understand what they do. For example, when Yorkie said it was “not for girls”, people knew they were a manly candy bar – maybe more so than if they had said whom they were meant for.

Strategy is about making choices. Strategy should not be arcane, academic or abstract. Being strategic is all about making choices about actions – those which you do and those which you won’t or don’t. Closing one action in favor of another requires the courage of conviction and confidence to abandon things, which provides a necessary focus internally at organizations, as well as providing clarity for consumers. Sure, it’s easy to be wishy-washy, to say “well, it’s ok if we do this thing or that thing, even if it’s not exactly on-strategy”. But that’s not the right thing to do.

Making Trade-offs. Here’s the thing about your strategy – no consumer ever sees it. They only see your brand’s actions and activities. So you need to line up your activities with your strategy – that’s where your competitive differentiation takes place. And showing that there are limits to your activities – customers you won’t serve, and activities you won’t do (as CVS decided) – is a critical part of your efforts. As Michael Porter says, the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

So let’s have a big hand for CVS this year as they walk down the red carpet. And here’s to hoping all your brands get their chances to win awards next year for what they stopped doing or refuse to do.

*Originally posted in TalentZoo on Friday, March 7, 2014

Expertise in Generalism – 6 reasons generalists are more important than specialists*

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More and more, the business world seems to be ruled by expertise. Subject matter experts. Vertical specialists. Domain authorities. Companies wage wars for sought-after technical mavens and so-called gurus. To advance in one’s career these days, one should naturally specialize. The days of the generalist are over, right?

Wrong. Because, as the world changes ever faster, and the challenge of connecting dozens of disparate pieces increases, it’s never been more important to be an amazing generalist. A connector, a hybrid, a cross-functional player.

So it’s time to sing the praises of the evolved generalist – the person who provides context, who facilitates and drives creativity, who raises everyone’s game, and is focused on the right outcomes.

A generalist understands CONTEXT, not just content
One way to think of a world of specialists, according to Vikram Mansharamani in an HBR post, is a world where everyone is studying bark. “Many have deeply studied its nooks, grooves, coloration, and texture. Few have developed the understanding that the bark is merely the outermost layer of a tree. Fewer still understand the tree is embedded in a forest”. All the specialist content in the world is meaningless without putting it in the proper context – and that context tends to be provided by generalists. A great generalist’s breadth of knowledge helps link new breakthroughs and technologies to existing ideas, providing a view of the forest for everyone.

Similarly, specialists tend to focus on what they’re domain does. But in a hyper-specialized world, you need people to pull it all together to make sense of things. The generalist sees the whole playing field – what the business context is, where you want to get to, and what all the relevant marketing levers are. Again, this helps a team see the totality of a program, how it all works together, and how to course-correct as it plays out.

Connections across subjects can be more important than subject-matter expertise
It’s generally understood that new ideas and innovation are the result of associative thinking – connecting two known but unlike ideas to create something new. Unfortunately, specialists tend to focus on their own subject areas and their own known approaches. They also tend to spend less time collaborating with people who aren’t like themselves – and may actively avoid this “clashing” or combining of ideas. But for great generalists, associative thinking is table-stakes.

Breadth vs. depth leads to more creativity
There’s no doubt that business, in general, and advertising, specifically, needs innovation and creativity – to differentiate brands, to engage with hard-to-reach consumers, to drive saliency, and to achieve virality, among other things. And it’s well accepted that innovation and creativity are driven by diversity of thought and experience. A wide variety of knowledge leads to new ways of looking at problems. Specialists often stay within their narrow band and apply formulaic solutions.

Generalists raise everyone’s game
While the specialist spends his time focusing on how his vertical area can help solve a problem, the generalist is helping everyone else leverage their individual knowledge and experience for the greater good. His or her basic knowledge about each expert’s area can help them question assumptions, iterate and build, and make the work better. In a sense, the generalist is a great conductor – not playing his own instrument, but getting the ensemble to play beautiful music together.

Knowing what you don’t know is important, too
In addition, a generalist is comfortable knowing what they don’t know – and this helps in a number of ways. It leads them to ask for help and points them towards the right resources or expertise, as needed. It means they aren’t subject to dogma or industry beliefs, so are open to question things. And it also means that a generalist is more comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction. Research has shown that generalists are better at predicting future outcomes, because they are less ideologically reliant on a single perspective.

Generalists are focused on the right goalposts
A generalist will be focused on overall business goals vs. any vertical or personal agenda. And they won’t care what tools, what technologies or what resources are used most or get the most credit – he or she simply wants overall success.

Today’s complex marketing and business world needs experts who know more and more about emerging technologies and the evolving landscape. At the same time, the complexity and silo-fication of the world is raising the bar for a new generation of great generalists. As the author Carter Phipps said, “it’s becoming increasingly valuable to know ‘a little bit about a lot’”. What do you think?

This article originally ran in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily 2/20/14

Want What You Have – and not what you think you want

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“It is better to want what you have than to have what you want” Philemon

When I was a youngster, people would always mention my wavy, curly hair. “I love your curls”. “I wish I had your hair”. “So jealous”. But I hated it. I wanted straight hair, not the wavy, “naturally curly hair” that everyone with straight hair seemed to want. (Now, of course, I’m just happy to have hair at all.)

This seems to be human nature. Short people want to be tall, brunettes want to be blonde, intellectuals want to be athletes. And I get it, when it comes to people. But with brands? Why do brands (and Brand Managers) seem to think it’s critical that they develop in all the areas that research tells them they don’t own, and match the attributes and characteristics of their competitors, instead of focusing on the areas they are already strong? In general, it just doesn’t work – and it’s suicide. Instead of striving to be what you’re not, be what you are instead.

  • Don’t dilute what you are in order to be all things to all people
    It’s like clock-work. A new Brand Manager takes over a brand and looks at equity research. He sees the “outages” the brand has on various category attributes and vows to put the brand’s resources to bear on correcting them. I’ve seen it a million times. For example, I once worked on Wish-Bone salad dressing. The brand was known as a bold, zesty italian-style brand – and owned those dimensions in the category. But it was weaker on attributes of “creaminess” and “all-family appeal”. So the company put emphasis on building its Ranch/creamy attributes, and did it’s best to tone-down the brand’s robustness. Ignoring that this is what made Wish-bone what it was – and was the only reason it existed in the world. The brand may have gained a few users, but lost it’s way.
  • It’s good to be clear about what you’re not
    Being happy with what you are also allows you to celebrate what you aren’t. In the Wish-Bone example, it would be ok to allow Hidden Valley Ranch and Kraft to own the “blander”, “creamier” stuff. It doesn’t mean that Wish-Bone shouldn’t offer those flavors – it’s just that they should deliver them in a Wish-Bone way. Pepper-corn Ranch, Chipotle Ranch, Zesty Ranch. Those make sense, coming from Wish-Bone.

    And brands can also make a statement by saying what they aren’t, or who they aren’t meant for. There’s the famous example of Yorkie chocolate bar – they didn’t just position themselves as a manly candy meant for men, instead they actively marketed themselves as “not for girls”. That’s a strong statement of “wanting what you have”. And this type of clarity and purpose is especially attractive to the type of people who are already interested in you.

  • Don’t think that merely claiming to be something you aren’t will suffice
    When you don’t have what you want, you may simply try to grab it or claim it. And, sure, it worked for Marlboro 60 years ago (Marlboro was a female-targeted product that simply proclaimed boldly that it was a manly product). But we all know that doesn’t work today. If you’re not authentically true to yourself, it’s easy for all to see. So, sorry, Tony the Tiger, but Frosted Flakes are NOT a healthy breakfast, try as you might. And Cheetos “Natural”? Nah.

Never forget how hard it is to be known for anything. So when you have something, celebrate it, don’t soften it. Don’t run from it. Instead, find a way to infuse what you are into everything you do. Demonstrate what you are and have everywhere. Because it’s dangerous to have what you want. Because it will end up being nothing.

To a Perfectly Imperfect 2014 – Why aiming for perfect is a terrible idea

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Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend” Ann Lamott

Back in my school days, I used to call myself “B+ Guy”. That’s because I believed that doing very well was important (FYI, my college GPA was 3.35 – a dead-on B+) – but that the amount of additional time and effort it took to move a B+ to an A was not a worthwhile investment. Better to understand the topic, dig into it and do very well, and then spend whatever time was left over on other things – other classes that needed the attention, other interests, or whatever.

Well, I’m pretty sure I was on to something, because I still basically believe it now. And in today’s new normal, this concept has never been more timely. Now, to be clear, this isn’t an acceptance of shoddy, half-thought-out work full of errors and laziness. And, yes, you’ve got to put in the requisite heaps of work and effort. But when it comes to new ideas, new work, innovation and launching things, a B+ is darn good. In fact, “good enough” is often a good enough place to start – or, as Facebook puts it (and plasters it all over there offices and press), “done is better than perfect”. It’s better to get off and running with something good… and begin learning and improving it, live.

Which is why I’m starting the year with a diatribe against perfection. It’s time to toss the idea of striving for perfection onto the scrap-heap, and move into a more nimble, iterative approach to building things. The problem is that the idea of being a “perfectionist” has a positive connotation to it – overachievers who are obsessed with quality and demanding of positive results. And organizations LOVE perfectionists. They work incredibly long and hard, they demand great results, they reduce errors and failures, and they drive others to do the same. What’s not to like, right? However, there’s a helluva difference between a healthy pursuit of excellence and a neurotic perfectionism. And I’m here to tell you that perfectionism is a negative, and actually gets in the way of productivity and happiness.

The benefits of killing your perfectionism are manifold:

You will do more:  As David Foster Wallace admonished, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.” Waiting for things to be perfect is a perfect recipe to stop moving forward, stop creating, stop doing things. Plus, no amount of perfectionism upfront can possibly prepare you for all the potential complexities and curves thrown at you in the real world – so better to get out there and address them live, as prepared as you can be. You’ll get much more benefit from launching than waiting – as General Patton said “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

You won’t miss opportunities or lose momentum: In the words of the software entrepreneur Roni Einav “I tell people that if they are looking for the perfect idea, for the perfect gap in technology, they will never get there.” In fact, even if you finally achieve what you consider “perfection”, it might be so late that you’ve lost your momentum and your competitive advantage. A perfect example is AT&T and cellular technology. Even though Bell Labs invented and received patents for cellular telephone technology as early as 1946, its demand for “perfection” in quality before making it commercially available led them to cede the industry to other players for years.

You will be willing to make mistakes (thus will learn and succeed more quickly): Perfectionism may protect you from making some mistakes – but those mistakes can also lead you to learnings that cause even greater breakthroughs. It’s more important to be willing to be wrong than to desire to right or perfect. And let’s remember, there are no “right” answers, anyway – especially in areas that demand creativity and innovation.

You’ll know when to let go: Since you’ll know that there is no such thing as perfect, you’ll understand that there will be a point where the work is good – and that more time controlling and perfecting it won’t make it better. You’ll know that no amount of pre-work can predict all possible real-world outcomes – so you’ll do the work that you can do, and be prepared to iterate and improvise afterwards. As the wife of jazz musician Carl Stormer said, “control is for beginners”.

You will recognize that the good and the great are NOT enemies: I’ve worked before with people who turn their nose up at “good” work, saying they demand greatness. But this is silly. Not only are the “good” and the “great” not enemies, but that they are good friends. The difference? “Good” just arrives on the scene earlier – and warms up the place for the “great”. It’s much easier to turn good into great in real life, than try to create great in a lab setting.

You will learn to trust and respect yourself and your partners: Like a jazz musician, you will rehearse what can be rehearsed – but know that you’re creating something new, which by definition has some spontaneity and improvisation to it. So you’ll need to respect the fact that you, and your teammates, all know what you’re doing – and trust each other as you go.

One interesting note: as Greg McKeown points out in his blog post “Today, just be average,” the word “perfect” has a Latin root, whose literal translation would be “made well”, “done thoroughly,” or “complete.” But today, we always use it to signify flawlessness. Let’s all make a new year’s resolution to take perfection back to it’s Latin roots – and eradicate modern perfectionism for the good of all.

Insight, Schminsight – What you’ve been calling an “insight” isn’t one

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US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said he could not define pornography, but he “knew it when he saw it”. That’s the way most people seem to think about insights. The problem is, they don’t get to see them very often. That’s because what parade around as insights, in most cases, aren’t. And that’s a problem.

Insights are the catalyst for nearly all marketing activity. Nearly everything is based on them, from business ideas to marketing strategies to activation. Without insights, most ideas remain superficial, bland or generic. So it’s natural that everyone in the business talks about insights. Go ahead and Google “Marketing Insights” and you’ll get 139,000,000 results. Every strategic brief has a “Key Insight”. All processes are said to be grounded in consumer insights. And every strategist promises to be expert at digging them up.

But the problem is, as I mentioned, they’re very likely to be anything but true consumer insights – instead being facts, observations, truths, learnings or any other such observable or known piece of data. Though data and facts are important, they are by no means insights.

Insights are important. They are springboards for the new, unique, creative. But that is the heart of the issue – true insights, too, need to say something new. That’s why the perfect response from hearing an insight is “a-ha”.  And that’s why one definition of insight is “seeing what others don’t”.

Some key aspects of true insights:

Tension
An insight likely won’t be matter-of-fact — instead it should feel challenging. Often insights shed light on a tension between what is perceived and what is reality (“While people think x, in reality y is true” or “people think they care about x, but instead behave y“). These can be powerful, because they help brands speak in a way that is closer to the real way consumers feel, vs. some expected category/manufacturer-speak.

A gap
Many times, an insight comes from something desired by people that they don’t have. Again, there is the tension that comes from perception vs. reality, or what is wished for vs. actually experienced.

A known thing seen in a new way
Sometimes an insight IS an observation or truth, but it’s flipped on its head. Or it’s connected to something else unexpected. For example, in the book “Seeing What Other’s Don’t“, Gary Klein describes a police officer on routine patrol who sees a driver in a new car flick his cigarette butt inside the car. Ordinarily, that might not be terribly noteworthy – but the combination of the cigarette flick and the fact that the car was a new BMW led the officer to arrest a car thief.

Or it could be something that is hidden “in plain sight”, in that it seems so patently obvious that it’s discarded or dismissed. In this case, the a-ha is something that makes you say “I can’t believe I didn’t notice that before”.

A creative thought
Insight means, literally, an “inward sight”. So, you’re not just observing externally, but looking inside your own mind for new ways to think about things. To do this right will likely require more than just researchers or strategists – it will require different folks with different skills and thought processes to dig into it.

And an insight takes work – you don’t just find one, as many think. You “craft” an insight. And they take time. So don’t expect to nail it in one short sitting.

It leads to something
This is a key part of an insight – an insight needs to lead somewhere. It should feel dynamic, electrically charged, and motivate action. It’s fresh-ness of spirit, it’s tension, and it’s creativity grounded in truth should make you want to do things with it. Create things. Build off of it.

And a true insight leads to change – it changes the way you understand things, see things, feel about them and how you understand. So a real insight changes you, too.

Ideas are a-dime-a-dozen. What are you going to DO with yours?

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As seen on TV, er, in TalentZoo, check out my newest article (also in its entirety below), on ideas – and what needs to happen AFTER you have a good one.  Without the hard work of distilling, developing, iterating, and “stratecuting” it, your idea doesn’t stand a chance of success. Would love to hear your examples, comments and rants below. And please share!

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I think most people would agree that ideas make the world go around. Ideas can move mountains, ideas are the lifeblood of business, and they’re worth their weight in gold. But what if I told you that ideas are over-rated. That we spend too much time rhapsodizing over them, perfecting them, and paying homage to them? Because, while ideas can be sexy and exciting and even amazing, they’re really a-dime-a-dozen. Who hasn’t had a good idea? And how often has that brilliant idea led to great success?

Ideas are really just a starting point – they’re part of the means to the end, but most definitely not an end in themselves. The key is what you do after having one. How you distill it, communicate it, develop and iterate it, and then get-it-done.  Here are some keys to successful ideas:

Don’t have just one

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have. Emile Chartier

People get attached to their ideas and stick to them like white on rice. They hold on tight and don’t let go. They refuse to question them, they defend them all costs, they resist input. They suffer from confirmation bias.  However, it’s critical that you be open to feedback, to evolution and iteration, and to conflict. Question your assumptions. Welcome tough questions. Invite opposing views. Not every idea is a home run, and not every one is great right out of the gate. But if you’ve only got one, you won’t allow yourself to think that way.

Ideas need to be shared

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Lee Iacocca

A good idea needs to be communicated – so simplification and conviction are key. Distill it down to its essence, make sure you can convey it, and demonstrate your passion.

And dispense with all the confidentiality, privacy, keeping others out. Ideas need transparency and input. Share early and often.

Ideas need followers

“A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.” Mary Kay Ash

I don’t care how unique or novel your idea is, if it doesn’t gather momentum and get people excited, it’s likely not going to work. It needs to spark something in others for it to be helpful. It needs to create acolytes, advocates, believers and dreamers.

Ideas require hard work

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” Thomas A. Edison

Having an idea is just the beginning of your work – what happens next is much more important. That is, the “stratecution” – the strategic and creative activation and execution of the idea. Without it, an idea is simply a theory or hypothesis. So an idea needs to begin to work through the who, what, how, when of the idea. The what-it-might-look-like, how it might begin, where it might be going.  What does success look like, how will we measure our performance, what results are we looking for? This process requires both dreamers and doers – those to figure out what the idea could be, and those who can make it a reality.

It’s been said that a great idea that is poorly executed fails, but a mediocre idea well executed succeeds at some level. This is true. For years, this was the hallmark of Proctor & Gamble‘s marketing. Average ideas, blasted out across every channel, connecting from top to bottom of the funnel, and driving across everything the brand did. Nothing anyone ever went “aha!” or “wow!” over; but always successfully making the cash register ring.  A brilliant idea has, no doubt, a multiplier effect on great execution – but it does not nor cannot substitute for it.

The most important part – Get ‘er done

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” Alfred North Whitehead

The final key to ideas is making them happen, with speed and iteration. Stop perfecting them and get them started. The devil is indeed in the details, so start developing them – and be open to adapting as you learn. You’re always better off starting and learning in the real world than waiting and trying to perfect what, in essence, is a hypothesis.

Ideas aren’t magic. Ideas aren’t silver bullets. And ideas can’t be walk-off homers. They’re a starting point for the real, hard work that it takes to be successful. So, what do you think of my idea?

The Dis-comfort Zone – Getting comfortable with discomfort

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Watching the fiscal cliff negotiations over the past few months has provided us many valuable lessons. One might be, you should never give old, white men something important to do over the holidays. Another – it’s probably not a successful strategy to say “go f- yourself” to your negotiation partner. But perhaps the most potent lesson we have learned is that, to get any progress in life, you have to get outside your comfort zone. Welcome to the Discomfort Zone!

Why do I say this? Isn’t everything in life about achieving and living in comfort? Finding your comfort zone is a potent human driver. It’s where you feel most competent and able. You feel your strongest sense of belonging. Things are predictable, and you’re prepared for whatever happens. And you’re happy to stay there. But our comfort zones hold us back. Because, in the comfort zone, learning, progress, and innovation tend to stop. Change doesn’t occur. We can end up hitting all kinds of cliffs and impasses, fiscal and otherwise. We just say “no”, and stay in our bubbles.

The truth is, we are all wired to shun discomfort. It’s, well, uncomfortable. It fills us with fear – of not “knowing” things, of looking dumb or inept, of making mistakes, of failure. We’re filled with doubt. It’s the opposite of our comfort zone. And that is painful – so we avoid it.

But we need the discomfort zone – to improve, develop and challenge ourselves and do new things. But how can we get comfortable with discomfort?

Don’t panic. It’s natural to feel anxiety in the Discomfort Zone. There’s the stress of not knowing what you’re doing and the fear of the unknown. But panic causes you to freeze up – which in turn negates the possibility of learning and growth. On top of that, the unpleasantness of panic will likely cause you to want to avoid it the future. It’s easy to say, I know, but instead, try to relax and let go.

Provide support. When working in a group, it’s important to make sure your team feels safe. Develop a culture of mutual respect and support. Make sure folks feel that mistakes are expected and blame won’t be an issue. And that everyone is in it together.

Don’t think only in terms of success vs. failure. If you only view things in this binary way, you will likely avoid failure like the plague – by always staying firmly in your comfort zone. But, as I’ve stated before, failure can be a very good thing… and it’s generally the precursor to success. So face uncertainty with the passion of a scientist – knowing that all results are good, and learning comes from any experience.

Recognize that not knowing is the norm.  No matter how much experience you have and how much expertise you’ve gathered, every situation is new. So, whether you realize it or not, you’re constantly confronted with ambiguity and uncertainty. So get used to it.

Get out of the bubble. Spend too much time in your comfort zone and you can lose perspective. You can start to get high on your own exhaust. That’s why it’s important to push yourself out of your own bubble every once in a while, in both small and large ways. Take a new route to work, read different magazines or websites, try to understand things from another perspective. And, above all else, question everything, especially yourself.

Be willing to fall on your face. The number one thing that keeps us from venturing out into uncomfortable places is the fear of looking stupid. Of making mistakes. Of having people laugh at us. But that’s got to be challenged. Do your best to not take yourself too seriously – it’s unlikely that we’re talking about life or death. And when others begin to laugh at you, join in – and be the loudest laugh of all.

I’m facing 2013 with a renewed passion to force myself into discomfort. It’s something I will need to practice, to consciously seek and push myself towards. But in the words of Peter McWilliams, “comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort”.

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