Archive for February, 2011

Marketing to the human mind

What if everything you did was based on a premise that you later learned was wrong?

Well, that’s how I’ve been feeling about marketing since I finished reading a book about the human mind.  I thought, “wow, that really changes how I understand the ways our minds work.”

And then it struck me: If marketing is “the battle for your mind” then we better have the right model of the how the mind works. But all of the marketing books, from “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” onward are based on an out-of-date model of our minds.

In other words, marketing has been waging a battle with a wrong map of the battlefield!

Here’s something to think about.  In the “Mind’s Eye”, the neurologist Oliver Sacks shares many stories that demonstrate the plasticity of the human brain.  By this he means that we use many different areas of our brains for even the most simple task.  This is the new model for our minds.

In the old model each part of the brain was hard-wired to specific tasks such as memory, taste, sight and so on.  That’s the battle plan of Positioning.

Oliver Sacks shares many examples of how in the last 20 years there has been a gigantic leap in our understanding of how our minds work.  New technologies such as the fMRI (functional MRI) make it possible to watch the insides of our minds as we react to pictures, words, movies, ads, sounds, scents.  This technology suddenly made it possible to follow what happens inside of our heads over time.   There is a tremendous amount of activity when we hear music we love, a photograph of close family members, or even go into the supermarket to buy food.   Much of this activity in our minds happens below the level of conscious perception for most people — and profoundly influences our behaviors.  Our memories change.  Our  “knowledge” changes.  Perception in our minds is like an explosion of fireworks filling the sky.

Sacks shows how old model no longer fits the actual evidence of how the brain works in the real world.  This new evidence is leading neurologists and cognitive neuroscientists to reinvent their understanding of how our mind works.  From a hard-wired model to a plasticity model.

Damn!  Marketing is using the wrong map of the battlefield (assuming we are still waging war for people’s minds).

If we reinvent our understanding of our minds, then we need to reinvent marketing.

Wow, Oliver Sacks really opened up my eyes.  Metaphorically speaking.


Happy 75th to the ARF!

What is old is what is new again!

Imagine the world of advertising where new forms of media are being invented; advertisers have no commonly accepted way to measure the effectiveness of their communications; people have more places that they can encounter advertising at home and away.

That’s right — imagine the 1930s and 1940s.  Radio, talking pictures, an explosion of magazines and the birth of television.

2011 is the 75th anniversary of the founding of The Advertising Research Foundation.

1936 — seems like just yesterday — the ANA and the 4As co-created a new organization dedicated to improving advertising effectiveness with the skills and techniques of market research.

Last Friday was the Founders Luncheon, one milestone in this milestone year, where many of the leaders of advertisers, advertising agencies, media and market research gathered together to toast the success of the ARF.

The work that the ARF is doing is essential.

The internet, mobile media, digital media — the opportunities for advertisers are multiplying, outrunning the ability of advertisers to evaluate them.  How do you measure the effectiveness of an ad when I’m reading The New York Times app on my iPad?  How do you track the way I follow a brand from print to tv to online to retail to my mobile phone to online again?  After all, that’s how I buy almost everything these days, in a non-linear plunge through media that completely up-ends the traditional Awareness Interest Desire and Action model.  The ARF has been a gathering place for the most inquisitive, practical and forward-looking people who are working together to discover answers to those questions and more.

If you are interested in the future of marketing, then you can’t go wrong by attending the next milestone of the ARF — the Re:Think conference this coming March.

Re:think 2011

When J.D. Salinger was all the rage

Reading the book review section of the NY Times yesterday was like time travel.  I had just begun reading the front page piece about J.D. Salinger and bam, I was right back in 1985, meeting face to face with  J.D. Salinger.   It was a life changing event for this writer as a young person.

New York Times book review

In the early 1980s I was getting my MFA in creative writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and working at various jobs in publishing along the way.  In 1984 and 1985 I worked at Harold Ober Associates, an extraordinarily distinguished literary agency. My job was as assistant to Claire Smith, for whom I read manuscripts, tracked submissions, typed letters from a dictaphone onto triplicate carbon pages and the general associate duties.  The agency was headed by the incomparable Dorothy Olding McKeown.

It was quite a special place, a cross between The Old Curiosity Shop and a book party of the most amazing 20th Century fiction writers — Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas and J.D. Salinger.  Harold Ober was synonymous with The New Yorker, Knopf and the Scribners of Maxwell Perkins.  And grande dame of it all was Dorothy Olding.

During that time it was Miss Olding’s 75th birthday.  “Miss Olding” (never “Ms. Olding” but not infrequently
Mrs. McKeown”) inspired awe.  In her 70s she came to work every day in perfect dresses and high heels, an aura of glamour.  She was formal but not distant.  Respected yes but more importantly everyone loved her.  Even the most difficult of authors were under her spell.

To celebrate the big occasion, the other agents  at Harold Ober hatched a plan to surprise Miss Olding with a fabulous birthday dinner at Perigord Park.  They secretly invited with all of her authors, favorite editors and associates from around the world, including J.D. Salinger.

While it was going to be Miss Olding’s big day, it held special meaning to me.  In my imagination I was going to be at the world’s greatest literary gathering where I would steal a moment for a small heart-to-heart conversation with J.D. Salinger, writer-to-writer.  Oh, truth be told, I fantasized that our conversation would make such an impression that Jerry (yes, we’d be on a first name basis) would ask to see some of my stories.

In early April a letter from Salinger arrived declining the dinner invitation.  He wrote that being the congenitally poor mixer that he was, he would rather toast to Dorothy at a table for, say, two for lunch or breakfast on the historical 12th (the 12th being, of course, Miss Olding’s actual birthday).  In an ironic aside he assured the party plotters that if anybody let the cat out of the bag about the surprise party, it wouldn’t be him.

I was crushed.

My dream of meeting Salinger evaporated.  Gone.  Now that he and Miss Olding were going to have an intimate lunch for two at the Waldorf, I’d have no opportunity to draw him into a conversation that would lead to his invitation to read some of my stories.

But not all was lost.  It turns out that J.D. Salinger was coming to the office to pick her up.

A gentle tip-off from C.T. about the actual timing of Salinger arrival and a minor pretense were all that was necessary to bring   me into the reception area just as he was coming into the office.

There he was, the real him.  Standing in the reception area, he didn’t look like a recluse or a hermit or anything other than a pleasant, rather tall fellow, getting a little hard of hearing.   I shook his hand, said hello, and went back to my desk.  I had just met J.D. Salinger.  A life changing meeting.

The big birthday party was the next night.  Can’t say I remember much of that — Belva Plain, Ira Levin, dozens of others, they were all a mere shadows compared to meeting Salinger.  The next morning I came into the office, waiting for my life to be changed.  And the next after that.  A few weeks after the historic meeting with J.D. Salinger, the turning point in my young writing life…well…nothing happened.  At night I worked on my fiction writing.  And each day I went to work and came home unpublished and unfamous.

Later that year, I left Harold Ober Associates.  It was a fabulous place, filled with very wonderful people.  I learned much there about publishing, about people, about J.D. Salinger and even about myself.  I came to the understanding that I could be a writer without working in publishing.  By then I had a literary agent of my own and was beginning to have stories published in Runner’s World and some literary journals.

At the end of the summer I took a job at one of the largest advertising agencies of the time, Ted Bates.  I became like one of those advertising men who monopolize the phone lines in Salinger’s story, A Good Day for Bananafish.

What’s in a name – or – To Crumbs or not to Crumbs, that is the trademark

My life was transformed when the Crumbs cupcake shop opened on Amsterdam Avenue, in New York City’s upper west side back in 2002 or 2003.  If you haven’t been to Crumbs, you may have heard of them because of their January announcement of an IPO in the works.  It is expected that they will raise $100 million.

NPR proclaims “We were in the middle of a cupcake bubble of historic proportions”

But that is not the point of this post.  This is about the magic of memory and the importance of trademarks.

When I first found Crumbs, I was hooked.  Here was a magical place where you could buy oversized Hostess cupcakes, Reeses’ peanut butter cup cupcakes, Oreo cupcakes, M&M cupcakes, Devil Dog cupcakes.   I was smitten.

Crumbs website

Soon Crumps opened up in other locations across the city.  One location is near our office, which immediately transformed the birthday celebrations we have here.  Sure there was Magnolia Bakery, Buttercup Cupcakes and others.  They had their own pleasures.  But none came close to Crumbs in recreating the sheer joy of the junk food of my childhood.  It’s been decades since I had a real Hostess cupcake.

About a year and a half ago I noticed a change in Crumbs.  They didn’t have my favorite, the Devil Dog cupcakes.  Oh, sure, they had them but suddenly they had a different name.  And the Hostess cupcake was suddenly renamed “Squiggles”.  I was confused.  So I asked the person behind the counter about the disappearance of my favorites.

Turns out that they had received some letters from Hostess and other companies about trademark infringement.  Oops!

So the question I was left pondering was, does a squiggle cupcake taste different from a Hostess cupcake?  Do my expectations of the experience change if it is not connected to my memories of eating a Devil Dog on the way home from school?  Sadly, I think yes.  The story that I told my daughter about Devil Dogs, Yodels and Ring Dings didn’t have quite the same impact when I had to explain what a Devil Dog is.

Squiggle vs. Hostess

Life changes.  Crumbs moved from their original storefront into a big new building up the street, right below the Equinox fitness center.  The store is bigger, better lighted.  But when I asked the the Devil Dog cupcake, they knew I wanted the Devil’s Food cupcake.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the SuperBowl

I feel like I’m watching the Auto Show being interrupted by snippets of football.

Who’s winning?  BMW?  Kia?  Chevy?  VW?

Social media is too important to leave to the marketing department.

B2B and MediaBistro both covered our NYAMA event on brand reputations and social media, held on January 20th.

Here are my additional observations, to round out their coverage:

1.  Social media’s relationship to a brand crisis can be like putting out fire with gasoline.   It accelerates everything.

A potent example can be seen on the streets of Cairo.  Social media didn’t create the underlying problems but it almost certainly has shaped the narrative and contributed to the scale and visibility of the protests.  The Egyptian government’s blocking of the internet had the effect of further magnifying the situation.

I don’t mean to trivialize the situation in Egypt by comparing it to branding.

2.   You can’t confine social media to the marketing department.  Or, more to the point, you can no longer operate companies with silos between marketing the rest of the organization.

Jenny Dervin shared how JetBlue now has a whole team monitoring and managing social media around the clock in a space that resembles nothing less than ESPN’s SportsCenter.  Previously all of this was handled by one individual who, as you can imagine, had precious few hours of uninterrupted sleep for more than a year.

3. There is no social media rulebook.  Everything will continue to evolve in ways that are not always predictable.

For that reason companies need to invest the resources in developing the necessary skills.

And for the same reason, companies need to be open about reinventing their marketing framework for a world that demands greater flexibility.  Here is where the skills of journalism come in handy.  Companies need to develop the competencies of narrative, like a great journalist.

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