Wrastlin’ for Eyeballs and Eardrums

“Afternoon everybody.”

“Norm!”

“How’s the world treating you Mr. Peterson?”

Then, we would wait… every Thursday night… at 9:00 PM… Channel 3… NBC.

What would Norm’s zinger be? 

What pithy, funny, unexpected thing would Norm Peterson bless us with tonight?

Those were the days: Appointment Television. 

We weren’t walking around with a supercomputer in our pocket. You know, the thing we call a phone? We waited. We couldn’t skip the ads. We couldn’t watch 26 episodes in a row. 

That would be 13 hours by the way. The folks at NBC would make 275 episodes of Cheers.

8,250 minutes of production and comedy.

If we did choose to “Stranger-Things-Binge” that entire run of shows, all eleven seasons, we would be sitting in front of a television (humor me, we didn’t consume stuff on our phones – they were plugged into a wall with a lit key punch pad) for 5.7 days straight. 

No sleep. No breaks. Almost six straight days of watching television. 

But now. Now, I can watch every Norm response in a compiled YouTube video in 18 minutes and 37 seconds. It’s mainlining Norm-isms as we all wait for the “it’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing milk bone underwear…” response. 

Slam Dunk, Normy. 

The purpose of sharing this memory? To share that we never left NBC for another channel at that time slot.

Never.

You did not change the channel. It was “must-see-tv.” My dad would yell at me if I did.

They hooked us with Cosby at 8:00 PM. Anchored us with Cheers at 9:00 PM. 120 minutes of prime time ad dollars overcharged to advertisers that didn’t know if their ads were even seen.  Oh, at 10:00 PM, I had to go to bed, because my parents watched Hill Street Blues and it was a little spicy back then. Hey, let’s be careful out there.” This one only takes 2:38.

Fast forward. 

Today, the content I loyally consume is delivered directly into my ears through Apple Podcasts. Why Apple Podcasts? Calling Al Reis and Jack Trout!

For me Apple Podcasts was first. The Power of Positioning.

It was the first place I listened to music on a device. So, it’s where I thought all podcasts lived. Don’t make fun. I also listen to Pandora, too. Now, it’s just a habit. 

A few months ago, one of the podcasts I listen to each day started piling in the ads. And, there was a Wonderly subscription service suddenly available. If I sunk a few bucks a month I could get early episodes and skip the ads. But, come on. It’s daily. No thanks. 

Eventually the locked content came unlocked. All good. No subscription needed. I’m fine. 

Patience Grasshopper.

But today. Today. Amazon pulled a Gene Kelly Dance Step. A Michael Jackson MoonWalk. They Doug Flutied Apple Podcasts. 

They got me to move. 

I am an Amazon Prime subscriber. Who’s not? Thanks, COVID. And my favorite podcast today said “Amazon Prime Members listen with no ads and get all the episodes early on Amazon Music!”

What? Heresy? I opened the app. All the episodes were unlocked. Hot diggity! Are you kidding? No additional subscription.

I now listen to podcasts on Amazon Music. Amazon is learning what I like, what I listen to, pairing that with what I buy, what I search and don’t purchase, what I skip, how I shop – and, I don’t care.

Really, before you tell me I sold my soul – I don’t care.

I changed the channel. The parallel, if Cheers moved to channel 7 or 11 back then – so would my eyeballs. 

So what? The difference today?

This move is so impressive because of the data collected. And, the fact there are many, many, many more channels than the three we had in Follansbee, West Virginia, in the late 1980s – it’s mind boggling.  

Each of those channels are fighting for our attention. Every minute of every listen, every show and every post, every search and every meme and every viral video. 

Who wins in this? We do. 

I used one subscription service (Amazon Prime) to get more of what I want. How I want it. When I want it. So, I’ll give them some data. 

They used content to add value to the Amazon Prime Subscription.

Good Content. Drives Audience. Produce It.

I just wanted to hear what the response was after everyone in that Boston bar would greet Norm. And, if Sam and Diane would ever get together. And, what silly thing Woody would say. And, what amazing factoid-truth-bomb Cliff the mail man would drop on us. 

“How’s the world treating ya’, Mr. Peterson?”

“Like a baby treats a …” – I won’t ruin it, watch the video.

Reality Bites … Hard 

But, we better accept it. Start there. Or, restart there. Stop. Start over. All that jazz.

There are 1,468,253 (a made up number) different things that may influence the outcomes we are driving with communications. Most, if not all of them, are out of our control. 

We have a choice: frustration, anger, or learning and restarting?

Ouch! It hurts when that program, that tactic, that strategy, that position just does not work. 

Or, ironically, when the marketing killed the program because the marketing worked, but the product or service sucks. 

Or, there is an underlying anchor. Like Rosser Reeves uncovered in competitive research the Ted Bates agency used in the 1950s to understand how markets and customers responded to advertising. Reeves found there was a group of people that used a product they had never seen an ad for. 

It was also revealed in some cases advertising – drove people away from the product.

Yikes! That’s not what we were trying to do. 

Unless you live under a rock – you know that outstanding marketing can also decimate an inferior product or service. We get people to show up and the service interface stinks, the product tastes bad or the connection doesn’t work.

“We need a re-Brand,” they exclaim. “No, we need to face reality and fix it!” 

Fix the product. Fix the positioning – or, fire ourselves. 

Too often and this is a hard pill to swallow. We are too invested in the idea. The campaign. The prestige and the beauty of the marketing. 

Imagine if we could be humble. 

What if the gauges we are looking at are not calibrated for today’s reality? What adjustments have we made for the sledgehammer that has changed the way people look at most things: need vs. want, safe vs. threat, wellness vs. achievement, normal vs. pre-pandemic and current?

Things are different. They just are. Reality is unforgiving.

Admitting we may be wrong today or need to change our minds, our path and facing a new reality is strength. 

There shouldn’t be a victim for learning. 

And, depending on what is at stake – calibrating to a tempo to face that reality is important. 

Life-saving, even.

Pick Your Punishment and Giddyap!

There is an old story of a fella named Sisyphus. He cheated death. Then a pretty important figure, Zeus, required Sisyphus to roll a boulder up a mountain for all of eternity. 

Over and over and over. Up the steep hill. No end in sight. Forever … Zoinks.      

As we sit in the reality of a pandemic. And, the world seems to be waking up and trying to be what it was against that raging force. It can, if we let it, feel like that. Neverending.

Those of us in marketing and communications are in quite a pickle: the learning curve to understand consumer behavior has taken on a faster, newer, steeper, more complicated arc.

When approaching the problems we are attempting to solve, unless we continue learning, practicing and accepting the reality of what we are dealing with – it’s going to feel steep, useless, hopeless, scary. Like ole’ Sisyphus and that boulder.

What we used to be able to study, learn from and attempt to understand has decided to change, buck, modify itself and evolve even faster than it did pre-pandemic.  

The pace of learning, the fragmentation of media, the barriers that spring up are presenting themselves more intensely and more often than friggin’ ever.

As employees, we have new expectations. 

As managers, our communication styles and clarity has to be at an all-time high. 

As those that own or are managing a business, rules: they are changing faster than ever. 

Actually, maybe the rules are just gone. 

Murky, Wicked Problems. Complicated, Sticky Wickets. 

So, as we are invited to the table again. To solve the problem that has just presented itself. To distill and convey a strategy using the art and science of marketing. 

We are going to need to be stronger, more committed and more adept at accepting current reality. And, figuring out what works. 

I know. That’s what we always have done. 

But, today it seems more intense. Like climbing up on a Wild Stallion. The stakes are higher. The profession of communication is more difficult. The problems are more complicated. 

Is it an evolution or a devolution? Who knows.

Consider this: what fun this could be if we decide to go all in. If we agree to learn. If we refuse to go negative. If we embrace what is and work that sticky, wicked, murky problem.

Really, work it.

Like before getting up on that horse. Understanding what we can control and what we cannot. Working with that strength, that challenge, that power and accepting it’s gonna be a rough ride. 

Instead, say today – we ‘get to ride.’

What if before we get up there? We prepare. 

Prepare. Practice. Then, jump up. Hold on. Give that steed a little kick and say, ‘Giddyap!’ 

Instead of choosing to push the boulder. What if we choose to ride the chaos? Use its strength against itself. Be resilient. Start new each day. Wear it out. Choose to outlast it.  

Do the best we can with what we have. And, work the problem. Each day. 

We can figure it out. I’m confident we can.

Searching for the Hockey Stick Effect

You know – the one that happens after you launch the marketing campaign.

That line that changes direction and shoots up – dramatically.

Past the natural sales and engagement curve.

Because we followed the Rainmaker Process. We were persistent. Stubborn.

Tested our concepts. Based them on research. Created alignment.

Reach. Frequency. Trust. Funnel Management.

Then we were tenacious – and all of the sudden – you are very, very busy closing deals.

How We Eat – recommend…

This book brings things you see everyday and do not notice – to your awareness.

It shows the power of observation and thinking and questioning.

Ideas abound. Innovations are woven throughout it.

When I read a Paco Underhill book – I cannot help but take notes and have ideas that help me understand my own behaviors and it oftentimes uncovers opportunities that I overlook.

COVID-19: Positioning and the Battle for Your Mind

Marketers Al Reis and Jack Trout wrote the human brain only has room for one dominant position for any one topic.

Food or Poison. Pain or Comfort. Friend or Foe.

Pause for a moment. Answer these questions and say your answers out loud, please:

  1. Name a fizzy, dark soda?
  2. What’s the safest automobile?
  3. Your favorite college sports team?
  4. The sweetest fruit?
  5. Best laundry detergent?

When we are done here, call a friend or relative. Ask them the same questions.

How different we all are.

Let’s try another set:

6.‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative’ values?

7. Stonewall Jackson Statue: remove or keep?

8. ‘Open Carry’ or ‘Why do you need a gun’?

9. ‘Mask’ or ‘No Mask’?

10. ‘Vaccine’ or ‘Hell No’?

Questions 1 thru 8: they take time to unfold. They are not immediate cause and effect actors on your health. You can live to fight another day if forced to drink Coke instead of Pepsi.

The problem with question 9 and 10: one answer mitigates your risk of death. The other may accelerate it dramatically. 

The decision to get vaccinated or not was made well before COVID closed our borders, wrecked our economy, and tragically stole our friends and family from us.

Our brain decided our position before the pandemic decimated our health care system, highlighted the extreme importance of sound leadership, and showed the value of government in protecting public health. Tragically, the die was cast before this monster drove our communities further apart than was thought imaginable.

When George Washington, in 1777, made the decision to mandate inoculations so Smallpox would not kill our army as our country was being created. We had these same conversations.

To get jabbed or not was decided well before our elders ran to the front lines to protect themselves and their communities from polio, measles, and mumps.

Pause and consider this: the Sages of advertising, public relations, and communication research have developed the art and science of marketing to find ways to stake out a position in our minds.

Positions so strong that we will die on a hill for our preferred Brand or team: Chevy or Ford, Coke or Pepsi, Cowboys or Steelers. We have fights over Thanksgiving Dinner that fragment our families over political parties and sports teams. Look at us.

Brands are called Brands because they were originally the way cattle farmers kept track of their steer. A hot iron, an unmistakable mark, seared into the side of an animal hide. Can you hear it?

In 1981 before the barrage of social media, Al Reis and Jack Trout wrote the book “Positioning.” They believed our brains were under attack by messages then.We faced an onslaught of messaging trying to stake out a place in our minds. To win. To become the preferred brand of choice. Now, we have more attacks on our awareness. Dramatically more. Algorithmically, digitally, dopamine-based, exponentially – more.

As much as we want to position ourselves and our intellect above all else: the human brain is very basic. We want to live. So, our brain is wired to choose, learn, and not forget.

Our beliefs regarding other things are influencing our decision to be jabbed today.

Today, I do not have an answer or a recommendation on the next step towards improved public health.

How do we close the gap? How do we create ‘Trust’ again?

Until then. Until we figure that out. Here is my request: ask a medical professional you trusted before the pandemic with your health how to avoid COVID.

The reality I see and hear is that we don’t want COVID. Let’s avoid COVID until we all know more.

So please, ask a medical professional you trusted before the pandemic with your health how to avoid COVID.

Writing is …

not easy

fun

nonexistent, if you don’t write

something that takes commitment

impacted by what else is going on in your life

….. so, obviously, I need to get back to my process.

‘Cause – I have not written here in months.

The problem: we have too much information

“Warning, Will Robinson!!! Go on … look it up if you don’t know.

Data is so important in the creative process.

This Art and Science exercise we go through as marketers is painful.

The danger?

Getting toooooooo deep. Tooooooooooo much.

Toooooooooooooooooo S.P.E.C.I.F.I.C.

At some point, you need to act and stop analyzing.

Find the right outcomes to monitor that our communication efforts can actually drive.

As fragmented as media has become – you have to find the sweet spot – the place you get the high returns for the time and money invested.

Sure, we can hyper-focus on a specific age, location, sentiment, living condition, income, lifestyle … then you look back and your return was X +.0023%. Blah!

Broaden the target, refine the specific action and the strategy returns a result of X +125%. Yippie!

Sometimes, I feel we can’t tell if we really can drive some desired outcomes. There are too many factors at play regardless of how targeted we can be with our messaging.

There has to be a predisposition for a ‘hockey stick response’ return to occur.

Yep, we targeted the beejeezus out of them. But, should we?

Because the return on our time, money and effort just wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Be smart, intentional and informed. Test. Decide based on data – but, don’t be a slave to it.

You’ll miss the opportunity.

The Work : asking pesky questions?

But hold on …. I don’t want the answer in this meeting.

Asking pesky questions and not expecting answers. That’s the topic of our meeting today.

There is absolutely no way you can gather a cross functional group, ask the right questions to put you on a path to solving the problem and have the answer come out of that first meeting.

I am probably not being clear.

Say you get a request for Branding. Or, a logo. Possibly, a marketing plan.

The meeting is called: operations, product, the consultant, you, the director, your staff – all in the room.

Then, it begins.

You ask the pesky question: why?

You ask another: and success looks like?

And all Hades breaks loose. You better have someone taking notes.

Then, what is funny, I think most of the time the leaders think the answer will magically appear in that meeting.

It seldom does. Heck, for me, it never has.

Marketing is an Art and a Science.

If it was easy – you wouldn’t need that meeting to begin the process of solving the problem; for imagining success; for laying the groundwork; for the thinking that will help you build the strategy to get to the solution.

So, when you have those first meetings. When everyone is excited to do the “marketing.”

Set the expectation at the beginning: This is not that.

Tell them they aren’t leaving this half hour meeting with a communication plan.

Tell them you and your team need time to think.

Set the next meeting for review and validation of what your come up with – but, for goodness sakes don’t leave there with the phrase, or the tactic, or the color scheme … it’s just not the right time for that.

Why?

Because you end up with inferior blather. Things are left out, overlooked, missed and not thought through.

You don’t solve the problem that way.

So don’t let it happen, again.

Work Backwards from the Magic

I heard James Clear say this on a podcast just now.

Well, I didn’t know that’s what Marketers should do.

But, it’s what I have been doing for the past decade or so. Maybe my entire career.

What a great statement.

Our job is to look up. Look ahead. Prepare for the worst.

Get ready for what’s coming.

Figure out how to take advantage of the natural curve and push it higher. Attract and inform the margins to get more customers.

Create Zealots. Overcome objections with the art and science of communication.

Starting at the end and working backwards helps you Solve the Problem.

You cannot create a timeless platform or engage an audience if you have not figured out what success looks like before you start.

Everyone is not your customer. Visualize success.

Then build the plans and strategies to make that success happen.

Watch that Big Reveal in your Mind’s Eye – then create the show. Backwards.

Magic People!!