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Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Not to Preach to the Choir

I recently published a post on cognitive conservatism and the climate change debate over at one of our other blogs. It got me thinking about the topic of cognitive dissonance in general.

Whereas cognitive conservatism is "People's tendency to retain their beliefs, intellectual as well as religious, in the face of what strike other people as conclusively refuting arguments or clearly disconfirming evidence" (Barbara Herrnstein Smith), cognitive dissonance describes the feeling of discomfort we feel during that confrontation between belief and evidence.

I frequently run in to both among marketing professionals. In general, people prefer having their personal prejudices confirmed over authentic analysis.

Now, cognitive dissonance can be a valuable teaching tool, because when a student overcomes the initial belief set by accepting the incontrovertible evidence, the lesson is generally well learned and has a significant impact.

However, cognitive dissonance only has this beneficial effect on the open-minded. Cognitive conservatism, like Douglas Adams' peril-sensitive sunglasses, blocks rational consideration of empirical evidence. Climate change deniers, for example, may counter hard scientific data with an anecdote about the weather. Phew! Cognitive dissonance averted!

Why is it that we tend to believe anecdotal evidence, often in the face of overhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? Michael Shermer, Scientific American:
"The recent medical controversy over whether vaccinations cause autism reveals a habit of human cognition -- thinking anecdotally comes naturally, whereas thinking scientifically does not."
As James Lovelock says, our brains are belief machines. We form beliefs based on anecdotes quite readily, and those beliefs often remain unshaken despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That is the power of narrative. It's also the power of conspiracy theory, and also how charismatic leaders have led us astray throughout history.

The reason that narrative has such power is that we make connections instinctively as a product of millennia of experience in the natural world. We create "false positives" (the belief that A and B are connected) from anecdotal evidence.

This mental habit has held us in good stead, because false positives, at least at the personal level, are usually harmless. If you hear a sound (A) outside your cave, and you associate that sound with (B) a sabre-toothed tiger, then this association acts to preserve your life, even if not true on each occasion you hear the sound. A false negative, believing that sound (A) is not a sabre-toothed tiger when it actually is, will likely result in your departure from the gene pool.

Scientific method, on the other hand, has been around for only a few hundreds of years. But if we're going to treat sales and marketing as sciences (which is what lean marketing proposes), we their practitioners must draw on more than just anecdotal evidence. We need to draw on human experience, tell a story, have a conversation with our customers, but we also need to use scientific method to measure our efforts and improve them continuously.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received in my life came from an old Steelworkers Union labour negotiator. He said to me: "Never believe your own bullshit."

Or in the words of the ancient proverb: "Trust in Allah, but tie your camels."

The point is that we need narrative to overcome both cognitive dissonance and cognitive conservatism, but we have to back it up with science, and more particularly, with scientific method.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mr. CEO: Tear Down These Silos

I frequently meet with executives who think their organizations epitomize lean thinking. However, upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that the implementation of lean thinking applies only to operational functions within the organization. Design is lean. Manufacturing is lean. But what of all the other corporate functions?

Business as usual

A company that adopts lean principles in its design and manufacturing will not be a truly lean organization until it adopts lean principles across all corporate functions, including sales and marketing. In a lean organization, every executive, manager and employee is a stakeholder. Each represents the company. All should speak as one when it comes to describing the company, its mission, and its competitive advantage.

When it's business as usual, corporate functions are silos with limited intercommunication, speaking different languages.

The time is past when companies can afford adversarial relations between marketing and engineering, or between marketing and sales. In a lean organization, we are all marketers and salespeople, and insofar as we use real data and scientific method to achieve predictable results, we are all engineers. We are all engineering the success of our organization.

It may be the role of marketing to formulate the company's message, but the content needed to find, win and keep customers must come from those who design, build, sell, implement and maintain the company's products and services. They need a common language.

Lean is the common language. Any stakeholder from any department can ask the basic lean question of any other stakeholder: how does a proposed course of action take us closer to realizing our strategic objectives? If that course of action was developed using lean thinking, the stakeholder will have an answer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Conversation with Your Customers

With the advent of the Internet and various social media, marketing has become a conversation with your customers. Back in 2000, The Cluetrain Manifesto made it clear that marketers would not succeed in the Internet future without major retooling.

What does this mean? Well, put yourself in the place of your customers: If you want to talk to a vendor about buying products or services, do you call their marketing department?
No, because you don't want to hear how the product slices and dices and does everything but walk your dog.

Do you want to talk to a salesperson? Maybe, but only if you already have the information you need to make an informed buying decision and simply want to negotiate.

So, if you don't yet have enough information to make up your mind, who do you want to talk to? If you're a technical person looking for a technical product or solution, you probably want to talk to one of the vendor's technical people. You want a peer-to-peer conversation with someone who understands their technology and your needs.

If an informed customer is your best friend, then the curiosity of your customers is your best sales tool. Help them help you. Make the information they need accessible, authoritative, concise and complete.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"All Mouth and No Trousers"

I just ran across this phrase in BNET's coverage of the 2010 Super Bowl ads. It's a British expression that approximates the more common (in North America) "all talk and no action," and BNET used it to describe one of the ads that aired, and the failure of public reaction to live up to the ad's pre-game hype. In other words, the ad was a bust.

How did they figure that out so quickly? Enter Internet technology and social media.
Brand Bowl 2010 was created to measure viewer reaction via the "Twittersphere."

Before you get too excited about a new age of accountability in old media advertising, consider this stat from BNET: "
while the dollar cost of an ad on the Super Bowl has increased more than 6,900 percent, the effective per-viewer cost has tripled since 1984."

So, in 1984, when 85.5 million people watched the Chicago Bears beat the New England Patriots, a 30-second ad cost $525,000, or roughly 1 cent per set of eyeballs. This year, as approximately 90 million viewers (the "Who Dat" nation) watched the Saints trounce the Colts, a 30-second ad cost about $3 million, or roughly 3 cents per viewer. However, to really make an effective impression, the big brands had to run multiple spots. Doritos, for example, ran at least three different spots.

For the rest of us, who do not have a $9 million advertising budget on any given Sunday, the medium is definitely all mouth and no trousers.

And now for my favorite ad:

The reading glasses hanging from his t-shirt -- great touch.

(Full disclosure: I am a life-long Packers fan, and remain a Brett Favre fan.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ascent - Opportunity Meets Planning, Dedication and Determination

A year ago, my nephew climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, with the assistance of professional guides, and after months of conditioning work with a personal trainer. His stories upon his return were fascinating, but what impressed me most was the planning, dedication and determination with which he pursued his dream.

Dreams are just dreams unless you apply all of your physical, mental and financial resources to achieve them. An inspirational message for dire economic times.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day - Business as Usual?

Ever since Harold Ramis and Bill Murray got together in 1993 to make Groundhog Day, the day has taken on added cultural significance. This day has always marked the dead of winter, and the hope of spring, but it's also now a reminder of how we can get stuck in a rut, repeating the same old rituals day in and day out, business as usual.

And of course, there's the definition of insanity: repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting a different result.

Well, business as usual isn't good enough any more -- not in this economic climate. If you don't pursue new business aggressively and efficiently, you too can experience Groundhog Day every day, just like Bill Murray did.

Lean marketing requires you to examine the processes by which you aim to achieve your sales & marketing objectives. When you analyze processes, you can make continuous improvements, and achieve more sales opportunities at a lower cost, and thus more profitable revenue, improving both your top and your bottom line.