How did I get 6 months behind? Good question.
A Diversion of Attention
As you probably know, my attention recently has been elsewhere, going through books on a number of diverse subjects, but all touching on some central themes: Why we buy, why advertising and our consumer culture seemed to veer wildly offtrack somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, why we recommend certain brands, even evangelically, over others, and why some companies are much more successful than others at recognizing this and taking advantage of it. It’s been a fascinating journey that’s taken me through about 30 books in the past 6 or 7 months, covering brand strategies, neurology, psychology, sociology, corporate ethics and a handful of other diverse topics.
My promise to myself has been to average 40 pages read a day and so far I’ve managed to do it. Some days are harder than others. You can breeze through a Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell book. The pages almost turn themselves. But when you sit down with a book like Gerald Zaltman’s How Customers Think or Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error, you have to work pretty damn hard to get through your 40 pages a day. My TV watching has gone down the tube, but my timing was pretty good. Thanks to the writer’s strike, there’s nothing on anyway. Actually, my TV watching has switched to digging through several BBC series on the human body and human mind. It’s much better TV than Dancing with the Has Been, Washed Up Semi-Celebrities.
The In Box Shuffle
But back to my sorting through the e-box in-drawer. In those 3500 e-newsletters and alerts, most of which provide links to multiple columns and articles, I wanted to sort out the ones that talked strategically about marketing, including examples of good and bad brand strategies, attempts to really understand consumer behaviors and motivations, musings on the impact of the internet on our consumer society, etc. I was looking for those who were thinking about the big picture stuff. I ended up with about 450 that made the initial cut. Let me put that in perspective. 3500 emails, each with an average of 10 links to articles or features. That’s 35,000 potential sources for strategic thinking. And I ended up with about 450. That’s a hit ratio of 1.3%
The writers that continually show up with these types of columns? Max Kalehoff, Pete Blackshaw, Joseph Carrabis, Bryan Eisenberg and a handful of others. I’ve had a chance to talk or share emails with most of these and I know they all share my curiosity of all things human. I think that’s the key factor here.
The other 98.7%? Bite size pieces of industry news, quick “7 Things You Must Do to Supercharge Your XXXX Strategy” and “6 Easy Steps to XXXXX” and assorted tidbits. Easily digestible, promising a quick reward and instant gratification. My email inbox was filled with predigested spoonfuls of marketing sugar.
Don’t Spoil Your Supper
Now, obviously, there’s an appetite for this. And I think that’s the problem. As marketers, we’re always looking for the quick fixes and the instant tweaks. We’ve fallen victim to our own messaging. We’ve retrained our brains to think in 30 second bites. Anything longer than that, and our attention starts to drift. We’ve become consumers for quick marketing strategies. We have a voracious appetite for what’s new, what’s hot, what’s sexy, forgetting that at the end of the day, people will be people and we still are largely motivated by things that haven’t changed much in centuries. Sure, technology has changed dramatically, but everything only works if it can be filtered through our thick skulls.
Why do we do this? Well, again, it comes down to evolution. The human genome has evolved to be inherently lazy. As a species we exert less energy, so we were selected as the winners in the genetic lottery of life. The well rested will survive.
Stop Consuming and Start Thinking
But when it comes to marketing, there’s something fundamental happening right now that needs a deeper look than just your typical 7 Steps to Surefire Success. We need to muse longer and ask why more. It was eye opening to me lately when I was in a room full of 400 marketers and I asked them if they had ever heard the word satisficing. One person put up their hand. Satisficing is a key element to understanding consumer decision making. It’s not a new concept. It’s been around for almost 60 years. Heaven forbid I ask marketers how they think Damasio’s somatic marker theory might influence satisficing in consumer decisions.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for the quick fixes and the 7 Step lists. There is. I just think it shouldn’t make up 99% of marketing thinking. As one person who bucked the genetic trend and dared to take a deeper dive, I’m here to tell you it’s not easy, it’s not quick (probably into the hundreds of hours invested in the last 6 months) but it’s worth it.