Thursday, October 29, 2009

Intuition Trumps Statistics

Intuition is real. Statistics are not. It’s become quite a popular practice to spew statistics through the blogosphere and on Twitter. And there’s not a client out there that doesn’t salivate when we present a good statistic (or twelve) in our Keynote. But I don’t trust a single one. Give me a statistic and I’m sure I can shoot a hole in it.

Most research is constructed. Because it’s a human product, research is controlled by opinion – usually the opinion of the guy who created the questions or poll.

Once the “data” is collected it can then be manipulated to reflect any number of your dreams or desires. I once was on the phone for more than two days with a Wall Street Journal Reporter who literally took numbers from a very popular large survey I was responsible for delivering to the media and manipulated them in such a twisted, perverted way, making impossible leaps that would shame even the most fearless free runner, to make her “compelling” point. The statistics she created were used for more than five years in various spin-off articles on the subject. Every time I would see another article I would wince and shake my head in amazement. It’s the Journal and they’ve got numbers – yes, that’s the word of God.

And then I always question the audience. How many of you reading this have taken the time to do a poll? A long poll? The kind we typically create as marketers? Most times I think we are measuring sentiment of people who are happy to get a call during the day and unless it’s a product for those with severe loneliness, I’m not sure we’re measuring the pulse of the typical American. “Yes, according to our official poll, 90% of Americans prefer watching Judge Judy to CNN, eat dinner at 4:30 p.m. and feel their sons don’t love them anymore.” And don’t even get me started on focus groups. If 100 dollars gets you to sit in a smelly room with a bunch of strangers to talk about your feelings on new gum flavors, I’m not sure I’m taking what you say as seriously as the guy who said “no.”

Why is everyone so afraid of intuition? It’s the one thing we can count on more than anything in the world. It’s a belief in the power of emotion – the power of a brand’s essential elements to tap human emotion and drive a culture. We don’t need statistics to tell us that America needed Obama. We don’t need statistics to tell us driving while texting is distracting. We don’t need statistics to tell us cayenne flavored chocolate won’t be popular. Believe in thought. Believe in emotionally charged, instinctive, battle-tested thought. That’s the opinion poll we need to read.

In our culture, our American culture, we seem to be less in tune with our creative side. Even afraid of believing in it. I’m asking for a movement driven by the creative class to herald thinking and instinct, where artists and freethinkers demand and get the same respect as a seemingly bulletproof statistic. Intuition is crafted from an environmental history of facts shaped by human emotion. It’s quite a perfect blend of observation and humanity. It’s better than a poll. I don’t have a stat to prove it, it’s just intuition.

Photo credit: C4 Chaos

Monday, October 19, 2009

British Invasion: How Mary Poppins is Responsible for my Husband's Rolling Stones Tattoo

I just emerged from the other side of a 150 page strategic document. I've been writing and writing and writing some pretty heady, serious stuff with lots of graphs and analytics to support my super heavy arguments. Ugh. Lots of writing. So, when I peek out from under my strategy rock (it's really not that bad) I do what every strategist does, I grab a fashion magazine to unwind.

But, of course, because I'm still analyzing the hell out of every word, I can't just simply enjoy the fact that red lips are back, I have to bring meaning to the trend. I put down the magazine. I glance up
to see the reflection of my paltry lips in the bookcase glass across from me. I pick the magazine back up. Reading on.

There's a lot of reference to the British in fashion. I see pages of rock-star thin, charcoal eyed-18 year-olds leering back at me, trying desperately to channel Sid Vicious. Page 42 features Union-Jack-themed handbags, while page 88 honors the Tudor look.

I look around my house and I realize it's a shrine to the British. In front of me on the coffee table is a tome honoring The Stones and catalogs from Boden, a British apparel company I love for its bold colors and quirky designs. My hallway boasts a London platform poster from WWII era, my living room shelves hold a clock also from a London train station -- maybe it knew the poster in my hallway. A picture of this Union Jack rug I've been lusting after hangs in my bedroom. I often look at that mod piece of genius and imagine Hugh Grant giddily sipping a glass of champagne on it (don't ask). My kitchen boasts a tea collection any Brit would be jealous of and a Wedgwood commemorative plate from LONDON! And I've never even been to London. Shit. What happened while I was writing that strategy document?!?

I start flipping through my fashion look-book wish book (the girls know what I'm talking about, we all have some form of this -- guys, just skip to the next paragraph-- torn out sheets of looks we love from magazines, mine are arranged neatly in a binder). To my surprise inside is a veritable shrine to the British, their fashion prowess and expertly designed flag: Chanel's Union Jack bag, Alexander McQueen's "God Save McQueen" sweater and other London Gothic McQueen beauty, Fall 2009 Tudor-inspired shirts galore.

I wonder if in London there is a strategist reading British Vogue wondering why there are so many references to America and American-influenced fashion. Is she longing for a cowboy hat and jeans the way I long for that young, London punk look? Is she standing on an American flag rug looking at a picture of John Wayne in her hallway and eating hamburgers on an Obama commemorative plate in her kitchen?

My husband announced one night he was going to get a tattoo of Mick Jagger on a cross like Jesus across his back. At Mick's feet would be his tragically beautiful bandmates bowing in disciple-like servitude. I'm pretty certain his southern mother would disown him faster than you can say "Brown Sugar" and
he would be shunned permanently from the Bible Belt and all its surrounding regions. But of all the tattoos in the world, this is the one he would want. The Brits are God to him. Or at least the British rockers.

Sorry, Prime Minister.

What's going on? Are we feeling guilty here in America because we left the Motherland? Are we all suffering from maternal guilt? Thinking some charcoal eyeliner and a "Save the Queen" canvas tote will make up for the misstep? Uh-oh. Obama has got some bigger problems then he realized. Maybe I should send him a couple fashion magazines for field research.

In all honesty, I blame Mary Poppins.

Mick Jagger photo credit: pierodemarchi

Monday, October 5, 2009

Will the Real Brand Please Stand Up?

Authenticity is an often-used term in our branding vocabulary. It's frequently the toughest thing for brands --to simply be authentic. There's a lot of discourse and deep thinking devoted to uncovering authenticity and defining brand truths. And in almost every case there's a moment in the process when it's imperative to step back and take a look from a different perspective.

I had a non-smoking professor who said he preferred sitting in smoking sections at the airport (yes, they used to exist) because the people were more interesting, more real, and had better stories. I've always used this anecdote to shape my approach to branding, to defining authenticity. What does a brand look like if polite convention is stripped away? What stories would it tell? Would it sit in the smoking section? And, if not, how can we make it more interesting to consumers based on its natural inclinations as a brand.

Now, I swear I am not looking for a Philip Morris sponsorship. In fact, I am a vehement non-smoker, but there is something brilliant in that insight. People who are true to themselves, despite consensus and common convention, see the world more clearly and are possibly more open to the adventures of life. They are more interesting. They create a legacy of stories. And that's exactly what we are trying to do as marketers, create legacy.

What if our brands were boldly true to themselves despite convention? Where would that take them? Some on a trippy ride through Crispin's creative department, yes, others possibly through Lady Gaga's closet. (The two might be one and the same.) For all, the destination is a strong place of truth and freedom.

Brands that are free are joyful and easy. And creating for them is natural and inspiring. Think of the brainstorms you've been in that sit stagnant as everyone tries to fabricate an aura that strays from the intent of the brand. I'm sure the brainstorm for KFC's "Unfried" campaign was a tough one. So, in the spirit of freedom, I've put together a smoker's lounge guide to getting to the heart of a brand:
  1. Define a lexicon. How does she speak? What's her voice sound like? Most brands have a distinct tonality and cadence to their language.
  2. Observe her style. How does she express herself? Define her cultural dress.
  3. Analyze her hopes and dreams. Where is she going? Speak to to her and understand what inspires her.
  4. Listen to her stories. Where has she been? There's something in her DNA that shapes her view of the world. Uncover this and state it simply.
  5. Get to the emotion. What moves her? Knowing this will provide the closest clues into her true self.
  6. Let her be free. Sometimes a brand just needs some breathing room. Especially under this new world order, she will follow her most devoted fans.
Put down the cigs. You're done. Now inhale and be authentic.

Photo credit: bwmw, Flikr

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Social Media is a Waste of Time and Other Reasons It's Great

In an effort to be brief, because I don't want to spend a ton of time here, I'll get right to the point. Let's take a trip through communications history and visit several turning points in our intellectual development that radically shaped our culture. I know what you're thinking, "she just said she was going to be brief, now she's talking about history and intellectual development? I don't have time for this." Indeed. It's what we hear often from clients learning about the medium -- social media is a waste of time. James Cooper, creative director at Saatchi, inspired this post and has the greatest little graphic on his blog that I think I'll use often. Thanks, James.

Now, onto the history. It might be helpful for all of us to have a guide that tracks other historically indicated colossal wastes of time, so here goes:
  1. Books: Historically, the book was seen as a threat to political power and reigning leaders used the medium to control thought by limiting or removing access. Here's some deeper information from the highly-respected and deeply-trusted social media source Wikipedia on the matter. (I do hope those of you who read my blog are in tune with my sarcasm.) As we moved through the ages, the book became a way to control gender advancement -- don't even get me started here -- where women were prevented access to certain books. The message always: books are not for everyone, there is a better use of your time. We see how that panned out.
  2. TV: Do you know there is a TV Turn-Off Week that schools across America promote each year? I verbally and physically banned this school district edict in my house. I explain each year to the bright-eyed, young teachers and their dusty, old leadership that if it were not for TV, the students in my house would not eat. Both my husband and I fuel this medium and it in turn fuels our bank account. Banning it would not be a good thing. And my kids are none the worse for wear. In fact, my son currently attends a fancy, intellectual school where there are lots and lots of books that even girls can read.
  3. Video Games: Well, 'nuff said. In fact, this guy suggests reading a book instead. Good for you, books! According to BusinessWeek, it turns out gamers might not be wasting their time at all, but are actually social, strategic thinkers. And video game sales are on the rise, increasing by over 40 percent during the five year period studied, according to reports from CES 2009.
I'm sure I'm missing other examples of time-wasters and you will all let me know what they are, possibly yoga, or that dastardly chatting with the neighbors time sucker. For now, however, let's get back to social media.

Social media is not a fad. This is a new stream of communication. Avoiding it will not only weaken a brand, but make it irrelevant.

The most exciting thing to happen in communications in decades is happening right now. We are evolving and learning and growing this platform together -- consumers and their brands -- right now. It's amazing and radically transformative to the communications landscape. It's not an aside. It's not an add-on. It's not another column on an integrated plan. It is the center of the plan -- it is the most fluid and dynamic piece of the marketing approach. Embrace the medium, help shape it, learn from it and maybe, just maybe, your brands will be so profitable you'll have time to kick back and read a book during TV Turn-Off Week!

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