Archive for the ‘neuroscience’ category

Mental Taglines

May 20, 2008

A Venture Hacks post on how to pitch a startup with the kind of high-concept marketing common in the movie industry, reminds me of something I often advocate when undertaking marketing or business planning.

That’s the creation of a simple “mental tagline” that becomes a guiding light for ensuing operations.

The post points out that movie makers often use short high-concept descriptions to pitch their projects. “Jaws in Outer Space” to describe the movie Alien, for example. They work because they instantly tie the listener to something familiar, and therefore understandable.

The mental tagline and high concept pitch also have benefits for marketers and communicators struggling to get across their products or services to prospects. This is especially true if the product or service is complex and technical, as is so often the case today.

The mental tagline doesn’t have to be the organization’s actual tagline. Instead, it’s planted in the brain to help everyone stay on track as they’re developing or selling a product or service. If they start to wander off the path, which is not uncommon, they can always refer to the mental tagline to get back. It’s a guiding beacon, much like a lighthouse is for ships.

For example: “We make widgetry simple (or cheap, or useful)” for a widget maker. Or “Relieving that pain in the neck” for a drug. Or “High-powering the computer” for techology. Or “Making databases available to all” for software.

Whatever is your core business or your mission is the mental tagline, which I often compose after completing a W6 planning process (see previous post on the W6).

If you add high-concept thinking to it, the mental tagline starts to guide you to how to achieve the mission. For example, for the “High-powering the computer” tagline, the high concept might be “Apple meets the PC” or “Think supercomputing for dummies”.

So in a sense it’s a very high-level mini plan.

Advertisements

Complexity to Clarity: Translating geek and other business languages

March 27, 2008

This morning, I facilitated a discussion among technology marketers on the growing problem of language dichotomy. Specifically it was the problem of an overwhelming culture of geek speak and how it bleeds in to the marketing side of things.

Now, the problem of the genius manager who can’t seem to speak in anything under 10 paragraphs, isn’t new. But what does seem to be new is that it’s spreading beyond just tech speak. Jargon, or verbal shorthand for those in the know, is growing everywhere, and in many non-technology sectors.

I’m convinced it’s because of the growth in complexity of modern business: As business management becomes increasingly more process oriented, it becomes increasingly more complex. But at the same time the demand for simple communication — among customers, employees and other stakeholders — has never been higher.

There’s so much information washing around out there now, that people can’t process it all. And this amplifies when the information is difficult and time consuming to process. We’re in the age where information moves at light speed so as to convert to knowledge, and if you can’t convey something simply and quickly, no one listens further. There are just too many alternatives that can be added to their knowledge base.

So, we’re talking about an information flow problem, which seems to be most egregious in the technology space. This is probably because too much emphasis in IT is put on the T (technology) and not enough on the I (information) part.

What came out of our discussion was a recognized need to return to the basics of communication. This can be summed up in a few points.

  • It’s not about the technology, it’s about the business. This can be expanded to mean it’s not about the product or service but about what the product or service does for the buyer. That’s all he or she cares about, and so that’s the information that should be delivered.
  • Know thy customer. Or, in other terms, separate the information receiver into needs segments. Sounds pretty basic, but many business processes don’t think in these terms. They think in terms of what they do, not what they can do for someone.
  • Be extremely clear about the benefit or threat (if ignored). This is an old sales technique, and is also the basis of the oldest information delivery system around — the news industry. It means you have to put your product or service into terms that are understandable emotionally — it helps because of this (i.e. saves time, saves money, or something else), or avoids a threat that might hurt you (i.e. less revenue, higher costs).
  • Know yourself. There’s usually miscommunication in business because the information deliverer doesn’t really understand what its own business is, and so can’t convey that to the receiver. Use the W6 process I posted on previously to determine who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. As a marketer, you have to act as the bridge between the geniuses in the labs who created the product or service, and the not-so-genius people who are going use it. The only way to do this is to put it into simple, understandable terms. Strip away all the add-ons and subtleties and say it in a few short words. Then put them back in when the prospect asks questions.
  • Consider the differing intelligences. Intelligence is how you process information, and most information deliverers, i.e. the CEO or CTO, often have linear intelligences…. they think logically. But there are 7 different intelligence types and it’s a good bet that most receivers are of the six that are not linear. So it’s like someone sending out a signal on one radio channel while the radios are tuned to other channels. It’s just not going to register.

Influence The One You’re With

January 25, 2008

I love a British blog called PsyBlog for its continual information about the workings of the mind, which is the real last great frontier.

A post caught my eye recently because it directly speaks to marketers and communicators who attempt to persuade. The post discusses a study into which persuasion method works better: face to face or email.

Gender has an effect

Apparently an earlier study approached this question from a social role point of view via gender stereotypes. This is based on the conventional thinking that face-to-face communication is the most persuasive, and therefore women are better at it, because they’re more “relationship-minded”. Men, it seems, are more competitive and so aren’t very good at face-to-face persuasion.

A newer study examines the effect of relationships in general on persuasion. The authors, Guadagno and Cialdini, came up with the concept of “oneness” to describe how men interact with men and women interact with women. Apparently the closer two people feel, the more they see each other as sympatico, and so can persuade each other. So, yes, the study concluded, men prefer email because it sidesteps their natural competitive tendencies; women on the other hand are better at one to one.

So the new study merely backed up the old one.

But it’s really about relationships

As PsyBlog pointed out, it’s not really about gender, it’s about whether a relationship is competitive or co-operative, which to me is probably more relevant in this 21st century collaborative world.

If you want to persuade someone with whom you have a competitive relationship — whatever their gender — then you probably want to try email, because it’s more logical. If you want to pursuade someone with whom you have a co-operative relationship, then face to face is a better choice.

This conclusion has meaning for marketers and communicators. In the old days, they rarely had co-operative relationships with their customers or clients; instead it was a kind of competition in that they were trying to “sell” them on an idea. Hence the old dominance of advertising, which was a version of propaganda, which in turn was really an assault on a target’s mental defenses.

But in the new Web 2.0 world with all its user-generated content, collaboration with customers and clients, transparency and one-to-one interchange style of marketing, perhaps we have a new version of face-to-face marketing.

Could that be why some forward thinking companies and/or social networks encourage the use of avatars or pictures in their discussion forums? Because they intuitively understand that influence comes from a sense of “oneness” with someone else?

Dreamtime: You Need It To Work Best

January 14, 2008

You’re a marketer for an agency or in a corporate setting; or you’re a small business trying to handle your own marketing and communication.

I bet I can describe your day: Rush in, fire up the computer, check your schedule for the day’s tasks; have a meeting; get rolling on the stuff that’s piled up since you last left. Grab a quick lunch. Maybe read some back stuff that’s been untouched for a while. Back to work.

Suddenly it’s over and you’re joining the commute back home.

Any dream time in there? Not likely.

But here’s a business secret I was given by a business exec a long time ago before people talked about such things: Take some time each day and spend it dreaming.

Every day he (in those days, they were always a he), would close the door, tell his secretary to refuse all calls, lay down on a couch and just dream for an hour. Nothing else. Just random thinking. This guy was at the top of his game, and said that was why.

I’ve tried to follow his advice ever since, with mixed success. I’m not perfect and there were too many times when I let tasks take over from my real work, which was creating ideas. But I always went back to it.

You should too. Unless you’re performing some physical labor, ideation, problem solving, thinking, mulling — dreaming — is what your job is really all about. The rest is all just implementation and follow through.

Here are several ways to build dream time into your daily life:

Self hypnosis: This is extreme relaxation that allows the subconscious mind to go to work, usually in a very visual way that’s almost like a movie running in your head. The beauty of it is it can be directed to a specific problem or subject. In self hypnosis, you create a special place in your mind, and pose a problem to yourself. Usually, someone or some thing, a kind of mental avatar, comes along to your place and starts telling you a story that helps you work it out. If you do this, it’s best to be hypnotized first by a professional so you can get into a hypnotic state quickly.

Meditation: Lots of people like this, especially now that yoga’s popular again. Meditation is in a sense the opposite of self-hypnosis in that it lets you “empty your mind” so that thoughts can just bubble up to the surface. You’ll never completely empty your mind, of course, because the mind doesn’t like to be empty: it’s wired to solve problems, so will immediately work on anything that’s bothering you. Just let the thoughts come.

Exercise: Lots of people do this, picking a time during the day when they can run, walk, work out, or whatever they do for exercise. But not many convert it to dream time. It’s suited to it though, because in most exercise you are going through repetitive actions that don’t require thought, which frees up your mind for other things. I’ve known several poets, writers, and others who do their best work when they’re exercising: all have shared one thing. They direct their mind to a specific task. So stop watching others while you’re working out, and start dreaming.

Creativity techniques. I’ve referred to these in a previous post. There are many creative thinking techniques that can be employed if you simply let yourself use them. To do so, you have to put yourself in a creative state: calm, uninterrupted, and open minded. This is what the athletes call in the zone, or what cognition experts call a state of flow.

The main thing with any of these methods is consistency. It’s difficult to dream at first because you’re not used to it, but like any muscle, the brain responds much faster if it’s used regularly. So, yes you’re probably busy, but you have to keep using your dreaming muscles if they’re going to work.

You’ll find after a while that it responds quite rapidly when you’re ready for your dream time.

Just Say No

December 30, 2007

You finished the year frustrated by all those various forces that stopped you from getting your marketing job done. So now at the beginning of a new year you’re determined to be more productive by dealing with it in a professional way.

Better learn to negotiate. Specifically, learn to say no says Jim Camp, an expert on negotiating and author of No: The Only Negotiating system You Need for Work and Home. To get what you want when negotiating with people or tackling a difficult situation say “no” early and often, Camp insists. Some of his suggestions are:

1. Start with “No.” Resist the urge to compromise. Remember that “no” is not an absolute rejection, but a decision that can be changed. Try inviting that person to explain his or her vision; it may open the door to an honest discussion that can eventually turn out in your favour.
2. Be in control. Do not dwell on gratuitous things you may want; focus instead on what you can control — your actions and behaviours.
3. Face problems head-on. Identify the issues and bring them out into the open. Whether they are your own problems or somebody else’s, acknowledging them gives you an edge.
4. Check your emotions. Practise self-control and let go of any expectations or judgments. Whatever you do, don’t be needy.
5. Get them talking. Ask open-ended questions that begin with “what” and how.” Find out what the other person wants or needs, and how you may benefit him.
6. Have a purpose and a vision to reflect it. Learn to present your ideas as solutions. By helping others see exactly what they will gain from your plan, you spark decision-making and action.

Now, obviously, you can’t say no to everything your boss or client throws at you. After all, they are paying you to do a job for them. But you can negotiate with the interruptions.

For example, you can be more discerning by sorting through the various interruptions or requests. As with most things, most of those requests are just talk and/or random thoughts. We’re all familiar with the client or supervisor who throws out ideas in the hopes that some will stick.

So pick the ones that are doable, and just say no to the others.

Next-Year Planning: The W6 Process

December 23, 2007

Probably because we’re at the end of the year, I’ve recently had a spate of calls from companies that suddenly realized they need to form marketing plans and/or business plans for the next year.

Often these cases involve simple facilitation: they feel they can write them in house, but would like some outside guidance as they move through the thinking process that goes into it.

Usually in these cases, I begin by going through a W6. This is a one-page plan that ask questions to elicit answers that sum up a business or personal life. This could describe a life plan, a project plan, a marketing plan, or a plan for an entire business.

It’s not simply a goals list, which are so popular at this time of year. It’s your story, encapsulated so as to burn itself into your brain and always be in the forefront of your thinking as you go about daily work.

Because so many people want to jump right into tasks or take shortcuts, it’s important to remember one thing about the W6: The process is not a replacement for a real plan. It is, however, a summary — preliminary and final — of all aspects of a plan that forces planners to be extremely precise in their thinking. You compose a W6 by thinking on a much larger scale and then reducing that thinking to its essence.

A W6 is both a beginning and an end. Initially, it acts as a kind of map for the planning. You go through a W6 at the start, expand in a real plan, and then later go back and do another W6 to ensure you’ve eliminated all fuzzy thinking and imprecisions.

Once you have completed a W6, print it and stick it on a wall where you will constantly see it. If it helps, put it into a visual form such as a mind map. The point it to always be aware of its aspects and how your daily life can cling to it and advance it.
Here are the basics of a W6:

  1. Who are you? For businesses and individuals, this is how you’re perceived by whatever community is important to you. This is a self-identity that answers questions such as what’s your character and how would you like your business or yourself to be judged? (For example: As the lowest price provider, or as a skilled high-end provider? As a deliverer or a collaborator?)
  2. What do you do? This is a summation of your core business or yourself, a kind of very small elevator pitch that acts as a guide to all our business or personal functions. It’s your passion. (For example: “we make software that does X”, or “we provide X services to the Y industry”. )
  3. Why do you do it? This is your mission in a sense. I believe it’s the most important part of the plan, because all endeavors should have a purpose, and this describes it. In planning terms, this is equivalent to outlining the business opportunity that you’re pursuing. (For example: There is an unfilled need for X among the Y consumers or businesses). In personal planning, it’s simply a description of where you what you want to be.
  4. Who do you do it for? This is the heart of your marketing planning. Who you do it for should precisely describe your target market. Again it’s useful to put this in very personal terms. (Example: A too busy working mother with X problems.)
  5. What way do you do it? This describes your business operation. Are you a web-based company; bricks and mortar, combination of both? How do you make and deliver your product and service?
  6. Where do you do it? Nationally, regionally, or internationally? In what verticals? In what locations? (Example: In a store; in the customer’s location; by mail order?) Each is going to require a different understanding of markets.

As an extra to the Where, I’ll add When? This simply means when do you do it — 24/7/ regular hours/part time, etc.? (Example: on-demand software, which would mean 24/7)

A W6 is a very useful tool for charting a course. Much discussion and brainstorming might be required to complete it, but if you really focus on it, you’ll have a very good road map to guide your business in the coming year.

Making Messages Memorable

November 18, 2007

In its latest newsletter, the consulting firm McKinsey has an interview with Stanford organizational professor Chip Heath regarding his new book Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die.

Heath asserts that in an increasingly complex world, company leaders have to sum up their businesses in messages that “stick” in the minds of employees, investors, and customers. Since it’s usually marketers and communicators who are charged with creating these messages, Made To Stick is probably a worthwhile read.

One thing that interested me in the interview was Heath’s point about organizational expertise often getting in the way of making messages memorable.

Chiefs are so immersed in what they do, they forget that the rest of the world isn’t: So they’re incapable of translating that information into simple — not simplistic — messages that can be grasped by outsiders.

I’m sure that every marketer and communicator, especially those working in technology and related sectors, has encountered this problem.

The Leader wants a tagline, headline, or other simple message that explains the company’s vision or values. But all he can do is come up with an abstract slogan like the meaningless phrase “Maximize Shareholder Value”. (Does any organization actually want to minimize shareholder value?)

I’m convinced that part of this problem is the business organizational imperative itself. Because they’re arranged in industrial structures that emphasize execution, organizations reward precise thinking. After all, you succeed in the MBA program by providing precise, detailed, answers.

But there are times when you don’t want precision or detail: You need to think in big sweeping ideas, at the 50,000 foot level, and encompass what you do in a concrete, memorable message.

Chip Heath’s research suggests that sticky ideas share six basic traits.

  1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. Glib sound bites are short, but they don’t last. Proverbs such as the golden rule are short but also deep enough to guide the behavior of people over generations.
  2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense. Such messages generate interest and curiosity.
  3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”
  4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message or is it a confabulation of spin? Very often, a person trying to convey a message cites outside experts when the most credible source is the person listening to the message. Questions—“Have you experienced this?”—are often more credible than outside experts.
  5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”
  6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”