Dear CMO:
If a sign of a sharp intellect is the ability to extract abstract concepts from one situation and apply them successfully to another, then we should practice this art of learning every chance we get. In theory, it should make us smarter people. In practice, it will certainly make us more effective as marketers.
My friend Tom told me a great story the other day about an old mentor of his who is working on raising the awareness of drug abuse amongst high school students in Oregon. Consider the problems first: social pressure, lack of funding, and just plain ‘sullen yout’ apathy. The answer turned out to be an anonymous essay contest at the school level, with winners chosen by a local bookseller, with all essays bound into a published work. The result was a low- to no-cost grass-roots initiative with significant organic participation and community involvement that is completely scalable. As a matter of fact, by putting money into it, you’d probably kill it.
This discussion started off our day yesterday. Then, because the white board is my instrument, we spent the next hour framing up how we could apply raising the awareness of high school drug abuse to building a channel of evangelists within the professional financial services community across the country.
Time will tell how successful we will be, but the lesson is worth discussing. We broke it down as follows:
Target: HS Students (who are we trying to reach?)
Forum: School (where can we reach all of them at once?)
Issue: Drug Abuse (why are we talking to them?)
Accellerators: Anonymity, truth, communication, community (what helps?)
Barriers: coolness, social pressure, potential legal impact (what hurts?)
Hook: Published essay, contest (how do we ignite their passion?)

Once you’ve really defined the mechanical parts, the real heavy lifting seems to be identifying the hook: what really ignites their passion so you don’t have to lift the car all by yourself? Brute force, in this case, won’t work. If you can’t stimulate the organic growth and let the social movement carry the idea along under its own volition, you’ve just missed the “hook” and need to re-think your strategy.

In that light, what questions can we ask of ourselves to help identify the right hook?

. What is the target passionate about?
. What do they need to get off their collective chests? Said another way, if you gave them the right soapbox, what would their speech be?
. Telling a story isn’t enough; what value-add — what opinion piece, what advice — can you elicit from your target?
. What is it that the target really wants that they might be reluctant to admit to you, and how can you provide that to them in a subtle manner? Publicity? Ego?

All this from a “how’s it going this morning” kind of conversation around the first cup of coffee. I wish every morning was this productive.