Dear CMO:
Do you know the definition of an ignoramus?

An ignoramus is someone who doesn’t know something you learned five minutes ago. We like it when we know things others don’t because it makes us feel smart at some ignoramus’s expense. In psychological terms, it’s called “invidious comparison.” You probably didn’t know that. You ignoramus.

In the marketing world, we’re often asked to get others to comply with our wishes. Buy our stuff, for example. Or more of our stuff, or get more of their friends to buy our stuff. And the heavy lifting begins when we try to convince others to do something differently. For simplicity, let’s break this down into two decisions: “new activity” versus “old activity” and “do something completely differently” versus “do something in a different way.” Let me define these before we move forward for greater clarity:


New Activity: I’m a guy in my 40’s who could be described pretty accurately as a “former athlete”, but still someone who plays tennis once in a while. If I took up yoga tomorrow, that would be a very new activity for me. Selling me on a yoga membership would take some doing.

Old Activity: Given the above, if I started playing tennis again, it would be classified as an old activity. Selling me a new racket wouldn’t be too hard.

OK, now that we’re doing something — either new or old — we turn to “how” we’re doing whatever we’re doing:

Doing Something Completely Differently: Instead of the normal scoring system, let’s assume that you only get a point if the other guy makes an error. This would provide me with different incentives that would be contrary to traditional tennis. Very different, don’t you think?

Do Something in a Different Way: Here, I’m asked to play no-ad scoring, with a one point tie-breaker if we reach deuce. It’s a slightly different way of playing the same game. No deuce-ad-deuce-ad games. Faster, more to-the-point. It’s how I played in the NCAA’s back in the day.

What I find interesting about this thought process is that people tend to like consistency and tend not to like looking foolish. So, again, it’s back to framing: how can we lead the audience to where we want them to go so that they feel our request is a logical extension of how they perceive themselves on one hand and so that they don’t feel foolish on the other?

We could position yoga as a complementary activity that helps “former athletes” stay on the court with guys who still take gym class for credit. Or, for more “former-former athletes”, it could be positioned as the logical next step in their athletic lives because we’re older and wiser, slightly less flexible, and could do with a little less impact on the joints. It’s all in the transition from A to B.

* * *
Key Takeaways:

> Our beloved customers just get irritated when we tell them that they’re doing everything wrong. Telling them how they can do what they were going to do anyway in an easier, more enjoyable way is much easier. This way, they make the decision, not you.

> How we show people the way in the context of their lives is the whole game (and set and match, for that matter).

* * *

At Iomega, we tried to convince consumers that Zip was about organization — beyond just “drag and drop all docs to this 100MB disk”, we suggested that my essays are here, my novel is there, and my correspondence is in a third place. And I have other disks for spreadsheets, pictures, presentations, and other things. Don’t think you have to do anything differently — you’re going to save this stuff somewhere — but think of how convenient it will be when you’ve got it all organized.

At Plantronics, we tried to convince customers that putting on a headset wasn’t an unnatural act — “Life Takes Both Hands”, after all. Life doesn’t stop just because you’re on the phone. You’re going to multitask anyway, so using a hands-free device (not a headset, because that’s what Lilly Tomlin’s Ernestine wore) was just a more convenient, smart way to live and work.

You wonder why billion dollar governmental ad campaigns aimed at telling kids to abstain from sex fail. I doubt it was just because they didn’t test the creative.




Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny