The Friday Mystery

February 14, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Posted in Advertising, Communication, Decision making, General, Heath, Chip and Dan - Made To Stick, Marketing, Online marketing | Leave a comment
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I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary, so here’s a little mystery for your Friday.

Three employees at a company find themselves in an elevator. Each has a different problem that they need solved. They are in the elevator to visit a staff member who can help them with their disparate problems. The mystery is not “How will they solve their problem,” but rather “Who are they going to see?

  • James is the staff accountant. He’s been thinking about resigning for some time but is nervous about leaving. But lately the company owner, Bill, has been especially aloof with him. James has decided the time has come to switch jobs, but he needs help with his resume. While he find the minutue of accounting to be fascinating, but past job searches have made him realize that he needs to spice things up to get in the door. How can he make his resume stand out?
  • Bill is the owner of the company. A couple of nights ago, he had a meeting at a bar downtown with some clients. They finished up early and the clients left. Bill decided to stick around, watch the end of the game, and finish his beer. That morning, he had left his wedding ring on the sink, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when an attractive blond introduced herself. He was surprised, however, when his wife walked through the door. He’d tried to explain the situation, but since that night he has been sleeping on the couch. How can he get his wife to believe him?
  • Sally is Bill’s executive assistant and she is passionate about politics. She wants to get other employees to vote for her candidate, but she’s not sure how to go about it. Plus, she’s skeptical – she knows that some people will say they will vote for her candidate but might not make it to the polls. How can she generate more votes from her office?

So James, Bill, and Sally each have a different problem and are each in the office elevator to visit an employee who can help them. Again, the question to be solved is not necessarily what tactic they will use to solve their problem. The question is: who they are going to visit?

The answer is the marketing guy (or gal). Why? Because the marketing guy has three main roles in a company to help solve a variety of problems. What are these roles?

  1. Communicate- This is both very simple and very difficult at the same time (maybe that’s why so many people have trouble with it). The best communication is simple and straight-forward (and I would argue, honest). While that is easy, you also have to consider tone, audience, desired action/response, etc. Anyone can describe a computer’s features. Not many people can communicate why a particular computer is right for you. (James needs help communicating why the little things on his resume make him the best person for the job. And he needs to be clear and concise to boot.)
  2. Convince – This is the cerebral aspect of marketing. I bet you can’t name a song where the singer is just communicating his virtues. But we all know the song, “I want you to want me” (go with me on this). In this way, convincing is one step beyond just communicating. It signifies a mental switch from one standpoint to another. You can’t just communicate that your computer is right for the buyer, you have to convince her. She doesn’t just need to know that it’s a great machine; she has to want it for herself. (Bill needs help convincing his wife that he wasn’t cheating on her, which is a far cry from just telling her.)
  3. Convert- Finally, marketers are responsible from turning the mental switch (convince) into an action (convert). People “convert” when they do something we want them to do – this can be anything from donating money to clicking a button to voting for a particular candidate. They put their beliefs (which we communicated) and their thoughts (when we convinced them) into definitive action. It’s worth noting that this final step is the only one we can quantify or measure. (Sally needs help to ensure that her candidate receives votes from company employees.)

I realize this isn’t the most interesting of blog posts and certainly not the most challenging of mysteries (the name of this blog kinda gives it away). However, this was a good exercise for me. I have been very intrigued by the “Unexpected” chapter of Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath in which they explain how surprise helps stickiness (you can now read just that chapter, if you like). In this chapter they cite a 1994 George Loewenstein study on curiousity. The Heath’s say that: “[f]irst, though, [the audience] must realize that they need [the] facts. The trick to convincing people that they need our message, according to Loewenstein, is to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing” (pg. 85).

It’s much easier to see this in action than to do it. So I tried to create a scenario where I could take something boring (what marketers do) and bring in a (very) little mystery (who could solve these people’s problems?). Did you read through the post even though you might not have been too interested, just to find the answer to the mystery? Can you recommend a better way to inject mystery into this subject?

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