Elephants, like humans, have wonderful memories. This is both a strength and a weakness. A superpower and kryptonite.
Look at this picture of an adult elephant tied to a small bar, with a lightweight rope. A grown elephant can easily bend that bar or break that rope.
But, sadly, they don’t.
The trainers start tying them when they are little. They learn that they can’t break the rope and as they grow they never again test that theory. To them, it’s not a theory at all – it’s just the truth.
“We tried that before and it didn’t work.”
But it’s worse than that. Bring the human equivalent of adult elephants together to envision possibilities and not one of them will even suggest tugging at that rope. It just won’t come up. They will focus on solving the problem of how to achieve their goals within the range that the rope allows them. The rope length will define their limits. I’ve watched it happen hundreds of times. I’ve been part of it hundreds of times.
There is a difference between an epiphany and a habit. Talking about possibility and feasibility together is a habit. In most places, it’s just the way things are done. There is a strong taboo against separating the two. Someone may suggest something foolish! Unprofessional! Incorrect! Impossible! Embarrassing!
But, breakthroughs don’t come from doing the right things. Breakthroughs come from doing brave, incorrect, inspiring things.
Twenty-five years ago, I developed a process that has driven my career and life ever since. It’s a process I built off of all I had learned in my career to that point, comparing successful projects to less successful projects, and a system for realizing possibilities that I learned from the pioneering executive coach, Trisha Scudder.
I had seen her breakthrough process shift the culture and results of a team from ordinary to extraordinary in just a few days. And, while Trisha taught many powerful concepts and processes, one stood out to me as the most powerful of all.
The brilliant sales and marketing consultant and author, Mark S. A. Smith says that, “We are in the epiphany business.”
Trisha’s most powerful idea struck me as an epiphany, and that epiphany has fueled my career ever since.
Here it is:
Discuss Possibility and Feasibility separately. Start with possibility.
Perhaps this doesn’t seem like very much to you. It didn’t strike me as Earth-shattering either when I first heard it. Trisha made it fun, so I was engaged. The results of the process she led us through, starting with Possibility, then moving on to Feasibility, led to some surprising breakthroughs. This stimulated my curiosity, always curled up like a cat ready to pounce. I committed to playing with this process and to keeping my eyes wide open.
Here’s what I noticed. People come into conversations about the future weighed down by the past and the present.
We’ve all heard the classic, “We tried that before and it doesn’t work.”
We’ve all seen that little chestnut over-applied.
“Are you sure it was THIS that you tried?”
“Are you sure we are proposing testing exactly the same thing in the same way?”
We’ve all witnessed this idea-killing malpractice. But, what I noticed is that most possibility killing is much more subtle. It’s the ideas that people don’t even bring up in the first place. It’s the invisible limits that people bring to these conversations.
By insisting that the first phase of the conversation be entirely focused on Possibility, while reassuring everyone that the next phase will focus on Feasibility, you will find you develop breakthrough results.
While possibility is all about what might be, feasibility is about, “What can we really get done.” Feasibility is important. Hell, it’s essential. But don’t let it get all mixed up in your discussion of the possible. Don’t let it cloud your vision.
Looking back, I see that this principle is so powerful when practiced that it has played a part in every breakthrough I’ve seen in my career. And, though I built my agency’s process around this epiphany, it is like a brain of which I’ve only used about 10%.
There is a difference between an epiphany and a habit, between having a process and using it. I see the possibility of using this process ALL of the time. I see that I can do so much more good if you use it too.
Let me know how it goes! I’m happy to help. You know where to reach me.
Some smart locals have brought the signs back, are selling them to locals, and have raised well over $100,000 to help people affected by the pandemic. You drive through Rye and see hundreds of them, all along the treelined streets.
If you want to inspire a community to action, nothing works harder than pride.
The Black Pride movement is still going strong around the world after fifty years or more. The Black is Beautiful Movement instilled pride and changed identities in the 20th century and beyond. In fact, the phrase, “Black is Beautiful” goes all the way back to a speech by John S. Rock, an African American abolitionist, all the way back in 1858. Once the seed of pride is planted, it grows for a long, long time!
“Keep America Beautiful” used pride to take a nation of Anchorman-like litterers and show that it could clean up nicely. And while this iconic commercial unfortunately features an Italian-American man playing a Native American, it had a huge effect by instilling pride and shame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7OHG7tHrNM
As a master change agent, pride is one of the most powerful tools in your kitchen. In fact, if identity is the most powerful concept in brand-building, marketing and change, then pride is the most powerful emotion.
Change agent, be proud of your tribe. Though all times and all kinds of crises, we have found ways to change things. Let’s keep using our change agent powers for good!
I wrote this answer on Quora, and you probably missed it because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with business, branding, marketing, advertising, design, innovation or any of that.
Except, it does. It has everything to do with those things.
It was titled: “Why am I too lazy to study?”
So, yeah? Seems to be about studying. School. Laziness… but the answer has everything to do with why we do what we do and why we don’t do what we think we want to do.
And that has everything to do with the way we advertise in our own brain. How do I know this? Two ways.
First, I went from a young adult almost paralyzed by anxiety to a daring career as an entrepreneur, investor, brand and ad agency founder in scary New York City, speaker, tv commentator – let’s just say that while I’ve never jumped out of a plane, I’ve lived a life that required courage and a lot of effort.
I’ve learned what motivated and moves me and what doesn’t.
Second, I started my career in direct marketing. This is what led me to digital marketing, brand building and all the rest. This has afforded me a multi-decade laboratory in which to do experiments about what really motivates people with literally billions of dollars of other people’s money.
I know what moves people and inspires them to action and what doesn’t.
So, here’s my answer to that question on Quora. I hope it helps you untangle your own blocks to action and move toward the fulfillment of your dreams – or better!
Now more than ever, the world needs masters of change.
All that was civilized and predictable has become a Wild West.
For you, who forge new order, stop the bleeding, and make new growth possible – I am sharing this excerpt from the upcoming Change Agent’s Cookbook. It will provide you with some mythical support. Don’t scoff at the notion of mythical support. Myths are some of the most powerful tools in the change agent’s arsenal. In this case, you’ll take sustenance from the mythic archetype of the Fixer:
We know the end:
You’re respected. You’re respected because you respect yourself. You respect yourself because you know what to do to actually deliver on the promises. You respect yourself because you know how to think, you know what questions to ask, you understand what the answers mean. You respect yourself because you’re not just a specialist – you can talk business, brand, design-thinking, creativity, behavior change, data, media, technology, boards of directors, ceos, management teams — everything that adds up to growth. You are respected because you are able to show up as a master of change, in flow and having fun. Your confidence and positive energy are attractors. You are the embodiment of inspiring action. Here’s the beginning:
You have a WAY. You have a process, a procedure, a consistent way of operating
The Way of the Change Agent.
“Be regular and orderly in your life so you can be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert
We’re obsessed with “fixer” characters. These are true professionals who show up and take charge, resolving seemingly unsolvable situations.
Harvey Keitel’s Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe from Pulp Fiction is a classic fixer character. Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad is another quietly imposing fixer. Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington in Scandal, is billed as “D.C.’s greatest fixer.”
There are so many more iconic fixers. Sherlock Holmes, of course. Jodi Foster in Inside Man. Julia Roberts’s Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich, George Clooney as Michael Clayton in Michael Clayton. If you haven’t seen the classic scene in which fixer Alec Baldwin as Blake attempts to straighten out a pack of sad-sack salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross, go to YouTube and watch that right now. It’s the origin of the phrase, “Coffee is for closers!” Better yet, see the whole movie.
From their first entrance, our eyes track these characters like stalker ex-boyfriends. What makes them so mesmerizing is their competence and elegant confidence. They do their job with very little wasted movement. Like Jonathan Bank’s Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and George Clooney’s Michael Clayton, they also bring the humility and realism that should come from experience. Yet they can be brutally frank when necessary.
They can also puff themselves up into larger, scarier beasts when required to establish dominance in the service of good order. This is what is so brilliant about “The Wolf” sequence in Pulp Fiction. Keitel’s character is as polite and officious as Gustavo “Gus” Fring can be in his Pollos Hermanos apron on Breaking Bad. But, when he needs to establish who’s boss, he becomes momentarily forbidding before returning to normal size again and complementing the coffee. Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross infuses this character with a striking realism – we know that there are Blakes in the real world and that they are one reason salesmen die. Blake also represents the brutal logic of the fixer – the fixer only does what works, even if it hurts.
As Master Change Agents, we embody the archetype of the Fixer, with a little bit of magic thrown in.
A Fixer is, first, a professional of the highest order. What makes many of these characters interesting is that their professions are often seedy or at least morally ambiguous, not expected to be “professions” at all. The professionalism that they bring to such things as cleaning up lawyer’s messes, making political scandals go away, “cleaning” gory crime scenes and bringing rapacious salesmen into line is what makes for great drama. It works because it rings with an insight about the human condition – that we can develop professional ethics even where they are absurd. We respect professional ethics even when we can’t condone the results.
So, as a master change agent, you will be ready to show up professional in all situations. We’ll also be careful to work toward worthy results.
Fixers are also Tricksters, going beyond professionalism to work a little magic in the course of their work. The order of the Fixer’s method leads to epiphanies and flashes of brilliance.
Master Change Agents are regular and orderly in their methods so that they can be violent and original in their work.
No one has ever seen one, because they only exist as an idea or a myth. So, where did the myth come from?
Imagine a time before photography, videography, TV, film, Instagram, all of it… a time when information was passed mouth to ear and walked on foot.
In 400 B.C.E., the historian Ctesias wrote about the one-horned creature for the first time in Greek literature. He was probably referring to the Indian rhinoceros, but readers imagined unicorns.
People hear about a rhinoceros and they imagine a unicorn.
That’s the short of it.
Author and essayist, Adam Gopnik, uses the story of the rhinoceros and the unicorn to explain the difference between modern liberalism (a rhinoceros) and other political philosophies (libertarianism, communism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc.) which he likens to unicorns.
Unicorns are ideal. They have a sort of mythic perfection. We love to think about unicorns. We like to believe in unicorns.
On the other hand, a rhinoceros is an awkward thing. It’s basically a pig with a horn on its head. It’s funny to look at and is politely ignored by proponents of Intelligent Design.
The rhinoceros is a compromise. The rhinoceros is also a perfectly successful animal.
We like our ideals ideal. We like our goals and objectives that way too. We want to build our businesses to some ideal template, some golden form of a business.
Often one hears talk of the leader of successful challenger in a category spoken of in unicorn-like terms.
“Why aren’t we more like Netflix? Google? Apple? Wieden? Droga? RGA? BFG? CPB? DDB? etc.…?”
Tech disrupters with billion dollar-plus valuations are even known as “unicorns.”
They are not. They are rhinoceroses.
Everything successful is an evolved compromise. So, instead of trying to force people into inhuman ideals, why don’t we try to build our organizations from splendid compromises. Why don’t we use the parts well, respecting each one as a successful animal?
Yes, the result may be funny to look at, a bit awkward and ungainly, but it will also be real and more likely successful. And it will be human too.
Why don’t we try to build rhinoceroses rather than unicorns?
Behavior Change Marketing is a rhinoceros, not a unicorn. It isn’t an impossible idea, nor does it claim to be a pure and new thing in the world. It isn’t merely academic and philosophical.
Behavior Change Marketing integrates perspectives and learning from a range of disciplines.
It recognizes that Behavioral Economics is nice old Behavioral Science with some great PR.
We accept the gifts of Behavioral Economics, but we equally welcome that longer heritage of concepts and learnings from Behavioral Science more broadly.
Our long experience in the trenches of direct and digital marketing have taught us that the single best funded program of behavioral economics experiments and their results are mostly lost to us. Lost because their very existence constituted the protected trade secrets of the companies that ran them.
These hundreds of thousands of A/B split tests, multi-cell tests and other experiments form priceless expertise carried around in the heads of venerable brand response wizards, are sometimes set down in writing but always through the distorting lens of hagiographic self-promotion, agency promotion or awards entries.
The knowledge is legend, and much of it is lost to science. That said, we will take all of it we can get, and we will work to see our clients and the broader world get as much benefit from this Fort Knox of intellectual property as we can.
Equally we recognize that the first design thinkers were not denizens of Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, that design thinking was not an invention but at best a rediscovery. If you want to read an excellent compendium of astonishing design thinking, read the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison’s case study and pitch presentation of their brilliant and flawed rhinocerian creation, the U.S. Constitution.
No, design thinking has been with us a long, long, time. In fact, it took science to get us off the trail of design thinking. Science limited its scope. For example, economics focused on rational homo economicus rather than irrational human beings, and behaviorism focused on observable behavior and demeaned cognition. In dealing with shadows of human beings rather than the whole, scientific thinking led to flat, rational, poor design and communication.
Design thinking was a rediscovery, an attempt to make whole again, to bring in empathy, humanity, uncertainty and chaotic reality. Behavior Change Marketing integrates design thinking as well.
The field of Positive Psychology has seen enormous growth in influence over the past two decades. Today, nations consider Gross National Happiness along with Gross National Product and Subjective Wellbeing is measured by the U.N. to balance their scorecard in evaluating the progress of nations.
And Evolutionary Psychology has helped us to understand the important of signaling, including self-signaling, which challenges the logical, simple, rational and largely incorrect view of human motivation.
The Modern Era loves Unicorns. We love the mythic simplicity. We want to believe that class struggle along drives history and that the future is knowable. A mechanical view of the Universe and envy of natural sciences supported a culture of simple certainty. But, today we understand that even our physics doesn’t operate that way. That, at the best, there is probability. That even if you know everything about the present, you cannot predict the future with any certainty. Randomness is a feature of every system.
So, we are building a Rhinoceros, and we couldn’t be more proud. If you’re building a Rhinoceros too, maybe we could help.
Many people may have tuned into this year’s Super Bowl to catch a glimpse of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira during the Halftime Show, but for the ad industry, tuning into the Super Bowl is like preparing for your own wedding, you just can’t miss it. We get ready every year to see what brands are capitalizing on, and which ones will come out on top.
This year we saw a few themes:
I mean, are we surprised? Celebrity spots have been a staple of super bowl commercials since the very beginning. Hyundai played on the infamous Boston accent to promote their Hyundai Sonota, in their “Smaht Pahk” spot that features a range of celebs such as John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch, Chris Evans and David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Doritos featured rapper Lil Nas X as he partakes in a hilarious dance-off with actor Sam Elliot to the rapper’s hit “Old Town Road”. Among the remaining range of celebrities were John Legend and Chrissy Tegan, Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Missy Elliot, Maisie Williams and Jimmy Fallon.
You can always expect there to be at least one tear jerker amongst these infamous commercials. Pulling on the heart strings of the international audience is what these brands do best. Google hit home with a sweet spot featuring a true story of an elderly man remembering his late wife with the help of Google Assistant. NFL deserves a quick shout out for their “Next 100” commercial, featuring aspiring kids with the hopes and dreams of being future game stars in the next 100 years of the NFL. Budweiser’s Typical American spot showcased Americans doing acts such as serving the country, backbreaking labor, and beating the odds at the highest sports levels, of course all while fueling themselves with a Budweiser. They end by taking a moment to say, the next time someone calls you “typical”, show them what typical can do.
This long-lived tactic was utilized by majority of the brands this year. A few that gave us some extra chuckles were first, the Rocket Mortgage spot featuring Jason Mamoa who gets real comfortable at home, taking off his “faux” layers of skin.. Let’s just say they successfully shocked all of America while trying to promote the convenience of their app through this ad. Groundhog day, featuring Bill Murray brought back the nostalgia by recreating the “Groundhog Day” movie, but this time with a twist. Murray jumps in a Jeep that was definitely not apart of the original movie, and we start watching a series of video clips of Murray and his new groundhog friend having a blast over the course of a few days. The purpose here is to show that even though Murray lives the same day over and over again, no day is truly the same in a Jeep Gladiator.
We could go on and on rambling about the Super Bowl spots but we’ll cut you a break this time! As the hype of the Super Bowl commercials starts to die down, we’ve already begun our count down till we get to be entertainment junkies again!
Lester Wunderman, widely acknowledged as “the father of direct marketing” has died. He was 98 years old.
That’s a broad category that includes subscription entertainment services such as Netflix, e-commerce loyalty programs such as Amazon Prime, and direct-to-consumer health and beauty memberships such as Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. It includes e-commerce websites such as Amazon, direct grocery delivery services such as FreshDirect, and meal kit services including Hello Fresh, SunBasket and Blue Apron. Add to that all the mostly late-night 1-800 number direct-response television commercials selling everything from Swiffers to convection ovens, Peleton and Mirror and so much more in fitness, Weight Watchers’ app, SlimFast, Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig in weight loss. Warby Parker in eye glasses, Casper in mattresses and StitchFix in clothes. Dell in computers. American Express in financial services and credit cards. Apple in music and so much more. Priceline, Hotwire, Booking.com, Kayak and TripAdvisor in travel.
I could go on like this for pages and still only scratch the surface of the immense direct marketing revolution that has upended the old intermediated marketplace and touched the lives of every consumer and business. Direct model businesses are the wave of the present, and Lester Wunderman saw this coming more than 50 years ago.
But, does that make him the “father” of all of this. There’s a really good argument for his paternity.
He did launch the first “direct marketing” agency, Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, later Wunderman and now Wunderman Thompson. He is credited with coining the term “direct marketing” and describing his vision of more personal and accountable marketing in a 1967 speech at MIT. He and his team invented the toll-free 1 800 number (for a Toyota campaign), the magazine tear-off subscription card, the record club that is a precursor of both Apple Music and Netflix, and the first loyalty program (for American Express).
In addition, many of the techniques used in direct market and direct response advertising were first developed by Wunderman and his team. The use of on-camera telephone operators which has become a cliché’ in infomercials and direct television commercials was invented by Wunderman himself and introduced in his campaign for Time Life books which he called “the Judy Wrap.”
Another legendary ad man, Tom Messner, tells of how Wunderman wrested the Time Life business away from Messner’s agency by putting their television spot in between two messages from “Judy,” one at the beginning and one at the end. Thus, the Judy Wrap.
Messner’s commercial and Wunderman’s version of Messner’s commercial with the Judy Wrap were both tested in market. Wunderman’s won by a landslide, producing many more calls and sales. Wunderman’s agency won the account.
Wunderman managed to grow his agency huge, sell it to Y&R yet stay in charge, step down from the CEO role in 1998, well into his 70s, yet continue to come to work through a brief name change to Impiric, a public offering and acquisition by Martin Sorrell’s WPP, after which Wunderman’s name was returned to the masthead. He continued to come into the office every day well into his 90’s and survived to see his name placed ahead of J. Walter Thompson in the merger of the two agencies at the end of last year, forming Wunderman Thompson.
Or, at least I hope he saw it. Though he lived, I don’t know what his condition was at that time.
Those of us who labored “below the line” in direct marketing back in the day like to think he saw that. Whenever I meet a fellow direct marketer, they say the same. With that name change, it felt like the revolution was finally complete and those who had been last were finally first.
When I started my agency, I published a piece announcing our approach as “brand direct.” I was thinking of Lester’s introduction of “direct marketing.” I worshipped entrepreneurs like Lester and I guess I had an ambition to be the “father” of something too. I thought I saw something, a future in which direct model companies would need to build brands as well as businesses, and a gap in the marketplace – a lack of agencies that combined those areas of expertise. About six months after I launched my agency in 1996, Lester Wunderman came to our offices to visit. I had never met him before, but he said he was interested in what we were doing. I gave him a tour and he was mostly silent, taking it all in. At the end he said, “I think you’re doing something very interesting and worthy. Don’t let it grow too fast. We grew too fast and it caused us no end of problems.”
He proceeded to charm me, in the way that he no doubt charmed every potential client who came within reach.
Thank you, Lester Wunderman, father of direct marketing.