Senator Ted Stevens won the bake-off with his post-modern, dadaistic impression of an intelligent legislator as he argued in committee against net neutrality with his stunning metaphorical grasp of how the Internet works. Of course, it is all the more stunning since this defender of the bridge to nowhere is also the chair of the committee that regulates the Internet.
What bake-off you might ask? In considering how to begin this epic blog journey, I wondered to myself what the perfect thing would be to capture the sense of wonderment I have about the world and its inhabitants. Why we do what we do. And my skepticism towards conventional wisdom (not that it is wrong, but it is often misapplied by those who live and think on autopilot). How could I capture this feeling that it's one big theater of the absurd?
Jon Stewart, Net Neutrality and Ted Stevens Testimony
courtesy: The Daily Show
Techno-Remix: Series of Tubes
courtesy: Paul Holcomb, The Bold Headed Broadcast
What ultimately decided it for me was the advice of a much wiser sage who has been authoring a really great blog for a number of years. Have a strong point of view, he said. Don't be afraid of controversy, he said. Not much to worry about on those first two. Aim to have a teachable lesson in your posts. Ok. That one is going to be hard, because I always want to write the textbook when I start explaining the way things are.
But as I considered the available blog fodder, and the fact that I didn't want to begin with some pedantic lecture on branding, or advertising in the post-tv era, or the importance of knowing thy customer, etc., it struck me that the Ted Stevens saga carried with it the opportunity for just the right amount of embedded attitude, and that the one thing that hadn't already been covered by the Technorati A-listers was a teachable marketing lesson. Admittedly, it's a stretch, since Ted Stevens isn't remotely about marketing, but let's give it a whirl and see what we can take away.
- You don't know your market as well as you think you do. Honestly, in your wildest thoughts, could you imagine that anyone who has graduated from high school could be that ill-informed about the internet? Could you imagine that the person with the least grasp of technology in Washington, perhaps in America, could be leading the committee that rules over all things telecom and web-related? What this illustrates for me is that we all make assumptions about the communities that make up our customers, but in reality, most of those assumptions are at best an approximation, and at worst, dead wrong. If you were a lobbyist trying to argue for net neutrality on the hill, would you believe that your market includes someone with no understanding of the subject matter, and worse that he's the leading decision maker?
- Facts don't matter. Stories do (shout out to Seth). Clearly, Mr. Stevens doesn't understand the facts. The only fact that matters to him is that his internets got stuck in a gummy, clogged up tube, and arrived late. That's his story, and he's sticking with it. Instead of trying to explain the technology to him (the facts), what story could we have told that would have made a difference?
- Emotions always trump reason. We often forget a simple fact. All buyers are people. People don't buy things based on which decision makes sense, but based on which senses make the decision. Anger, pride, comfort, fear, love, easier life, tastier meals -- those are the things that we use to motivate decisions. Most of the time the justification based on rational arguments is done after the decision is already made, which means that we selectively chose numbers, facts, data, stories to shore up weak logic, and actively exclude contra-indicators. Mr. Stevens wants his internets to be first in line. Who can blame him?
- Always remember to ask "Where's the money? Show me the money!". As I've already reminded you, conventional logic has little to do with most buying decisions. When all reason fails, and you're looking for a powerful emotion to trade on, understand from whence the sources of money and power flow. Is Stevens doing the bidding of telecom industry lobbyists? I don't know, but I'd be suspicious enough to check his appointment calendar for the past year to see how many lunches and parties and boondoggles were paid for by the bagmen, and where his campaign finance dollars come from and whether there are any PACs supporting him. The money and power thing explains the bridge to nowhere better than anything else.
- It is impossible to underestimate the collective intelligence and knowledge of any random sample. Senator Stevens is a Harvard-trained lawyer. He is 3rd in line for succession to the Presidency (after the Vice President and Speaker of the House). A conservative estimate places him in the top percentile of people who have a clue. If you are like me, you spend most of every day interacting with the top 20 percent - people who are educated, have good jobs, pay attention to what's going on around them. People like Ted Stevens. (Ok, not exactly like him.) If he doesn't get it, what about the bottom 80% where most of your market is? With all our modern marvels of technology - the internet, blogs, wikis, email, search tools, etc. - we should be better informed than ever, but Jay Leno can randomly walk down the street and find that 8 out of 10 people don't know who the Vice President is. How does a marketer use this? Don't take anything for granted, but don't insult your market either. Always strive to educate, inform and entertain, and you'll do more selling.
- The rest of the world knows more about America than Americans do. This is a sort of corollary to number 5 rather than a take away from Senator Stevens testimony. Think of it as a bonus lesson. Ironically, non-Americans aspire to be us, and desperately want our material success so that they too can get fat, dumb and happy. So they study harder, work harder, collaborate better, and are much hungrier for success. The marketing lesson: today there are a lot more sophisticated buyers outside the United States than inside, and the number is growing. If you aren't doing business internationally, you're missing a big opportunity.
International vs American Students; Oprah Talks to Bill Gates
courtesy: Harpo Productions
Their tubes hurt too: