Marketing Manifesto – #7: Be consistent

I remember when I was young and my mother watched Sherlock Holmes films and TV shows. She loved his character and when she was watching a British television series starting Jeremy Brett as Holmes she would intently focus on our TV screen. She followed the story with such laser beam attention that she would completely ignore us if we talked to her during interesting bits.  Of course, Jeremy Brett was eerily engaging – I can clearly remember his face when he was deep in concentration on a mystery – it was kind of scary how intense he looked, which of course only added to his mystique and effectiveness in the role of Holmes.

Wikipedia notes that Sherlock Holmes is the “most portrayed movie character”, with some 75 actors playing the character in 211 films. So my mother was not alone in find the character fascinating. There is something about him and his uncanny ability to solve mysteries that makes us want to see into his world and learn his mental secrets.

When I think of why Sherlock Holmes, the detective, was so good at solving his cases, I can think of one particular reason: He was unfailingly consistent in his analysis of clues and his following of logic to their natural conclusions. Where lesser detectives would lose their way in a trail of clues, Sherlock Holmes, by some quirk of nature, was able to hold onto even the most tenuous thread that linked disparate clues together logically.  He worked step-by-step through a case, being utterly consistent in his thinking.

I wish that Sherlock Holmes was also a marketer because I bet he would be a good one.  Because I believe that consistency is one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s tool kit.

Which leads me to the next Marketing Manifesto principle:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#7: Be consistent

Of all the challenges I have ever had getting marketing “right”, being consistent has been the most devilishly difficult.

It is not that I am inconsistent by nature. My mother is Swiss, so I was raised to be consistent.  I can count on one hand, for example, the number of times I was late for school as a child.  Well, actually, I can’t count it – because I can’t ever remember being late for school.  That was how consistent she was in getting me out the door every morning.

Our own minds are the problem

No, consistency in my marketing has been devilishly difficult to achieve because the human mind is littered with knowledge,  beliefs, values, and dreams that steer us from the truth.

Instead of finding truth, the mind finds remembered facts that may or may not be true at the present time and in the current context.

Instead of finding truth the mind finds beliefs about what the truth is.

Instead of finding truth, the mind sees what it thinks the truth should be.

Instead of finding truth the mind finds wishful thinking.  We are full of hopes and dreams.

Yup, there you have it:  We, ourselves – our own minds – are the problem.  The “stuff” in them distracts us from identifying often simple truths and stringing them together like beads in a necklace of consistent logic.

It is not just me

Having graded hundreds of case study exams my students have written over the years, I have seen consistency as one of the major challenges they also deal with.   I teach my students to follow something called “The Marketing Method”, which is an iterative marketing analytical methodology I created.  It is a straightforward, step-by-step flow from customer needs through to advertising at the end. Between customer needs and advertising,  target markets are identified, products to position to meet target market needs are “created”, and channels for getting those products to the target market are identified.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, my students regularly lose the thread of consistency and logic.  For example,  when a target market of “women between 25 and 60 years of age” is considered for the sale of the Chevy Volt electric car, the students think nothing of stating that the best channel for selling the Volt is a regular dealership staffed by male salespeople who do business in very traditional ways. This conclusion is after the students have already clearly identified that this particular target market is buying the Chevy Volt for different reasons than a typical car might be sold, and with very different expectations of the buying process, which do not include being subjected to a regular male salesman doing his regular “sales thing”.  Instead of specifying a marketing channel setup that is consistent with all previous analysis (values based sales process, women salespeople, a special dealership process, etc.), they choose what they already know: That cars are sold through dealerships that represent the brand.  The Chevy Volt, therefore, should be sold through the regular Chevy dealership. Period.

On the case study exam from which the above example was taken, only 3 or so students out of my 30 MBA students actually identified that the dealership experience had to be different in order to meet the target market’s expectations and emotional goals when considering the Chevy Volt as a vehicle to meet their needs.

And of those 3 students, only 1 created a perfectly  simple, consistent, and interlinked marketing plan for the Chevy Volt, even when the case study gave them all the data needed to do so.  Most students did a great job in their analysis of the case – they are smart MBA students after all – but only one was able to create a truly consistent plan for the Chevy Volt.

(As an aside, I read a surprising reason why there are not more female car salespeople:  Female car buyers do not trust female car salespeople. Apparently female car buyers don’t believe female car salespeople really know what they are talking about when explaining mechanics and technical details of a vehicle. Only male car salespeople do.  Hmmmm….)

Want to be consistent?  Get all that  “stuff” out of your head.

Consistency, I believe, is the result of undivided focus on truth.  Not remembered truth. Not perceived truth. Not dreamed of truth.  Truth. Real truth.  And the only way I know of getting to that Truth is by emptying my conscious and unconscious brain of the clutter of  “stuff” in there.

This is not a lesson in deprogramming your conscious and sub-conscious minds but the indication that it would be really useful for you to do this emptying if you want to find truth and be consistent in your marketing.  How can you learn to do this deprogramming?  There are dozens of useful tools available, all of which are well documented on the internet and most are distributed and taught for free. Check them out.

In summary,  consistency is a cornerstone of Sherlock Holmes’ ability to solve mysteries.  And consistency is also a cornerstone of successful marketing.

Want to do great marketing?

Be consistent.

Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Marketing Manifesto – #6: Fail at marketing. Fail often and fail well.

Why the 2 year hiatus between Marketing Manifesto #5 and #6 ?  Because I was busy spending 2 years learning stuff!  And as you will find out shortly, failing at marketing.  Lots and lots of failing…which is exactly what I should have been doing.  Read on to understand this surprising (?)  reveal:

Everyone wants to do things “right” and achieve success.   We want to figure things out logically and get the right answer. We want to learn the correct path and learn from the wisdom and folly of others.  We don’t want to make mistakes or fail at things.

Sadly, that is not the way marketing works.  There is no “right” way.   We can’t figure out everything logically because of imperfect and missing inputs to our planning – inputs that just don’t exist.  And there is no “right” answer.  The “correct” path? There isn’t one. Every single project we do in marketing is significantly different from the next.  The wisdom and folly of others?  It is theirs.  Not ours.

Does this mean I don’t believe you can learn some sort of method or system of marketing? Not at all.  There  is a method, for sure. But the word “method” is very, very different from formula, scientific analysis, statistical testing, or other highly structured system.   The method of marketing, I believe, is like learning to surf:  You have to get out there in the ocean, find a wave,  and try to stand up on the board.  And fall off again and again until you get a feel for how to get up on your board at exactly the right instant when the wave is ready to crest.  This takes learning the dozens of little questions you need to ask yourself and learning which signals coming to you through your eyes, ears, and body are important. And learning what order to put the answers and signals. And when to take action on them.

Learning to surf is something you have to learn yourself – it is your personal experience. Others can help you learn some basic methodologies to get started, but in the end, you have to get up on the board and try it. Again, and again, and again, and…

which leads me to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#6: Fail at marketing. Fail often and fail well.

Marketing Manifesto #5 states that you have to do marketing, not study it.  Two years ago I wrote this and stand by it today.  But learning by doing is not about being successful. It is about failing.  Lots and lots failings.

“WHAT?!?!” you might ask. “Failing is BAD. If you fail, you are judged as being weak, stupid, lazy, dumb, of lesser status, and just generally ridiculous.”

In marketing, this is not true. Marketing is about trying things and learning from what doesn’t work.  Like falling off your surf board again and again while learning to surf, failing at marketing again and again is actually an indication that you may be learning something.  Of course, this assumes you choose to analyze what went wrong and to learn from your mistakes. And it assumes you are determined to try again. And again, and again.

In the end, like with surfing, after many failures in marketing you learn to succeed more often than fail.  You learn what it takes in a new marketing scenario to have a high chance of achieving success.

We are not taught to fail.

We are taught that failing is a bad thing.  After all, in school if you fail a test and then an exam, you probably fail the course. You are punished by the institution and punished socially by your peers for your failure.  School has few opportunities to learn by experimentation and failure in a supportive environment.  In school, then, passing or failing is all about judging your inherent worth as a cog in the societal wheel and ultimately as a human being.  Harsh assertion, I know, but hey, after a zillion years as a student and a teacher, I can state this with some certainty.

As marketers, we have to experiment with lots of small marketing ideas (Marketing Manifesto #5) and trust that we will fail regularly. And these failures have nothing to do with our “worth” or our social status.  They have to do with learning to find the truth about things, asking the right questions at the right time, and trusting that our path of learning is exactly the perfect path for ourselves…failures and successes together.

What I learned from my failed marketing

Here is  some of the learning from my marketing failures over just the last few years:

  • Don’t try to sell something to people who don’t have any money to buy what you are selling.  Just because they need what you have sell doesn’t mean they can afford it.  Loss  $0. I broke even from a cash outlay perspective, but hundreds of hours of work for free.  Learning value?  Profound.
  • Question that which seems too good to be true about a product (it probably is).  Dig deep for truth before investing.  Take all the time you need. If there is a rush it is likely because something is hidden that you need to know.  Loss:  $2500.   Learning value?  Invaluable lessons in trusting your instincts and having the patience of Buddha.
  • Sometimes you have to simply try something to see if it will work.  It may not work, but the only way to know for sure is to try it.  Loss:  $2000. Learning value?  Wow!  Insights, new contacts, and new business opportunities.

Get back on the surf board

You would think that I have a masochistic streak.  I don’t, actually. I have learned so much from recent marketing endeavors that I feel profound humility from all the gifts of learning I have received.

But I get back on the marketing “surfboard”. I continue to try marketing new product and services.  And in this I learn.  I have a voracious appetite for learning truth.  What I know now about successful marketing is vastly more than I knew a few years ago.

I will continue to try new marketing. I will continue to fail. I plan to fail well.  I am not afraid of failure, because it is a necessary path to learning marketing really, really well.

I wholeheartedly recommend failure to everyone who wants to be a great marketer.

Oh, and in case you  might be wondering how a professor of marketing can justify failing seemingly regularly when he is supposed to be teaching how to do marketing well, note that I haven’t shared how many times I have been successful in my marketing efforts over the last few years…

“Ummm…has anyone seen the keys to my Porsche?”

Kidding.  I don’t have a Porsche.


Marketing Manifesto – #5: You have to do marketing

I recently saw the delightful movie “Up in the Air” (2009), starring George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga. The story line revolves around the firing of employees in the current economic recession. Clooney’s character is hired to go into an organization and fire people, ostensibly because their bosses are too afraid to do the firing themselves.

Anna Kendrick plays the new college graduate who wants to change the firing process – from face-to-face interactions to firings done over the internet by video conferencing. The process of firing is mechanical and can be made a technical exercise, she believes. 80% savings on travel expenses is the payoff, in her view.

Clooney knows that firing people remotely via video conferencing won’t be as effective as doing so in-person. The core value of hiring a “firing professional” is their ability to carefully move a person from complete shock at the news of being fired to some form of stability and ultimately hope – a win for the firing organization and a win for the employee. To do this kind of work requires direct, interpersonal interaction and a very, very careful mixing of tried-and-true script, improvisation, a lot of compassion, and skill gained through practice. Clearly not a mechanical process.

Clooney takes Kendrick on the road to learn this reality. And learn it she does…the hard way.

What has this to do with marketing?

Marketing is often viewed as a science and something that can be studied and learned academically, much like Kendrick thought that firing someone can be made into a mechanical process and still be effective.

But marketing is all about people, who are anything but mechanical. And every marketing campaign is unique, requiring insight, life experience, an understanding of human emotions (Marketing Manifesto Principles 1 and 2), and figuring out the right questions to ask at the right time (Principle 4).

Which of course leads to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle…

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#5: Marketing is a practice. You do marketing.

Like walking or riding a bicycle, the real learning of marketing takes place in the doing of it, not in the talking about or studying of it. If you want to get really good at marketing, practice it.

When my son, Alex, was 8 years old he decided to run a cookie and lemonade stand out front of our home.  His mother bought lots of frozen pink lemonade concentrate and helped him bake a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for sale.

Lemonade Stand
The quintessential lemonade stand: Learning marketing by actually doing it!

Alex set up a table with a sign on the sidewalk in front of our house and began selling.  This was a busy Saturday in the summer and lots of traffic came by. He made a few sales in the first bit of time, but not much. I suggested to Alex that he make a big sign and go up to the street corner and stand there to catch drivers’ attention as they turned the corner and came down our street, giving them time to decide to stop before they drove on past.

Being a true showman and totally enthusiastic about his business, he made up a big sign, skateboarded up to the corner and began directly encouraging drivers to buy his lemonade and cookies by joyfully hollering at them as they turned the corner.

Well, his lemonade and cookie stand was quite a hit. Alex had to hire two friends to work his lemonade table and kept his mother busy with lemonade and cookie production while he went and did the marketing.

3 hours later he closed the business due to lack of supplies.  The result?  He met some new people, felt fabulous about himself, and made money. A few dollars you might think?  Heck no! He grossed $37 from 3 hours of selling lemonade and cookies (prep time excluded).  After paying his mother for the supplies and his employee-friends for their efforts, he walked away with a tidy sum and a big grin on his face.

The lesson?  He did marketing. He went out and made it happen. He didn’t sit behind his table, safely shielded emotionally, waiting for some hidden marketing process to kick in and deliver him sales success. He latched on to the idea that he was the marketing, and went and made it happen with a big sign and his skateboard. Loudly and enthusiastically.

“So, sitting in a classroom, safely behind a desk, with a textbook in hand isn’t really learning to do marketing?”

Most of my students, consulting clients, and job seekers I mentor have never done any marketing. They come to my classes, workshops, and meetings to learn it for the first time.  They come to study marketing, like you would study an instruction manual on how to ride a bicycle.

Do they learn something from my work with them? I hope so, and regularly hear from them that they did. And I hope it is because I insist on making them do marketing. I require my students, for example, to do lots of case studies, create marketing campaigns for real products, and even demand at times that they start a micro-marketing businesses for real, right in the course.That’s right: Actually sell stuff.

Doing marketing is not for everyone.

Being a mix of a goal oriented and relationship oriented kind of person and one who is very visual and kinesthetic, I love getting to the heart of things, understanding how people think, and practicing marketing by creating physical things…preferably with my own hands.  I love sitting in a cafe and observing human behavior, learning how people think and behave. Facilitating a focus group is career nirvana for me. Crafting a creative ad that delivers an emotional message is an exciting challenge for me.

But all these things are not as interesting to most people.  Particularly if they are more process oriented, auditory, and reading kind of people – which is what most students in universities are today. The goal and primarily relationship oriented students get too frustrated and either never start university or leave before they complete their under-graduate degree. The visual-kinesthetic ones never graduate high school. Seriously – typical high schools deliver a process orientation so strongly that the profile of a majority of drop-outs includes “kinesthetic”.

Where does this lead us to?  Well, marketing is a messy, messy business and requires a fully fleshed, well-rounded, eyes-open kind of person who wants to make things happen and is ready to take action to learn marketing by doing it.  Some characteristics of a person who will do well in marketing is someone who..

  • …has a high tolerance for uncertainty.
  • …wants to continually explore human behavior by observing and considering it.
  • …is not afraid of talking to people – better still, enjoys talking to people.
  • …is goal and at least partly relationship oriented (how else will they like talking to people?).
  • …has a high level of self-confidence and a secure self-image.
  • …is able to communicate at a highly skilled level, including very acute listening skills.
  • …learns independently.
  • …is active and proactive and likes making things happen..

I always add to such a list that it is not a prescriptive list.  Many people who are excellent at marketing do not have all the characteristics listed. But most great marketers have many of these characteristics.

In summary, you have to want to do marketing, must develop or already have an active attitude toward achieving goals, and enjoy working and learning from people.

Success Orientations
Success Orientations - one way of considering how people go about achieving success...

(An aside:  I used the terms “goal orientation”, “process orientation”, and “relationship orientation” above. They are from my Success Orientations behavioral model –  I also used “visual”, “auditory”, and “kinesthetic”, which are from the Neuro-Linguistic Programming VAK model. “NLP” was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.)

OK, so I want to learn to do really excellent marketing…how do I start? A lemonade stand?!?!?

Ha, ha!  No, you don’t need to run a lemonade stand to become excellent at marketing. But yes, you need to start doing it on a regular basis – practicing it and getting more and more understanding of the richness and depth of skills and attitudes you need to develop.

There are many easy and fun ways to get started doing marketing.  Some ideas:

  • When students leave university in June they sell their books, furniture, cars, computers and other belongings cheaply. They are desperate to get rid of them at the last minute. Ask around to see which items, specifically, will be in demand later by incoming students.When you find bargains, buy a few of them yourself.  Store these items until August 15th. Then post them for sale at higher prices on bulletin boards, online want-ads such as Craigslist, and through email to incoming students arriving at the end of the summer.This game takes very little money and is a fabulous, low-capital way to do marketing. Learn what advertising works. Learn how people bargain and how to interact with them to close a sale. Learn what is more in demand and what is harder to sell. Practice listening carefully to people and learning how they think. And make a profit doing so.
  • Stuff for sale
    Sell stuff...and practice marketing by doing so!

    Sell off anything you don’t want anymore through similar systems as the first example. Find things at garage sales and sell them for higher prices. Or bundle them together with similar items and charge a much higher price. From this exercise, learn how customers define the “value” of what you are offering. For example, I recently put up for sale on Craigslist a Nintendo Entertainment system, TV, and portable DVD player which my sons no longer needed. I had offers for the whole bundle for $40. Most queries, however, were for the NES system, which we subsequently sold alone for $50. Other calls were for the portable DVD player, which we have yet to sell. The TV may not sell at all. More marketing learning – some bundles work; others do not.

  • When you travel, bring a few things back you think you could sell to people in the area where you live.  Try selling them.
  • As a part-time business, offer some form of service…translation, custom cooking, walking dogs, …anything. Learn how to offer your services to people, how to price effectively, how to invoice people, how to generate word of mouth advertising, and how to close your business down when you have learned all you feel you can learn (and your customers are satisfied, of course!)
  • Volunteer to help a non-profit, charity, or community group with their marketing.  Listen, learn, and do marketing with them. No cost to you or them and lots of side benefits, like making new friends building your network for career reasons.

Get the idea?  It doesn’t take a lot to start practicing marketing.

But it does take a lot of practicing to become really good at marketing.

Marketing Manifesto – #4: It’s all about asking the right questions.

I am writing this Manifesto #4 while my class of MBA students are writing their International Marketing case exam.   As the exam started this morning, I listened for the type of questions they asked. Inevitably, I got the usual process questions and the disorientation questions, such as “what is this product [in the case] and what is it used for?”  (natural for a mix of international students as many come from very different cultures than North America).

However, a few questions indicated to me that some pretty significant investigation and analysis was happening, even as the exam started. And as I watched student behavior when they examined the physical samples of the product that were on display, I noted how some students looked for deeper cultural significance..

Over the last decade of teaching business students, I have come to listen more to my students’ questions than to their answers for evidence of their learning and progress.

For myself as a marketer, teacher, business person, and parent, I have also come to understand that the quality of my own questions indicates where I am in understanding something and getting at truth.  If I ask the wrong questions I get lost.  If I ask the right questions I get interesting answers that lead me to interesting truths.

This insight led me to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle…

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#4: It’s all about asking the right questions.


The ability to ask the right questions at the right time is infinitely more powerful in marketing than thinking you have the right answers.


MBA classroom
What do we learn in classrooms? To ask good questions? I hope so...

When I was doing my own MBA, I remember one student, who after a particular class, left our group and walked over the loading dock of our building to chat with the crew of a commercial delivery truck. “So, how much do you guys make per hour?” he asked them. “How is business?” and “what’s the economy like?” were two other questions he asked. We all laughed at our fellow student, thinking at that time that he was just pretending to be a Big Business Man or something. I mean, what can you learn from delivery guys? The REAL learning was in the classroom, after all.  “We are MBA students, destined to run the free capitalist world!” (groan)

But he wasn’t pretending, nor was he wasting his time when he should have been focusing on classroom learning. In fact, he was a lot smarter than the rest of us.

After all, who would better know the state of the economy than those people who deliver the goods in it?  Who better to know the state of the economy before it is publicly announced in the media than those actually directly involved moving it? And how better to know the state of the economy than by hearing how much commercial shippers are making per hour – those who are invaluable to the economy?

No, he wasn’t playing the fool. I was, by believing that what I put into my head was more important than the questions I asked.

He knew the right questions to ask, the right people to ask, and the right time to ask them.  I didn’t.

How do you learn to ask the right questions?

I could write a book full of professional and personal stories about how I asked the right questions, the wrong questions, or no questions at all, when I should have asked some. But this is not the time and place. I think you get the idea:  Marketing is not about data, information, or your wisdom or someone else’s wisdom. It’s about asking the right questions.

So how do you learn to ask the right questions?

(Good question!)

Some practices to get you started in asking the right questions

1. Stop filling your head with information. In fact, you might consider consciously emptying your head of information.  Stop reading the newspaper, get rid of the big screen TV, sign-off of the torrent of e-newsletters, and donate your already read books to the local thrift store. Seriously. You cannot make space for new questions, and their answers, until you empty your head of what you already know.


Meditate...just do it
Meditate...just do it. No freaky postures or zen forests required.

2. And if you are really seeking truth, you have to go further and create awareness space, too. Admit to yourself that your already acquired information, knowledge, beliefs, and learned behaviors are history and of little use to you if you want to understand the “now”. Try meditation, running, yoga, or any other technique that works for you to bring your awareness into the present moment, free and clear of…your own thoughts about the past and the future. Being present in the moment is a habit that you must practice to get good at.  And it is a habit that is essential to being ready to ask the right questions at the right time.

3. Break habits every day.  Eat with the opposite hand you normally use. Walk home from work a different way as many times as you can.  Go to a new place you have never been to at least once a week. Walk slowly rather than your usual fast gait. Bring into your conscious awareness your own habits and purposefully break them – every single day.  Feel the discomfort of doing so and the immediate liberation of your mind from the usual stream of thoughts about the past and planning for the future. Live on the edge of awareness rather than in a fog of mental noise. Breaking habits is about asking questions…good questions about yourself – which allows you to start to asking good questions about other things.

4. Be ready to be a little afraid, a little lonely, and a little sad.  Sorry to tell you this:  Asking really good questions will likely result in other people getting emotionally triggered by the nature of your questions (truth hurts). Your questioning mind will isolate you somewhat as you come out of the mainstream mindset, and will disillusion you to much of what you thought was “true”. All this can make you feel a bit sad and lonely at first.

5. Be ready to be a bit brave, a bit free, and a bit excited.   NOT sorry to tell you this:  Truth is empowering! Asking really good questions is the gaining of power that will help you feel more confident and brave, free from your old fears and doubts, and quite excited about what you are learning and how you are living.  Getting good at asking the right questions at the right time will change who you are into someone quite…well, “strong”, I guess.

(another little secret side benefit: Seeking and offering truth has an incredible affect on your relationships. Get ready for fewer but deeper friendships, more loving connections, and intoxicating passions like you never thought possible.  Incredible people are going to come into your experience when your focus is on seeking and offering truth…ENJOY!)


The 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferriss asks scary questions...are you ready to ask some too?

6. Start learning from the right people.  Try Tim Ferriss, author of the eye-opening book The Four-Hour Workweek.  This book and Tim’s practices will reshape how you ask questions. He is pretty extreme in his views, but his modus operandi is not.

Check out TED talks for any number of fascinating, insightful, and inspiring people who “walk the walk” of asking the right questions (  Find a person who really inspires you? Go to one of their workshops or talks for real and learn from them in-person. And make an appointment with your local hypnotherapist, Buddhist monk, sports psychologist, or “20th Dan” Karate black belt. They all know how to clear their minds, stay present in the moment, and ask the right questions.You can learn a lot from them.

Oh, did I forget to tell you to get rid of the TV? In case I didn’t:  Get rid of your TV.  You can’t learn to ask the right questions by watching people in commercials and sitcoms on TV. You have to practice it, for real in the real world, with real, live people, who can help you learn the skills you need to get good at the practice.

So where does this get you?

Another skill that you need to get really good at marketing.

What happens later?

If you gain some good negotiating and diplomacy skills on top of your ability to ask really good questions, you will be ready for your own marketing and advertising consultancy.

Why a consulting practice? Where does this angle come from?  Why won’t I simply be able to get a great job as a marketer in a big company?

Sorry:  You will be way too smart and way too threatening, to be hired by any normal organization. You would scare the hell out of their staff with the power of your questions and the uncomfortable answers that result!

Most people are not ready for truth.

(Are you?)

Marketing Manifesto – #3: People don’t really know why they are buying what they are buying.

Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box - YUM!!
Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box - YUM!!

I really love eating out at restaurants, tasting the wonderful richness of a Pad Thai dish, the mouth-wateringly subtle mix of flavors in a Japanese Yam Tempura Roll, or the oh-so-addictive Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box.

I am truly a Foodie.

But when I start to think about why I choose to go out for a noodle box on a particular day, I find that I am not really going out to buy a noodle box, even if I am addicted to the Singapore Cashew Curry. No, when I dig down and be truthful with myself, it is for another, quite surprising reason that I choose a noodle box. It is because I can trust that it will be just what I remembered it was last time. I choose a Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box as my lunch because I need to take care of myself and I can trust it to consistently please me.  My choice is not the kind of food I want for taste reasons, but how I want to feel that day – in this example I need to nurture myself.

And I didn’t even think about this until now. 2 years of Singapore Cashew Curry noodle boxes. Not one thought about the real why in all that time.

Which leads to my Marketing Manifesto Principle #3:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#3: People don’t really know why they are buying what they are buying.

Most purchases are determined by completely hidden subconscious reasons.

People think they are making a particular purchase for conscious, logical reasons.  Not so. These reasons can often be quite illogical to the rational mind, and they are almost always different than the conscious reasons.

As a marketer, figuring out the subconscious factors is absolutely necessary if you are to accurately and consistently deliver what the customer really wants – even if the customer, themself, doesn’t know what they want on a conscious level.

Unfortunately, figuring out these subconscious factors is a challenge because regular surveys, focus groups, and even direct feedback can give you what the customer consciously thinks are the reasons they are buying the product – but most often not the real, underlying reasons.

And pushing to get a the underlying reasons is not usually a good idea:  People don’t like talking about things at a deeper level – doing so generates all kinds of uncomfortable emotions.

Oh, and the subconscious reasons can all be grouped under two headings: Fear and Love.   (surprise, surprise!)


We are programmed in our first 7 years of life with a comprehensive set of rules, beliefs, instructions, and lessons. These 7 years form the foundation for everything else that happens in the rest of your life.

The problem?

Being an adult right now in history requires programming that is different than that which you gained in the first 7 years. But you are still playing by those childhood rules, largely without even knowing what they are!

And much or most of that programming is based on fear.  “Touch that stove and you will get burned!!”


Barbecues and family values - what a combination
Barbecues and family values - what a combination

That same subconscious childhood programming makes people buy things for reasons of deep love.  For example, many people absolutely love a barbecue.  Just the smell of cooking meat on a grill brings a happy smile, excitement, and even a warm feeling of love. Why? because as children, these people had some of their fondest family events centered around a barbecue. For them, a barbecue represents family love, not food.

“OK, so how can we figure out the real reasons people choose to purchase what they purchase?”

I thought you would never ask.

This is my most favorite part! Now we get to do what I consider REAL marketing: Unraveling the mysteries of the human mind and spirit.

(“Oh, boy, oh boy, oh boy!!”)

To start, you have to have develop in yourself a few attitudes and skills. Like never being satisfied with anything that doesn’t feel like absolute truth. And never settling for a simple, logical, unemotional reason. And nurturing the determination of the world’s best detective. And practicing the listening skills of the most sensitive deer in the forest. And fostering the observation skills of the finest eagle, circling a thousand feet up but able to see the tiniest movement of a mouse on the ground. And cultivating a fearless openness to learning things you didn’t know before that challenge your beliefs and values.

Yes all these, and you have to be really hungry for truth.

Then you will figure out why you yourself really buy things.

And from there you will begin to see why other people really buy things.

The world will never be the same for you.

Some tools

Using your newly developed attitudes and skills, the tools fall into your experience easily and quickly.  You observe behavior that doesn’t match with words and you immediately try to figure out the source of the behavior (words come from the conscious mind, subtle behavior from the subconscious). You pick up books you would never have read before and suddenly they have clues and insights of use. You begin to ask new questions that dig deeper and farther than you could have imagined.

For you are learning that marketing is a practice, not a set of knowledge. It is an arcane and intuitive mix of left and right brain thinking.

"The culture code" - A marketer's treasure trove.
"The culture code" - A marketer's treasure trove.

And you gain new marketing heros, like Clotaire Rapaille, author of ” The Culture Code – An ingenious way to understand why people around the world live and buy as they do. “.  Clotaire has the directness and audacity only a Frenchman could have to dig subconscious truth out of people by literally hypnotizing them to do it.

Or behaviorist’s old friend Abraham Maslow, for his so very simple by so very useful “Hierarchy of Needs” model. Sometimes “pooh-poohed” by academics, this model continues to deliver truth, even if those who consider it don’t like what the model implies for them personally.

Or education’s Neil Postman, for his bravery in challenging what the subconscious really learns in those formative young years in school, in his book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity“. Seldom has such a heretic dared challenge the pious sanctity of the school system in a manner that delivers hugely uncomfortable truths…and breathtaking clarity.

Welcome out of the Matrix

Want to be a great marketer? Get yourself out of the Matrix – find out what is really going on under the conscious surface of human behavior.

Uncomfortable the journey will be at times, but also very exciting as the insights and truths about “where it all comes from” begin to pour into your experience…