It's too easy to talk ourselves into talking to ourselves.

You’re working on a strategy or creative execution and you’re crushing it!

You’ve clearly created a brilliant battle plan that will succeed in achieving your business objectives. You know EXACTLY what you want people to do after they’ve been exposed to your genius.

On paper, you’ve solved the problem. In discussions, you’ve won the war.

It’s all over but planting a flag and leading an army of dedicated loyalists and new customers. 

Bam! Victory–– glorious victory!

Not so fast…

I used to work with a client who at these planning moments would sound a bullhorn of reality with one simple statement: “I think we’re smelling our own breath here.”

That was his way of saying we were too close to it. We were talking to ourselves, getting ‘too insider’ and blowing smoke.

Why do so many marketers spend so much time, energy and money talking to themselves?

Because it’s easy.

Marketers have a clear vision of the results we want, but we don’t have an honest assessment of what people are really thinking, feeling, believing, doing.

We know what we want, but do we have any idea of what they want? Are we giving them a compelling and believable enticement for believing us?

If we don’t gut check ourselves, we’ll talk to ourselves and waste marketing dollars.


Don’t be afraid to call “bullshit” when you’re discussing strategies, creative briefs, and action plans. Embrace vigorous and honest debates. Ask for substantiation and research that illuminates consumer beliefs and behaviors.

If you don’t have it, why not? Isn’t what your audience thinks kind of important?

Also, know that people are unpredictable and that the stimulus we create may or may not entice the behavior we want.

That, my friend, is why marketing is more art than science.

Be brave, be empathetic, be human.

And always remember it’s not about us, it’s about them–– and if we leave them out of the process, we’ll only be talking to ourselves.

When that happens, we don’t usually have minty fresh breath.

Relax, visualize success, contemplate the journey.

Society has attention deficit disorder. Attention spans are shorter than… hey, what’s that?!

Unfortunately, short attention span disease has also spread to the business world.

Once, great businesses had foresight, a purpose, mission, strategy and patience. Today businesses are obsessed with quarterly performance. Everything is short-term thinking in service of Wall Street.

“We’ve got to increase sales three percent to make the quarter.”
“We missed the quarterly projections. Next quarter, we need to put up some really big numbers.”
“Our marcom budget was slashed to help the quarter.”

American business operates in clips of ninety-one and ninety-two-days-at-a-time. It’s like the life cycle of an insect–– we’ve become financial fruit flies. What’s the result of this obsession with quarterly performance? Panic and short-sighted decision-making.

Which can lead to a short tenure for the Chief Marketing Officer.

In an effort to put results on the board quickly, marketers often fall prey to discounting, couponing, social media giveaways or doing whatever it takes to make short-term sales, not taking into account their long-term effects. Creating bargain hunters isn’t building brand loyalists.

Short-term tactics are fool’s gold. It’s impossible to establish a clear brand purpose and positioning without a smart strategy and long-term growth plan.

Great battles are rarely waged and won in three-month increments, and quick fixes can lead to dangerous discounting spirals or brand confusion.

Breathe deeply, marketers. It’ll be all right.

Let’s be smart. Let’s answer the big question: how can we benefit human beings first and foremost? Do that well, and the numbers will follow.

Let’s think things through, talk it out, make plans, consider options, explore approaches and take steps toward achieving our goals.

Yes, it may take longer than a quarter. Or two. Or ten. But if you’re looking to play the long game, it’s the only way to enjoy a long, prosperous career.

Death, doom and destruction–– but will it move you?

Summer Blockbusterpalooza is upon us. Yawn.

Hollywood is about to assault your senses with sequels, franchise films, tent pole properties and comic books brought from panels to screens, and, well, you remember last Summer’s cinema fare, don’t you?

An endless parade of computer-generated junk food.

Come see famous landmarks blown up, cityscapes wiped into oblivion and entire populations decimated by horrific stuff.

Popcorn flicks today are less about human stories and more about visual spectacles. Usually in 3-D versions. And frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. In an effort to turn the movie theatre into an amusement park, we’ve lost humanity.

What was the last film that actually moved you, on an emotional level? Did it involve a comic book super hero, or a human being you could relate to? One who surmounted challenges and achieved victory on her/his terms?

It was probably the human story, not some computer-generated spectacular.

Why is that?

Because we’re wired for it. We want to empathize with a hero’s journey. Sure, make believe and spectacle is fun, but it doesn’t usually have much sticking power. The thrill (if there even was one) is only in the moment. True human emotional connections made in movies last long after the house lights come on.

Don’t get me wrong, billion dollar escapism movies prove there’s demand, but marketers should keep in mind that if you want to move people in meaningful ways, you’ve got to create stories your audience can relate to and empathize with. That’s how demand is created.

Because despite all the technological advancements, we’re still humans.

After much suffering, Don finds himself.

It’s over. Mad Men has ridden into the sunset, and what a glorious ending it was: on a sun-drenched hilltop as people of all nationalities connect with ice cold bottles of Coca-Cola and sing joyfully. The story ends with this iconic commercial, created by Don Draper, a mad man born as Dick Whitman, who had a backstory not even Dickens would wish on a character.

Dick (Don) was born to a prostitute mother who died bringing him into the world. His father, her john, beat him regularly–– until the old man was taken out by a horse with a kick to his head. Little Dickie was raised by his stepmother in a brothel. She prostituted herself to a brother-in-law to help pay the rent as the teenage Dick watched through a keyhole. Prepare the analyst’s couch.

Adult Dick goes to fight in Korea, accidentally blows up his commanding officer, Lt. Don Draper, who was soon to end his tour of duty. Dick switches dog tags with the dead Draper, assumes his identity, returns to the States and becomes a fur salesman. Eventually, he works his way into advertising through pluck, persistence and innate talent.

Whew. Don Draper is a deeply flawed character (how could he not be, given his past?). He’s a deserter, womanizer, liar, booze hound and absentee father. He has trouble with relationships. He’s a lost soul, always in search of the next thing. So what accounts for his meteoric success in the advertising business?


Don is seriously flawed, but he recognizes the need for connection in all of us. He understands that we all have unmet wants and unfulfilled desires. “Itches,” he calls them. He sees his job as finding ways of framing a product’s features in fulfillment of human needs. Don Drapers uses advertising to scratch itches.

And he does so brilliantly.

Mad Men explored the human condition through the prism of this troubled character. Don and his supporting cast were complex individuals, like real human beings. They are interesting people living in interesting times as society is changing, conventions and mores are questioned. Authority itself is questioned.

Don Draper, ad man/mad man, is able to do his voodoo because he understands human frailties. He knows we all seek love and connection and we all crave attention.

Through the many years of trouble and turmoil in his own life, he finally comes at peace with himself and his purpose in the world. He buys the world a Coke.

Thanks, Don/Dick.

Marketers, how will your product or service satisfy a human itch?

Be prepared before barging in.

The problem with modern marketing isn’t shrinking budgets, rapidly changing technologies or ever-evolving media channels.

No. The problem is people–– they just won’t do what we want them to.

It’s crazy! Don’t they know about our brilliant strategies? Our innovative use of media chasing and finding them? Don’t they appreciate our clever messages?

No. The ingrates.

Apparently, people are too busy living their lives to care about our professional lives trying to sell them stuff and points of view.

So before you do anything, marketer, ask yourself a couple simple questions (answer them truthfully, or prepare to fail):

  1. Who are you are trying to influence? Describe the person, not a demographic.
  2. That person is currently doing something that makes her/him happy (or at least satisfied)–– why should she/he care about what you have to say?
  3. How is your product or service going to make her/his life better, more emotionally enriching?
  4. Why should he/she believe you? Be honest, their B.S. detectors are always set to HIGH.
  5. Now, what do you want that person to do–– providing you’ve piqued some interest.

There. Five black and white questions that must be answered before you get to the really hard part–– how to pique interest with your message in a meaningful way, and where to engage her/him.

Forget the shortcuts, fool’s gold fads and idealistic dreams that people will do what you want just so the company can make its quarterly numbers. Everyone is the hero in her/his movie, and you, well, you’re just an interruption. Sorry.

So what are you going to do to make your disruption into their lives worthwhile?

Because here’s the ugly truth about marketing in the 21st century: humanity trumps technology, every time.

Mother's Tears

Throughout the history of humanity, I doubt anything has had the emotional power of affecting a person as much as seeing one’s mother cry.

Recall a time when you saw your mother cry. Close your eyes. That image is still there, forever burnished into your consciousness. How did it make you feel?





Probably all of them.

Why does seeing your mother cry have so much power? Because she’s the one who gave you life. The one who was (and is) so strong.

She was your teacher, counselor, motivational spark, cheerleader, drill instructor and #1 fan.

To see your mother cry is to see all that you know and trust in the world collapse. It’s your pillar of strength showing weakness.

Seeing your mother cry is undeniable proof that we are all vulnerable, all susceptible to pain, suffering and grief.

We are all human. Even superwomen. Even moms.

On this Mother’s Day, make your mom happy. Spread her joy, her love and the precious gift of life she gave you. Do her proud and show that her gift pays dividends.

And if your mother has left our world, remember her smile and her spirit. That is a reward you’ll cherish all your life.

(A reminder that your target audiences are not demographics. They are people, and despite our differences, we are all the same–– the daughters and sons of mothers. Treat your audience as your mom taught you: with compassion, dignity and respect. Marketers must ensure their messages bring something of value to people, demonstrate the product’s relevance to improving life, or suffer the consequences of being ignored.)

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