Spanning the globe for insights into human behavior and persuasion.



Blogrolling Evelyn

A professor of philosophy challenges Evelyn:
You, Ms. Rodriguez, appear to be an enemy. I teach philosophy and literature at various schools here in the South, and one of my principal difficulties is instructing young minds to be mindful of people in marketing, for such souls buy and sell the anima and animus of our cultures as if we ourselves were mere commodities... A marketer with integrity,though???? Possible?
I appreciate not only Evelyn's thoughtful response (a clip: "I feel we have the most (if subtle) influence when we take the nonjudgmental stance that comes from a desire to understand and allow our presence to speak for itself"; you should read the rest), but also her links to other marketing professionals with integrity.

Some promising blogs for my (as yet unpublished) "marketers with integrity" blogroll:Any other suggestions?



It's All Spam

Michael Cleverly replies:
Is there any way to distinguish the business model of Meier & Frank (casting as wide a net as possible to sell their wares, driving Don's wife to hate marketers in the process) and the sundry firms who daily seem to try to get me to enlarge various organs of my body, or buy all kinds of perscription drugs online? Aren't they too merely casting the net that their business model requires?
Can't argue with that logic (honestly, Michael, since most of your logic is right on, I'll never argue with you much). That's another reason I think the current model can't last forever.

So I guess we are in violent agreement.

Another reason the current model can't last: TV advertising isn't working as well as it used to (from Bloomberg News by way of Jeff Jarvis):
Ad spending worldwide should increase 5 percent or 6 percent this year, Roberts, 55, said in an interview at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. Annual growth will slow to an average of about 4 percent after 2005 as TV prices "come down,'' he said late yesterday. "They will have to. Otherwise advertisers are going to leave the medium.'' ...

In the U.S., television networks "seem to be gouging advertisers,'' Roberts said. "Their rates are going up and the return on investment is coming down.''

Thanks for the conversation.



Score One for the First Amendment

Being employed in the marketing/communications field, as well as considering myself devout, the First Amendment has everyday importance to me. I believe in the entire First Amendment. I also believe today's Supreme Court rulings are a victory for Americans.

Since I've paid attention to the church/state debate, I've thought that proponents of 10 Commandments displays were barking up the wrong tree. It's not about religion; it's about history. The Ten Commandments is one of the pillars (not the only pillar, as fellow buzzmachine commenters reminded me) of Western civilization. So what if prohibitions against killing, lying and stealing are the only overt references to the Ten Commandments we now find in our law? The point is, they established a widely held "rule of law," and they are part of our government's ancestry. They deserve a space on government property. But only because of their historical significance.

Say someone who shares my LDS beliefs wanted to erect a memorial listing the LDS Church's "Articles of Faith." Even though I believe the tenets the articles espouse, I would find such a monument morally reprehensible. (UPDATE: Should have noted that I would find such a monument morally reprehensible if it were erected on government property. It doesn't belong there.)

I don't consider myself a strict separationist by any means. I think it's wrong that the prevailing demands for "freedom from religion" are squelching religion from public life. But I agree with Justice Souter that the government should be neutral on the subject of religion.



Promotion's Hard Realities

I wanted to say more in my response to Michael Cleverly's post on marketing. But I'm hamstrung by my Treo. I know, I'm lame. I have this nice all-in-one communication tool with which I can blog from anywhere, and I'm complaining. But Treo's default browser doesn't allow more than 2000 characters in a textarea field. Any suggestions for a work-around?

At any rate, Michael's objection wasn't with marketing, it was with promotion. Promotion--advertising, direct, publicity, media relations and the like--is probably the most villified of the 5 P's (the other four, for you non-marketers, are product, placement, pricing and position). I believe some of that disdain is deserved. But in most cases, the problem isn't that marketers want to manufacture a need. They just want to be the one out of many choices that people make. They want to connect buyer and seller.

Of the millions of people that see a TV spot for Meier & Frank, the vast majority of them will ignore it. The rest of audience will either go to the store or wish they could. But for a retailer like M&F, whose business model depends on getting as many people into the store that they possibly can, that's the best they can do. They've got to cast as wide a net as they can. Competition and the constant need for growth compel almost all businesses to do the same.

Most of the promotion we experience has nothing to do with us, and we hate the interruption.

The problem is relevance, and marketers know it. That's why we listen when someone like Seth Godin coaches us on how to develop relationships with our audience. That's why we're so interested in conversational technology like blogs and wikis, because it will allow us to better reach and relate to the people who will buy our products and use our services.

But, sadly, no technology or tactic will make much difference until the economic reality for most businesses changes. And I don't see that happening soon.


Justifiable Fear?

Something I read in the local paper got me thinking about when it may be justifiable to use the FUD tactic.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Salt Lake County was hearing public comment about their plan to spend $10.8 million to improve their water system. Their appeal? Public safety. Firefighters can't effectively respond to fires in the area because the system doesn't have enough water pressure. Lives and homes could be lost without this upgrade. Why now? A new fire district was taking over, and with jurisdiction changing hands, there is a small window of opportunity for the county to spread the cost with other governmental entities. If they didn't do it now, it would cost them more later.

While most of the citizens at the meeting opposed the plan, the county's message got through to some:
"I came against the resolution, but they have convinced me that there's a problem with the fire hydrants," said [resident] Linda Zenger.
So that leads me to ask the question, when is using fear, uncertainty and doubt justified?

In this case, I think county leaders were right because a) there is a legitimate public safety risk, and b) there wasn't much time to convince people by using other methods. As long as the county is telling the whole story so that their constituents can make an informed decision, this was a good call.

Are there any situations where marketers should use FUD?



Marketing's PR Problem

My friend Michael has been reading GrokMart -- thanks, pal -- and agrees with my wife's assessment of marketing (who's asked to remain nameless by the way... She's still smarting from a college essay I posted to a long-gone personal website that offered a humorous--or so I thought--take of the stress of trying to have a baby. I WON'T be posting that here.).

Michael's take on marketing:
Of course I've always been somewhat skeptical of marketing. My parents taught me as a child to realize that advertising was meant to play on my emotions. That I wouldn't necessarily be as happy with <fill in the blank toy> as the children depicted on TV. That the happy smiling beautiful people in cigarette ads in magazines weren't made happy by the cigarettes they were smoking...
You may be surprised, Michael, but I agree with you (except for the part where you named Satan as the first great marketer. Ouch.) My better half, for her part, tells me she's just tired of being made to feel lame because she doesn't have an endless supply of cash to go to every "Saturday Only!" sale that Meier & Frank and JCPenney and Mervyn's are trumpeting. Personally, I would like to get my hands around the neck of the person who first promoted shopping as a leisure activity.

I DESPISE advertising that manufactures need. I think much of the advertising aimed at kids borders on the unethical.

But that's not marketing.

Not the essence of it anyway. Marketing is much more than promotion. It's also about developing products and services that meet a need, pricing them at a level the market can bear, placing them where they can be found, and staking a brand position in the market that differentiates them from the competition. The essence of all these things is facilitating the connection between buyer and seller.



Use It or Lose It

In my view, the more I know about how the brain functions, the more I can understand human behavior. That's why I read Dr. John Ratey's A User's Guide to the Brain, (which I promised to blog about -- I haven't forgotten). While reading User's Guide, I was struck by how much researchers learn about the brain by studying brain disorders such as ADHD, autism and Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's research is bearing fruit. This article summarizes ways that people can prevent Alzheimer's by exercising their brain.
Your brain is like a muscle — use it or lose it. Brain scans show that when people use their brains in unusual ways, more blood flows into different neural regions and new connections form. Do a new type of puzzle, learn to play chess, take a foreign language class or solve a vexing problem at work. Try to challenge your brain daily, Edgerly advises.
Elizabeth Edgerly, mentioned above, heads a free program in California to teach people how to exercise their brain in hopes of avoiding Alzheimer's. Her other tips include involving one's self in social groups and getting as much education as possible, having an interesting job, and avoiding stress and worry.

On the drug front, researchers at Myriad Genetics, a Salt Lake City biotech company, have developed a compound that is showing promising results in stopping the spread of plaque in the brain that is thought to be the main cause of Alzheimer's.



Selling the Sneezers

One of the reasons I read blogs is to read the kind of thinking that Hugh MacLeod dispenses. The guy's brilliant. I don't know of anyone else who can deconstruct corporate marketing as swiftly or as creatively. Plus, his cartoons are a crack up.

Today's post is vintage Hugh.
Ordinary people actually aren't that different than ad agencies i.e. they're only going to tell your story if there's something in it for them. With ad agencies, it's easy- they just want the large wads of cash. Odinary people want something else. Status. Cool factor. Peace, Love and Happiness. Whatever.

Forget your "product benefit" for a second. Instead, just ask yourself, when somebody's telling your story to other people, what's in it for them? What's their angle?


Thanks, Seth

Last night, my wife told my sister, who's also in marketing, "No offense, but I'm beginning to hate marketers. All marketing tries to do is sell you stuff you don't need."

(What does she think of me, you ask? As long as I pay the bills, I guess I'm safe from her ire :-)

Well, darling, here's an answer to you from Seth Godin, the world's best-known marketer:
Marketing is not about trickery or even insincerity. It's about spreading ideas that you believe in, sharing ideas you're passionate about... and doing it with authenticity. Marketing is about treating prospects and customers with respect, and realizing that it's easier to grow the amount of business you do with happy people than it is to find new strangers to accost.




Evelyn Rodriguez's latest post hits on themes I love to talk about: human behavior, motivating through love, authenticity. Her thesis: It ain't hard.
What do I already know?
  • Marketing is about people, period.
  • People respond to love, period. What of fear, you ask? Fear being of the Ego is totally unpredictable. You are on your own terra incognita there...
  • Authenticity is about being yourself - who you are, period.

Organizations spend a significant amount of money trying to find out what they are, not only in the minds of their customers, but in the minds of their executives. That research, if done right, will bear fruit.

But, as Seth would say, it's all a lie because, as Locke would say, corporations are fictions. No matter how much good the organization does, no matter how benevolent or virtuous, no matter how honest and trustworthy, a corporation can't be personal or authentic, because it's not a person.

So where does that leave me when I'm marketing a corporation? For better or worse, I'm left with me. And the best I can be is authentic. The best I can do is love my work, the people I work with and the people I'm trying to reach.




Utah legislator John Dougall's post on the opponents of Utah's porn legislation used a term I hadn't heard of before--FUD, or fear uncertainty and doubt. There's even a wikipedia article on it (but, with more than half a million articles, wikipedia covers just about everything, doesn't it?). No doubt about it: fear motivates, especially, for Americans, fear of government interference.

UPDATE: Broken link fixed. Thanks, Michael, for the heads up.



10 Commandments of Blogging

My PR hero and father of my Gmail account Steve Rubel blogs the 10 Commandments of Blogging. To my PR buddies at IHC and elsewhere, thou shalt read and ponder.



I was just reading Evelyn Rodriguez's blog and found something that looked post-worthy, but then I thought, "why?" What's a link to Evelyn going to get me? Conversation? Probably not. She's got a huge readership, whereas I'm a slug on the bottom of the blog pond. Plus, she can be a bit existential for my taste.

What I really need to do is scan Evelyn's blogroll and the rolls of other marketers out there and find someone out there who I could have a conversation with, someone who is interested in thr study of human behavior and how it relates to marketing.

MUCH LATER: I was completely taken off guard when Evelyn responded to this post. If this blog had my picture, I'd color it red. Turns out, Evelyn reads those who blog her posts, and it turns out, we've had a bit of a conversation. So, Evelyn, all apologies. Forgive my presumptiveness and my intolerance (see "existential" comment above). It'll be kick to meet you in person. If that can't happen, I look forward to more blog conversation.



Free speech or mob violence?

Here's a textbook example of persuasion by "playing to the crowd." Animal rights activists are saying that their free speech rights are being violated when their civil disobedience tactics are being prosecuted as terrorism.

The activists, members of a group that call themselves "SHAC," have been charged with intimidating employees of New Jersey-based Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests pharmaceutical products on animals.

The group, via its website, rails against the charges, stating, "This is a frightening step in the Bush administration's path to war on domestic dissidence,"

Their they are, trying to convince us that their plucky little organization is just doing its moral duty, appealing to the Bush haters and those of us with libertarian streaks.

Funny, but isn't it New Jersey, not the Justice Dept, which filed the charges? And can you really call (allegedly) "invading offices, damaging property, stealing documents, ... spraying cleaning fluid into the eyes of [Huntingdon] employees, smashing the windows of their homes and threatening to kill or injure members of their families" domestic dissidence?

Call me close-minded, but I think the right term is "mob intimidation."



First persuasion report

It's been a week since the Privately Owned Health Care Organization Task Force's initial meeting, and it's about time I put my thoughts on the persuasive tactics used there into words.

But I'm hesitant.

The problem I see is people outside and inside IHC could construe my take to be the company's take. So, for what it's worth, here's my disclaimer:

The following is my opinion and mine only. In no way does it reflect the views of my employer, Intermountain Health Care, or any of its officers.

There. I hope that's enough. Here goes:

Persuasive tactic number one: Me too. IHC claims to have become an integrated health system because it's better for their patients. They can influence outcomes in every aspect of care, from detection and prevention to the actual delivery of care as well as any after-care follow-up.

Two of IHC's competitors--MountainStar, a six-hospital system owned by HCA, and Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, a multi-state health insurer--both stated that while quality of care at IHC's facilities is excellent, organizations that are not integrated can also promote excellent quality.

Jack Towsley, a VP at MountainStar, said there are no widely-accepted quality standards in health care. Some of the quality recognition lists his hospitals are in (his HCA DBA has six in Utah) don't include IHC hospitals at all. Towsley said he would pit the quality of his hospitals against IHC's hospitals any day.

Regence's Jennifer Cannaday also stated that cost and quality are not only the hallmarks of an integrated system.

My take? Not every organization could use this "me-too" strategy. Regence has operations in the northwest and are essentially tied with IHC as the largest health insurer in Utah. MountainStar is an HCA company, the largest hospital chain in America. If the claims they made were made by some county-owned, rural hospital, or by one of the smaller insurance plans, it wouldn't hold much weight. But "me-too" can work for these in these cases, because, as Mr. Towsley intimated, data can't tell the whole story. There are, so the cliche goes, lies, damn lies and statistics. Without some sort of standard set up by the Task Force, all the stakeholders in its deliberations may just be entitled to their own set of facts.


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