Blog Name Change: Just Like Davos

Good day friends and loyal readers! Sitting alone, and quiet for a moment (which for me – never happens) I decided to think about some of the content in this blog. I’ve worked in technology and marketing all my life, hence why I started the blog “Boundaryless Marketing”. However, the past five years have also led me to disciplines I never thought I’d visit as a marketing professional – those of supply chain management, risk management, mathematics, economics and even a dash of physics.

Hence, I have renamed this blog “Just Like Davos” to accurately reflect the content herein.  Why “Just Like Davos” you may ask? Davos is a  municipality in Switzerland where once a year the uber elite of invited guests get together to ponder, lecture, drink heavy doses of hard liquor and try to make sense of the complex world around us.  Since I don’t know Bill Clinton, Bill Gates or Hu Jintao,  and the odds of getting a free pass to Davos are slim to none, we’ll just have to settle for second best, and that’s Just Like Davos. Won’t you join me? I promise we’ll learn from each other and have fun too!

Shock and Awe: FDA Takes Wrong Approach to Influence Smokers

Will a picture of an autopsy or a bloody skull persuade smokers to stop puffing away? Governments around the world are convinced more obscene and graphic warnings are necessary to scare smokers away from their cigarettes. However, these efforts seem far and away from decision triggers that psychologists like Robert Cialdini might suggest.

What’s next for cigarette warning labels? It seems warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General haven’t been all that effective, and now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to “tell the truth” about cigarettes with offensive pictures of blackened teeth and tracheotomy patients on death’s door. And it gets worse in other countries, where governments have taken to shock and awe tactics of showing a baby’s corpse lying in a pile of cigarettes or bloody skulls to show that cigarettes may cause strokes.

These techniques add up to a bunch of hogwash, says Financial Times columnist Christopher Caldwell. He says these warning labels won’t educate anyone, and in fact, will do the opposite and scare people. “The pictures (on the cigarettes) are obscene and exploitative,” he says. “They show naked, vulnerable people to whom violence has been done.”

A quick review of Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Influence seems to support Caldwell’s points. When trying to gain compliance, Cialdini suggests using decision triggers of reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, scarcity and authority. While not all of these decision triggers may apply to the efforts of getting smokers to quit, there are definitely some that could work.

Take for example the principle of social proof. Cialdini writes in Influence that “social proof can be used to stimulate a person’s compliance with a request by informing the person that many other individuals are or have been complying with it.” So in this instance, instead of scare tactics, what if messaging was devised around how 80% of U.S. citizens don’t smoke? Or something along the lines of, “Just about everyone has quit smoking, you should too.”

The FT’s Christopher Caldwell worries that eventually these new scare images will lose their power to shock and then require even more graphic images. Are we traversing down a slippery slope? Marketers, weigh in, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Questions:
• Are smokers “uneducated” about dangers of lighting up? Will these new shocking photos have their intended effect?
• Caldwell argues that plenty of other things like sex and even driving could kill people. Do these products that support these activities deserve graphic warning labels, too?

Transparency: Do Customers Want to Peer Inside the “Black Box”?

From politician salaries to calorie counts on restaurant items, “transparency” is a key buzzword in government and business circles. However, high interest in cloud computing, data warehousing “to go,” and other analogous concepts beg the question of whether customers really want to peer inside the black box or whether an opaque approach works best.

Increases in the call for transparency are legion. Health inspectors post food safety grades for eating establishments. Websites track lists of political campaign donors. And restaurants redesign bars, kitchens, and more to show patrons how drinks and meals are prepared. All this, in order to give customers a window into processes for product and service creation.

And to be sure, there’s definitely even more opportunity for transparency in product creation, especially in financial services. As an example, Michael Lewis’ Big Short cites how via the securitization process, hundreds of subprime mortgages were packaged up and divvied into “tranches” of investment quality. Through securitization, it was tough to estimate the contents of a particular asset-backed security. One hedge fund manager exclaimed; “I didn’t know what the (expletive) was in the things. You couldn’t do the analysis. You couldn’t say, ‘Give me all the ones with all California in them.’ No one knew what was in them.”

Creating a product with so much complexity that teams of MBAs are necessary to decipher its contents surely is a recipe for confusion. And on the ugly side of things, perhaps that was the intention. Regardless, in an age of social media where a company’s reputation can be destroyed in five minutes or less, this avenue will not ensure long term success.

However, a key question is whether customers really want to peer inside the black box. After all, investment banks had very little difficulty offloading these impenetrable structured products. Plenty of hedge, pension and even sovereign wealth funds lined up to buy these complicated products—and most with no questions asked.

In the analytics market, there’s an adage that business users really don’t care how a particular solution works, just so long as it meets their needs. And while this may be true in some instances, there’s also ample opportunity to enlighten consumers (or in this case application users) as to the “value” received through peeling back the curtain on how a product or service is designed and delivered.

What say you? Do your customers really want transparency? Do they really need to know what’s in the black box?

Presto! 5 Steps to Magically Fix a Boring Presentation

Not every presentation is chock full of interesting content. Sometimes, the subject matter is either too technical, hard to comprehend, or just of passing interest to your audience. And though one solution might be to not present such content in the first place, in other instances, the “show must go on.” And for those circumstances, here are five steps to add a pinch of spice to an otherwise dull presentation.

1. Add Vocal Variety

Even the most boring presentation in the world can come to life when a presenter employs vocal variety techniques. Specifically, changing how phrases are sounded out, raising your voice for important statements, or even lowering your voice for effect can make unexciting content much more interesting. Changing from a monotone to a lively delivery can help your audience perk up and listen.

2. Add Passion

Take the most uninteresting topic in the world, add a passionate presenter, and—like magic—you have something worth listening to! Audiences are very smart and can instantly discern whether a presenter truly believes what he/she is saying. When a topic is presented with genuine excitement and passion, even the most technical fare can come to life.

3. Make It Real

One of the biggest challenges for presenters of technical content is creating relevance, especially for a group that may only have light familiarity with a topic. For example, not every person is interested in data warehousing and analytics. However, if a presenter can show how analytics works using “day in the life” scenarios for a retailer, suddenly that content becomes applicable. Approved case studies work even better as audiences discern that the presentation is more than “vaporware” and, in fact, touches the daily decision-making of consumers. By making the information real with examples and case studies, a presenter answers the inherent question of a listener, “What’s in this presentation for me?”

4. Bring on the Visuals

Most presenters understand that audience members absorb information in different ways. Some prefer an auditory approach, others prefer handouts, and there are plenty of people who would rather watch a multimedia video than listen to a one-hour lecture. That’s why an interesting presentation uses most/all of these devices—and often! Bring pictures, videos, charts, handouts, and more to your presentation. Employing two or more visual aids helps keep audiences interested in your subject matter.

5. Slow Down and Breathe.

There’s no rule of thumb that says a presentation must be delivered with breathless abandon. In fact, use of elongated or pregnant pauses in a presentation can give an audience time to mentally catch up, especially if the presentation is overflowing with facts and figures. Take time to breathe, look around, and make sure people are engaged. A rapid fire presentation with slides rolling every minute or two is usually disconcerting, and it may leave an audience with only a small fraction the information you intended to convey.

These are just five steps to fix a boring presentation—there are certainly more tips. Please contribute to the conversation by adding the best and worst practices you’ve observed!

Two Key Ingredients for Better Marketing Stories

Marketers inherently know it’s easier to tell a story than sell someone on the key features and benefits of a product or service. As Seth Godin points out in All Marketers Are Liars, good stories “engage the consumer” and “appeal to our senses.” Yet the best story in the world may fall on deaf ears if it doesn’t fit cultural dispositions or lacks authenticity.

Seth Godin reminds us that marketers tell stories to best sell products and services. “No one buys facts,” he says. “They buy a story—they’re here for the story and the way believing it makes us feel.” Anyone who has seen a marketing brochure or advertisement for Volvo can see how the use of storytelling brings forth the “safety” value proposition much better than detailed specifications of its whiplash protection system or roll stability control.

However, a carefully crafted story that works well for one market may fall flat in another. Godin says that’s because “different people have different worldviews. People can see the same data and come to different conclusions.”

Author Peter Hessler highlights this idea in a New Yorker article titled “Go West.” Born and raised in the United States, Hessler has spent the past 10 years traveling from farm to factory in greater China, so he knows a thing or two about Chinese and American culture. It was no surprise to Hessler how the two cultures uniquely use narrative in daily communication.

For example, Hessler writes that one night he decided to visit a local bar somewhere in Colorado. Hessler relates that within a few moments, a stranger had sat down next to him, ordered a drink, and proceeded to tell Hessler his life story, including the fact that he had just been released from prison.

Hessler contrasts this openness with his experiences in China. “People in China never talked like that,” he writes. “They didn’t like to be the center of attention, and they took little pleasure in narrative. They rarely lingered on interesting details.” It wasn’t necessarily that Chinese citizens didn’t tell stories, just that they told stories about much different topics. “Most Chinese could talk your ear off about things like food, money and weather,” Hessler says. “But they avoided personal topics, and I learned that it could take months before an interview subject opened up.”

Hessler observed that Chinese seemed less willing to talk about themselves. Contrast this with the average U.S. citizen who is likely more than willing to tell you his or her life story and probably has it well-rehearsed.

One narrative technique that seems to work well in Western cultures is the personal testimonial. However, from Hessler’s observations on the uneasiness of Chinese to talk about personal issues, it’s easy to see why a marketing campaign of customer testimonials for a product or service might fall on deaf ears in China.

In addition to cultural nuance, a university professor friend of mine—who is Chinese—says there’s something deeper here on why personal testimonials might not work in China. The larger issue is trust and believability.

In Communist China, billboards with propaganda are the norm, the Internet is tightly controlled, and the government does its very best to control both media and message.  The professor says, “Many believe that stories and testimonials are made up, especially because there isn’t an unbiased monitoring mechanism to convince consumers that testimonials are from real people.”

Storytelling works in marketing. But the most real and believable narrative may fall victim to cultural nuances that predispose your customers to not listen in the first place.

Questions:

• One person interviewed by Hessler says, “An individual with a story is on a higher ground than an individual with an argument.” Do you agree or disagree?
•  Hessler also observed, “Many Americans were great talkers, but they didn’t like to listen.” Is this consistent with your observations?