Wishing for marketing inspiration? Follow TED

Imagine you’re one of those marketing wizards, speaking to a captive audience and receiving deafening applause. Everyone congratulates you on your incredible insights and groundbreaking (not to mention insanely profitable) work in the complex field of marketing.

Who hasn’t wished to be a guru? Move one step closer to making it a reality by practicing vicariously while listening to the speakers at TED.

If you haven’t heard of TED, understand that TED’s not a single person but a conglomeration of many people, working in the fields of Technology, Entertainment, or Design. TED’s annual conference started in 1984 and its growing library includes (free!) video presentations by some of the most creative minds in those three industries.

One of the best features of the site is the way each talk comes with a recommendation for another talk on a similar topic or theme. The practice of following up on these recommendations is what I call heading out on “the TED trail,” a practice that might lead you to some substantial insights of your own.

Be careful what you wish for, you may get it

I stumbled onto a TED trail analyzing the nature of desire as it relates to marketing success by clicking on a three-minute presentation by Renny Gleeson, Global Strategies Director for advertising giant Wieden and Kennedy (and stealer of my potential blog’s potential name: ouroborous), about antisocial phone tricks.

Gleeson’s brief talk comes with a slide show featuring a series of Kodak non-moments: pics catching people texting with varying degrees of disregard for their surroundings and loved ones, culminating in some seriously reckless multitasking.

But with the jokes come a serious question: as portable, speedy technology makes us ever more available to one another, what are the expectations and obligations that come with availability?

For marketers, this question is relevant both for our interactions with prospects and our interactions with each other. Gleeson cautions that we become not only the stories we tell but the way we tell them. Before marketers dive into the strange seas of new technology, they might consider the adage of medieval map-makers, who indicated uncharted territory by writing, “Here be dragons.”

Dragons aren’t necessarily bad, but before you brought one home you’d want to do some research on its care and feeding. The same applies with any new technological initiative. Before lining up for the next cool thing, consider whether you’ll use it, how you’ll use it, how you’ll troubleshoot your use, and how to bow out gracefully in the case of user failure (known in the Urban Dictionary as PICNIC: problem in chair, not in computer).

When you wish upon a star…

Renny Gleeson’s talk came with a recommendation for me to check out a presentation by writer and consultant Joseph Pine author of Mass Customization, Experience Economy, and Authenticity, three books analyzing the evolution of consumer desires.

Pine argues that as our desires evolve, so do markets to serve them. Back in the day, we wanted things (food, shelter, clothes) and we had a commodoties-based economy. Today, now that we’re pretty full in the things department, we want … drumroll, please … authenticity.

According to Pine, there are two ways to be authentic: you can be true to yourself and you can be true to others. In addition, a large part of authenticity, whether with people or companies, comes from understanding your heritage. Pine believes that for a business to be perceived as authentic, the actions of that business cannot deviate too widely from that company’s previously established persona.

For examples, he cites the latest disastrous media acquisitions of the Disney corporation and takes on the national self image of the Netherlands.

He also sets out three cardinal rules for companies looking to capitalize on the public’s desire for authenticity:

  1. Don’t say you are authentic. With apologies to Margaret Thatcher’s theory of power, being authentic is like being a lady. If you have to say you are, you aren’t.
  2. Do not advertise what you are not. Try not to create an ad that creates a disconnect.
  3. Provide places—not just ads—for people to experience who you really are.

The tastiest wish in the world

Finally, TED’s database recommended that I move from Joseph Pine to one of the most popular speeches in the system: Malcolm Gladwell’s ode to Howard Moscowitz and the development of spaghetti sauce as we know it.

In this speech, Gladwell takes on some fundamental assumptions about the nature of desire. Whether or not his conclusion is fundamentally sound is besides the point. Moscowitz — a psychophysicist and consultant to whom we owe zesty pickles and extra chunky tomato sauce — is an inspiration. His journey to discover the most satisfying sauce “changed the way the food industry thinks about happiness” and should change the way product development is approached in every industry.

Instead of looking for the perfect sauce, Moscowitz searched out the perfect sauces (plural intentional). In food land, this multiplicity of choices led to forty-three varieties and six hundred million dollars in revenue for Prego. For marketers, Moscowitz’s insights might lead you to look at the choices your company currently offers. In what ways are those offerings only imitations of what your competitors offer? In what ways might you be able to refine the choices you offer or create new ones?

(Hint: Cable companies who only offer three packages and don’t allow viewers to customize their channel selection, I’m talking to you…)

Click your mouse three times…

And go visit TED. I recommend it as an antidote to mind-numbing meetings and wallowing in whitepapers. Whether or not it gives you ideas that you can apply directly, TED features people who are thinking deeply about what people want and how people work. And that’s what you, future gurus, marketing scouts and trailblazers, are doing too.

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