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Lessons from StratFest19: Understanding

A major theme of StratFest19 was understanding our target audience. This was first mentioned in the keynote by Rishad Tobaccawala (Chief Growth Officer for Publicis), who opened up StratFest19 with his thoughts on being a planner and succeeding in an organization.   He told the story of his first-year review when he was told that his performance was terrible because he didn’t understand American culture.  His then boss paid for him to participate in activities (such as sporting events) so he could really understand the culture of the country he was working in.  As Rishad said, we have to work to understand the culture of those to whom we are marketing, even if we don’t like them (or even if we actually hate some of the people, as he mentioned.) 

Mona Patel (presenting later that day) illustrated this same point using an ad campaign which was attempting to convince gun owners to lock up their guns.  But she demonstrated that the ad wasn’t working. Why? Because the creators hadn’t taken into account gun owner’s confidence that his children were well trained and wouldn’t touch his guns. Given that confidence, the campaign message was meaningless. Understanding gun owners’ perspective, and why they feel guns are safe, would be crucial to creating a successful campaign to reduce gun deaths.

But, if you have strong negative feelings about an issue or a target audience’s perspective (as Rishad said), how can you understand them? This is so important, because as a recent tweet from Chris Bartley (@cambartley) said, brands belong to the people who use them, and not to the marketing people who work on them.

The typical advice of how to understand others is to listen, but when your emotions are involved, it can be hard to get beyond your feelings.  Instead, you start arguing with those people in your head. But, also as Rishad said, you can’t just stay with what you have always thought.  You need to upgrade your mental operating system so you don’t become irrelevant. It’s never too late to upgrade. Rishad was frank enough to give an example of his having learned social media in his 50s. 


So how can we solve this problem of understanding others who are so different from us?  How can we upgrade our mental operating system to understand others not like us? It’s really hard.  This is a common problem. As research by Andrew Tenzler (@thetenzer) in the UK has shown, the perspective of marketing folks is very different than that of the people they create advertising for.

The workshops that I attended at StratFest 19 by Karen Faith and Hunter Sunrise provided tools to help.  But they aren’t enough.  I would also suggest that a way to understand others who are not like us is to read books by and about those not like us. Some of the books on my reading list have been Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and TheRighteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. My own book, Marketing Landmines, applies what I learned from sources like that to marketing. The premise of the title is that when we don’t understand the people we are talking to we can set off a landmine that can bury a brand.  

And, if you aren’t already subscribed to my blog, please do.  I’ll be talking about more about how we can understand others and what we can do with that understanding.  

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Karen Tibbals @KarenTibbals

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