The mind of a marketer can be a delicate thing. We like to think that we’re logical, reasonable and objective in our insight. The truth really is that we’re all bad at being objective. We prefer to solve problems by asking: which ideas do I already have, and know well, and how can I apply them to the situation at hand? Daniel Kahneman calls this tendency the “availability heuristic”. And it is toxic to having a great marketing mindset.
I was reminded of this recently by something that happened in one of the marketing classes I teach. In fact, it’s something that has happened within the first five minutes of every class I have given since I started teaching properly seven years ago
It goes like this. I start talking about a particular topic; it could be positioning, segmentation or digital marketing – the topic does not matter. To get some class engagement started, I always ask for questions. Without fail, 100% of the time, someone puts their hand up and starts their next sentence with ‘I think that…’. They then proceed to give me an opinion about the topic, falling into the same trap every time: the mindset that their opinion is of relevance as a professional marketer.
I always follow with an illustrative example about my favourite topic in the world to show how ridiculous our opinions and ideas can be. This topic is one that I could talk about all day and all night: cars. Yes, I am a total petrolhead and own five cars, all in various states of decrepitude and disarray. Four of them are MGs, a brand that went bust as part of MG Rover in 2005, and which is a byword for unreliability among fellow petrolheads.
Now imagine, I tell the class, if I told you that in my opinion everybody should own an MG. Gradually, it dawns on them.
You think or you know?
There are many cognitive biases – flaws in the way we perceive our environments or make judgments – that affect our mindsets. And, what’s worse, you also have to allow for the self-serving bias of everybody else – because most people are not going to remove their biases successfully, the human condition being what it is. If you don’t correct for inevitable bias in your thinking, you will think that your mindset reflects everybody else’s.
When you hear the words ‘I think that…’ come out of your mouth, you are just one step away from post-truth marketing. It’s a ridiculous way to think as a marketer. As a former boss of mine used to say to me when I was spouting some fact-free opinions: “You think, or you know?”
The key to career progress is identifying the mindsets that determine success. By a ‘mindset’, I mean a way of looking…