Marketers: Shift Your Paradigms

I think I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to shift paradigms.


 Now that I'm older and arguably wiser, people sometimes ask me for that "one piece of advice." Usually, it involves stepping into someone else's perspective and seeing things from their viewpoint. With each year that passes, I find myself doing that more and more, leading me to dole out that piece of advice more frequently.

You see, there is no truth or ultimate reality. There is only our perception of it. We have a lens we see the world through.  And everyone else has his or her own lens.  Paradigm shifts happen when we suddenly see reality through another lens, and the best way I've found to do that is to try to understand what another person's view of reality looks like.

In one of his books, Stephen Covey tells a story of a ride home in a New York subway. In the same car was a father with his two children. The children were running wild through the car, jumping on seats, jostling other passengers and fighting with each other. The father sat oblivious to the actions of his children, staring straight into space.



Suddenly, Covey could take it no longer. Someone had to rein these children in and the father didn't seem to be doing anything. The reality through Covey's lens was that the father's obvious lack of parental discipline had resulted in two rude, ill-mannered children. Finally, he could take it no longer. He moved over to the father and said, "Your children seem a little rambunctious." The father looked at the children, then, turned to Covey, "I guess they are. I'm sorry. We just came from the hospital. Their mother passed away this morning."  Needless to say, Covey's paradigm shifted in an instant.

The Paradigm of the Marketer

Most of the problems I see in marketing result from the fact that marketers see the world one way and their prospects see the world another way.  We have two different paradigms. And marketers have a difficult time putting their lens away long enough to try the view through their prospect's lens.

About a year ago, at the Search Insider Summit (I'm actually at it again as I write this) I saw this clearly in a session on mobile advertising strategies. From the audience, which was made up entirely of marketers, there was frustration that the carriers wouldn't allow targeting of mobile users through their account information. "You have all the information, why don't you allow us to use it to target our messages?" was the cry from more than one frustrated marketer. I asked for a show of hands of all who thought, as marketers, that this would be a good move on the part of the mobile providers. Every hand shot up.

"Okay, as mobile users, who still wants to have ads targeted to you by your personal information." Several hands suddenly wavered, hit by the force of shifting paradigms. Many went down. Others dipped noticeably as their owners realized their own hypocrisy. Suddenly, they were seeing the world as a customer, not as a marketer.

Analyzing campaign data and crunching numbers is not the way to shift a paradigm. Our personal lenses are stubborn things. It's very difficult to swap them for another.  The best way carries the fancy title "ethnography" but it simply means "writing about people". Ethnography, a branch of anthropology, seeks to understand people by observing them "where they live", in the full context of their lives. In this setting, one gets further removed from your reality and more embedded in theirs, making paradigm shifts easier. I don't think we, as marketers, spend enough time in the lives of our customers. And unfortunately, the Internet and the flood of data available is only making the problem worse.

The Survey Says...

Here's my last analogy. I'm a huge "West Wing fan," and I recently watched an episode from season two where President Bartlet's staff was polling five red states on their attitudes towards gun control.  Not surprisingly, the percentage approving came up short of expectations. Josh Lyman, a White House staffer, was disappointed and frustrated.  "That's it!" he said, "We have to dial down our gun control rhetoric."

The pollster, played by Marlee Matlin, responded, "I think you have to dial it up."

"That's not what the data says," Josh said.

"How do you know what the data says?" said the pollster. "The data says whatever you want it to. It depends on how you ask the question, what they had for breakfast and whether a gun control lobbyist pissed them off yesterday."

Data tends to reinforce paradigms, not shift them. It's the understanding that comes from personal contact that shifts paradigm. It's sitting beside an apparently delinquent father and learning that he just lost his spouse.

10 comments about "Marketers: Shift Your Paradigms".
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  1. Katherine Putnam from Package Machinery Co Inc., December 3, 2009 at 11:15 a.m.

    This is a great summary of the thoughts behind our web site, although I am sure we can do it better.

  2. Ron Polk from, December 3, 2009 at 11:39 a.m.

    Outstanding article! It's the same perspective and philosophy that I've followed and reminds me of one of the best comments I've ever heard after a research presentation, "research proves that research works."

    Too many marketers make decisions geared toward "internal" marketing rather than "external" marketing. Internal marketing is when decisions are made based on what marketers think the company's executive leadership wants. External marketing is when decisions are made based on what the customer wants, and therefore, external marketing will always deliver better results for the brand.

    Ron Polk

  3. Gary Senser, December 3, 2009 at 11:42 a.m.

    Your post is very important, especially for people just starting their careers...

    Often, when I speak to a group I'm asked to share a life suggestion or recommendation. The suggestion I most often share is "to become a better listener". All in all, listening closely to clients or to a situation to better understand what is really happening will go a long way to making you better at whatever you do in life.

  4. Tony Cerrato from Fort Group, December 3, 2009 at 12:15 p.m.

    Excellent! It puts all research into perspective and shows how much we have to rely on common sense as well as data when making marketing and media decisions. It also is an argument for using multiple creative executions in a broad targeted advertising campaign because you don't know the mindset of your audience when they are receiving your advertising message. It is also a good argument for contextual targeting because you hope that the content where your ad appears will put the target of your advertising message in the appropriate mindset. These days, I pity the luxury automaker who presents the quandary of either keeping a red bow on the top of a car or driving it, when it appears after a News segment that mentions that unemployment is up to 10%. While qualitative and quantitative data have always indicated that News is a great vehicle to reach an upscale, educated target, maybe luxury product advertisers should be asking for the same restrictions that airlines have when disasters happen, but in this case it should be with economic downturns. Finally, this blog entry by Gord perfectly shows how much what we do is as much of an art as it is a science.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 3, 2009 at 12:52 p.m.

    Beautifully said.

  6. John Mallen from JMC Marketing Communications, December 3, 2009 at 1:13 p.m.

    This is one outstanding article and a great reminder for those of us in all types of service. Just yesterday, we were invited to meet with a ptospective client frustrated by the ability of their global PR firm to "get it," to "get" that the need isn't coverage in mainstream media. Something else beyond the paradigm is needed. Yes, I'm sharing this with my team, but am also grateful myself for the reminder.

  7. Lynette Perkins from Los Angeles Newspaper Group, December 3, 2009 at 1:26 p.m.

    Thank you for the public confirmation of this insight-as I train Multi-Media Account Executives I consistently use personal experiences and encourage the reps to do the same-in the training sessions both professional (I'm a sales person and this is sure to be good for the client) and personal (I have rights as a consumer and if I received this advertisement I would be pleased/upset/etc.) viewpoints are examined so that we all remember that these paradigms are there to be explored and internalized...thank you again.

  8. Nancy Arsenault from Tourism Cafe Canada , December 3, 2009 at 8:33 p.m.

    Thank you. As one who develops and delivers a great deal of tourism industry training, the focus is always on the customer experience but aligning product development and marketing is often is silos. If our default position is the customer, we listen to learn, and are willing to adapt our perspectives, we can move forward in harmony within organizations.

  9. Matt Gunderson from Brown Bear Events, December 4, 2009 at 1:21 p.m.

    This article taps into something I have believed for a long time. There is no substitute for getting out of the office and interacting with consumers in the field. I would be lost without my experience talking and listening to consumers and getting real world feedback that I use to constantly improve my approach to programming. Who better to talk to than consumers you are trying to target?

    As a hands on event marketer, I am constantly amazed at how out of touch many event planners and strategists really are. They get their market research by reading articles, blogs and tweets from other amrketing people. Although these are valuable resources, there is no better way to evaluate program effectiveness than getting out there and seeing for yourself. Listen to what consumers have to say, it's spot on!

    I have always tried to take advantage of the oppportunity to learn from experience and constantly improve ones ability to tap into what appeals to the marketplace. Try it, you might be pleasantly surprised.

  10. Judy Bodner from Independent Consultant, December 4, 2009 at 1:39 p.m.

    A great argument for integrating 'Voice of the Customer' with quantitative data.

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