Ben Perreira

My head's dropbox.

Month: October, 2013

Suit and Tie

File the cultural reference herein under “timely.”

In all seriousness, watch this clip and try not to fall in love. Regardless of your gender or gender of choice (or even lack thereof), you will be defenseless.

This song makes me think of what we sometimes do as marketers. In the original, Mr. Timberlake acknowledges that his suit and tie wield immense power over the female kind, not unlike that Ms. Kelly possesses in the above clip. But what is a suit and tie if the man on which it rests is not of similarly high quality? 

This is what brands do when they market. Put a desirable person in sweatpants and s/he is still desirable, but in the right dress or suit and tie, that person becomes irresistible. 

The Perfect and The Good

Those who seek solutions to complex problems first encounter the most significant problem: what types of information to use in their quest. 

Alan Greenspan addressed this on The Daily Show a couple days ago. He said that growing up as a Wall Street analyst, he believed that the “screwiness” of people would ultimately be neutralized because people act rationally in the long term. He figured that if they had enough raw information they could create a forecast based on the assumption rationality. He learned in 2008 that this assumption was very wrong.

People are pretty screwy indeed. We are almost always reasonable but seldom rational. (Evidence of this is that marketing works.)

Greenspan and his cohorts were not wrong is how they performed calculations in the same way that much of the research we read is not wrong is how it uses statistics. The problem lies in how the data that is used as input for these models is generated and categorized. It is the classic “garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO) scenario.

Imagine you know you may have a GIGO problem, but at least the data is reliable or precise. Pre-Copernican astronomers were precise too; they were just wrong on a very consistent basis. This is a conundrum in Western business culture because he love numbers. We are more likely to believe something we can put on a graph. In the era of big data this is even worse. With so many ways to slice data, there is always an answer that could make sense and is represented in numerical form.

We can avoid these problems by establishing some bona fides:

– Many, if not most, things are inherently unpredictable and unknowable.

– A hypothesis is the product of contextualized intuition.

– Numbers are not inherently the most reliable representations of ideas.

A solution to this problem is to calculate everything we can down to the most precise level possible. Then, if we cannot remove the vast majority of systematic bias (e.g. that which assumed geocentricity), we must allow ourselves to minimize or exclude that information from our calculations. We can allow intuition and forward-thinking a seat at the table.

Regression analysis and generic questioning did not deliver society the car or the Smartphone. We have the option to stay informed while giving ourselves some credit for moving knowledge forward. 

Layla

Eric Clapton had to make a decision about Layla. No, the decision was not whether or not he would chase his buddy’s wife; he was already going to do that. He had to decide how listeners would experience the song. He chose to make it a rock song that was fit its era – post-Beatles and Stones heyday, just after the death of Hendrix, pre-funk. The song was epic.

Then in 1992 he participated in an MTV Unplugged session, recording a live acoustic version of the song that showed another side of its beauty. The song sounded very different, but it remained epic, even beating out Nirvana to win a Grammy.

The lesson befitting this particular blog is that great taste can have many permutations. Artists decide to represent their craft in a way that makes sense in a particular context. Both representations of Layla were spot on for their eras.

Brands must do the same thing. As media becomes more fragmented, more democratized and more rapidly accessible, brands have the opportunity and the mandate to be creative in how they tell their stories. They cannot expect one story to have universal appeal when that one story can be so easily turned off, or ignored in favor of another screen. Eric Clapton didn’t ruin Layla by playing an acoustic version. Far from it – he evolved to implant himself into the culture that included 1990s grunge and a worthy foil to the oncoming onslaught of boy bands. 

Behavior Before Attitudes

A reasonable perspective on human behavior would be that a person has an attitude (likes dogs) and subsequently performs a behavior (adopts a dog). This certainly happens.

However, the psychological mechanism that is self-justification means that these actions can be inverted to the same end. That is, a person performs a behavior then adopts an attitude consistent that that behavior. 

Whether it is pushing ourselves as athletes or walking through a busy-yet-familiar train station, much of what we do tricks our minds into slipping into cruise control. The habits we develop allow our behavior and attitudes to stay consistent, regardless of which came first. Less energy spent thinking about whether we actually like dogs means more spent on the important things, like playing with dogs.