Ben Perreira

My head's dropbox.

Category: Uncategorized

Clean or Dirty

I’ve always been a big fan of crime scene investigation shows. There’s something about having to solve a critical problem with the right blend physical and psychological tactics that has forced me to lose many an evening to Forensic Files marathons.

Not too long ago I was watching an episode in which there were multiple suspects. One of the investigators said, “In an investigation, the clean get cleaner and the dirty get dirtier.”

This is not unlike what happens when solving other types of problems. Throughout strategy development then concept development, good ideas find a way to live on while bad ideas tend to fade into the ether.

This happened with a campaign I worked on last year. After maybe eight rounds of internal and client reviews over two months, the client chose a concept that had appeared in the first round and off the original briefing. For many of us, that concept was always the prime suspect. It just took time to get the jury to agree.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

Organic is good.

Greed is good. (Or is it now bad?)

Football players are meatheads. 

Chemistry majors are nerdy.

Placing things in nice boxes makes them easier to understand, but it doesn’t make them true. Although that should be obvious, article after article keeps surfacing to try to explain people based on the year they were born.

I’m talking about you, Boomer, Gen-Xer, Millennial or Gen-Zer (Do you guys do anything except Snapchat? Get off my lawn.).

For some time the narrative around Millennials is that we – I’m smack dab in the middle having been born in 1985 – are lazy and entitled. A couple weeks ago a few of my fellow Millennials shared this article to combat that narrative; the true entitled generation, they said, is our parents, the Boomers. Boom! (Apparently that is a thing we Millennials say when we think we have made a powerful point.)

But what if instead of entitled Millennials are actually opportunistic and optimistic? And what if Boomers are actually just diligent workers who tried to provide their kids with more opportunities than they had?

Better yet, if we’re trying to understand how people work in groups in order to sell them things (this blog has a marketing focus, after all), let’s allow ourselves to look deeper than their date of birth. Generational targets are too broad to give a brand a marketplace advantage.

Causation and Correlation

Look back at articles describing each generation around the same age and you’ll find more similarities than differences. Look at how one author described Gen-Z last week:

First, Gen Zers are the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the “American Dream.” They look for products and messaging that reflect a reality rather than a perfect life — an important distinction for struggling retailers like Abercrombie &Fitch who still market their products by projecting a flawless, carefree, perfect world. Gen Zers simply don’t respond to these traditional notions of beauty or a projected image of perfection like past generations have. They respond to independence and entrepreneurialism, self-direction and a spirit of ingenuity.

Compare that to how another described Gen-X in 2001:

When it comes to really speaking to today’s twentysomethings as a group, the most important thing for a marketer or advertiser to understand is the level of frustration that comes from wanting so much more than they have or can easily attain. Whether or not Generation X becomes the first cohort in America to do less well than their parents, they expect it to be so. And this expectation affects everything from the way these people go about shopping to the way they perform on the job. Living for today is an unquestioned way of life when long-term goals appear to be out of reach. This is the story of Generation X.

A “generation” between them and their values are strikingly similar. Here. correlations are much more important than causation. It shouldn’t surprise us that we’re slightly rebellious with fluid attitudes in our early 20’s any more than it should surprise us to learn that we become more conservative and set in our ways as we get jobs, get married and have children.

Sure, people (even clients) are more likely believe a narrative that says, “26 year olds buy razors from Harry’s because they grew up in an in-demand era where getting more for less is a requirement of the post-Great Recession reality.”

But that doesn’t make it true. And it doesn’t matter if it’s true.

What matters is that people with certain needs buy things in certain ways. Our job is to figure out ways to stimulate those purchases through emotional communications.

Specific Targeting

Our target should reflect a group of people who have something in common with how they think about the world and our client’s business. This enables us to take these cultural beliefs and reflect them back to our client’s benefit.

Beyond just age, gender or socioeconomic status, understanding how people consume is critical. The more we know about what they do, the more we can surmise what motivates them – what they need emotionally; not just what they’ve experienced by having been born in a given year.

For example. if we’re trying to sell people on a brand of toothpaste, we need to know how they think about their teeth. What does it mean to take care of your teeth? To have clean teeth? How do you know when they’re clean? Is it smoothness, foaminess, effervescence, mintiness? Does it matter if they look clean (it does in the US; not so much in my Nana’s home country of England)?

Feelings around teeth (like those around all notions of beauty and health) will evolve over time, but not in generational stair-steps a few of us have determined to be roughly 1960 (Gen-X), 1980 (Millennial) and 2000 (Gen-Z). These opinions are much more likely to be shaped by larger cultural shifts, like changing workplace dynamics that caused more frequent gender-mixing, or the desire and then ability (or was it vice versa?) to post photos of oneself at every possible opportunity.

So it’s ok – no, necessary – friends, colleagues, and scholars, to reach beyond generational segments. We do not have to make stereotypical work that contributes to the garbage lining the sides of ESPN.com or on breaks between Ellen singing and Ellen dancing. We can join together in arms, create targets that only work for our clients’ brands, give those people the shot of emotion they crave, and stand out from competition. It’s possible. Let’s do it.

What About Why

1. Why do you love tacos?

2. What about tacos do you love?

These two questions are basically asking the same thing, except one is much easier to answer. Which one? I’ll answer in a minute.

But first, I’d like to explore the importance of semantics. I love words and am fascinated by their power.

If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language you understand how words are symbolic rather than definitive representations of concrete concepts. (An interesting and quick dive into the power of words is available here.)

In Spanish there are two forms of “to be” – one to describe a more permanent state (ser), and one to describe a more temporary state (estar). Part of learning the language is learning when to use which one. Use the wrong one and the meaning is completely different. But in English you’d say it exactly the same either way.

In French, why is pour quoi. In Spanish it is por que. The literal translation of each of those is “for what.”

That’s “for what” as in “for what reason?” or “for what purpose?” When we start thinking about why we do something we enter the realm of metacognition – thinking about thinking – something we are notoriously bad at.

Why do I love tacos? It’s hard to answer. Are you asking about how I came to love tacos? What motivates me to seek, buy and eat them?

What about tacos do I love? I love that they’re cheap, spicy, messy and full of flavor.

We (in research settings) ask questions because we’re interested in hearing any answer, but we also need to be precise with our semantics if we want the answer to be useful. When we do the thinking ahead of time we give ourselves the advantage.

Paradox

photo

With my friend Jordan in Big Bear. January 4, 2015.

I’ve never really had a new year’s resolution, much less one I’ve put any effort into keeping. I tend to think they’re kind of hokey. But I think anything that makes you pause and check how you habitually do things can be a good thing. So last year I sort of did come up with a resolution (to be more patient and less fearful), and I sort of kept it.

I’ve referred to The 5 Essentials a couple times. I think a lot about Dr. Bob’s concept of paradox because it’s inherent is almost everything we do. Pain and bliss interact, love and hate are far from opposites, success and struggle work hand-in-hand, and a writer’s flow and writer’s are in constant flux.

Some of the above were present for me.

There were a few less general ones as well – like regular and goofy. I have been surfing as a goofyfoot since age 11, but for some reason, when I started snowboarding I went regular and I haven’t been able to switch back. But it’s been a cool experience. Regular and goofy are my paradox because I’m one person who often finds himself at opposite ends of the spectrum for snowboarding and surfing, respectively – learning and maturity, stoke and jadedness, or frustration and boredom.

I’m trying to embrace these paradoxes and it seems to be working. I enjoy each activity for what it is at that given time. Far from Nirvana, but I’ll take the small victories.

To a thrilling and satisfying 2015.

History

I drove down to San Diego after work on Wednesday to get an early start on the Thanksgiving weekend. As usual, my dad greeted me with a beer and the family started catching up. He grabbed a few large pieces of paper he had printed and began to walk us through what was on them – family trees from his and my mom’s sides of the family going back hundreds of years.

Some branches weren’t as long as others because just about everyone who came from Portugal between 1850 and 1950, it seems, had the same name. But my dad had found people who had fought in WWI and even found two records of our ancestors filing for Revolutionary War pensions.

Later, my mom was talking about how my brothers and I were as young kids. Our personalities and interests have remained remarkably stable. My younger brother (who played college baseball) was ultra competitive. My older brother (a gearhead who works on vintage and exotic cars) took everything apart. I (the guy writing a blog post on a Sunday evening) was rather studious and inquisitive.

There’s something to knowing about your history. I visited Portugal in 2003, and in 2008 I went with my mom and her brothers to the town across from Liverpool where their mother grew up. Our pasts don’t dictate our futures, but they can inform them.

I like to do a lot of excavation when I’m working on a new brand or project. To state what may seem obvious, the way an organization imagines its place in the world has a lot to do with how it communicates its products and services.

For some companies the main goal is simply to make a product that is suitable for the needs of its potential customers and is sold at a competitive price. For others the goals is a lot deeper. Take Patagonia’s mission statement:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Neither model is superior, per se. But a brand like Patagonia leaves no ambiguity. Even in an organization with the complexity in production, distribution and global reach Patagonia has, everyone from designers to marketers to retail workers can look at those few words and roughly devise what their marching orders are.

If history is regenerative and strategy is what we do on purpose, understanding the interaction between the two becomes especially critical (and fun).

Wrong

First of all, I love the way The White Buffalo blends a simple melody with a powerful voice. Second, it reminds me how important it is to be wrong.

I’ve been wrong about everything I’ve started to do. I started surfing with the wrong board and went for the wrong waves. I’ve been wrong about how much I could change at some companies and how little I could change at others.

I’ve learned how to do some things right, but I’m still wrong all the time. It’s a good reminder to stay hungry.

Your Story

It wasn’t really until I read Dr. Bob Deutsch’s “The 5 Essentials” a year ago that I realized the importance of owning your own story. Your story is sort of the long version of an elevator speech. A coherent narrative to add order to how you live your life. Every one has multiple stories with multiple arcs, and with any luck they start to flow together after a while.

For example, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of part of my story:

I’ve always been really curious about how people do things. The more I study people the more I realize how weird we are. A lot of what we do and how we think in Western culture is influenced and enabled by what we buy (and vice versa, but to a lesser extent). So I went to business school to get a better understanding of the gears of commerce, knowing that I could continue to study how people do things in general outside of learning financial modeling.

Studying how people do things allows you to form and test hypotheses on why people do these things. This is where the fun begins. The motivation for some of what we do falls under the realm evolutionary psychology – obtaining food, sex and safety – and some comes from culture. If evolution is a sickle, culture is a scalpel, adding nuance to how smaller groups act. Modern psychology tells us that much of our learned behavior is an automated response to a stimulus. Thus, evolutionary psychology and culture have slowly become the realms I pay close attention to in order to test various stimuli and attempt to affect commercial behavior at scale, and in turn better understand people.

That’s my story as of this point in history.

What’s yours? Feel free to email me to discuss: perreira.ben (at) gmail.com

Life In The Fast Lane

I drive about 85 miles per day to work and back. I’ve also gone of some pretty long and epic road trips that were hundreds or thousands of miles each. Because of this I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about how we drive and why we drive that way.

Before you think that I’m an anomaly because of how much time I choose to spend on the road, consider this. The average American commutes 25.4 minutes each way to work each day. That means we spend about 51 minutes per day, or just over 212 hours per year, getting to our offices and back.

Contrast that the fact that the average American spends 37 hours per year having sex – about 111 times per year (for couples in their 20s; it decreases by 20% per decade) at 20 minutes including foreplay.

So we spend over 5 times longer sitting in traffic than we do having sex. My point? It’s a significant part of our lives, and it shows.

Driving styles vary widely, from timid to aggressive and aware to oblivious.

I’m fascinated by people who go slow in the fast lane. Every freeway in Southern California has at least 3 lanes on each side, sometimes double that. Without fail, someone will be going the speed limit in the far left lane when the flow of traffic is much faster. The unwritten law is that slower drivers should move to the right. In many states it is written on signs along the freeway or highway.

It’s more than just an act though; it’s almost a lifestyle. There are bumper stickers that say “The closer you get the slower I go.”

And there’s a counterpoint sticker that is meant to be read in the rear-view mirror that says “Stay right.”

You have the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, but the domain is the left lane. Or you could look at as Renaissance philosophers would.

The first group follows the philosophical position of Rousseau – people are inherently good but if you push them too much they will resist.

The second group follows that of Locke – people are inherently self-interested and need to be managed by rules to keep society moving smoothly.

(Of course, these positions aren’t mutually exclusive. People are both generally good and generally self-interested. It just depends how and when we dial those things up.)

The battle for the left lane will continue tomorrow as it did today and yesterday. In hyper-individualistic countries like the US and in places with little or no public transportation like Southern California, it will be more prevalent than in other places because our cars are extensions of us. We create our Selves through a series of little decisions we make every day. Why would our lane choice be any different?

Vale

I took the opportunity to fly up to Portland this week for work and got to connect with a couple old and new friends. A topic of discussion was drug addiction. Having had people close to me become addicted to various drugs and follow strikingly similar patterns to each other, I’ve been forced to think about it too much.

One of these similarities appears to be a desire to deny oneself pain. It’s a precarious philosophical position.

Pain is a critical conduit for finding better things. There’s a body of research that connects depression and creativity – and you would probably find a strong correlation between brilliance and suicide (e.g. Hemingway, Robin Williams). Mental anguish forces us to higher ground in other domains.

Musicians from 50 Cent (Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain, Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain) to Modest Mouse (If life’s not beautiful without the pain well I’d rather never ever even see beauty again) explore the merits of the duality of good and bad things happening.

Don Quitoxe ends with the word “vale,” a Spanish word that roughly means “ok” or “cool” as we might use it before saying goodbye to somebody. I wrote about my experience reading the book here, but the word choice is interesting in this context because of what else in can mean. The idiomatic translation for the English “it’s worth it” is “vale la pena” – it’s worth the pain.

Whether or not Cervantes meant it this way, it’s fitting to how the story ends and the realities life hands us. Pain happens, but it’s worth it. Being numb to those things – physically or mentally – is to forfeit the opportunity to feel actual, serendipitous highs.

Curing Brand Phobias

In their book, Creative Confidence, IDEO founders Tom and David Kelley recount how psychologist Albert Bandura cures snake phobias (ophiophobia). Bandura uses successive steps – from getting them into the same room as the snake to seeing someone holding it to actually holding it themselves – to dull the edges of fear. The technique, known as “guided mastery,” makes phobias vanish permanently when administered properly.

As I wrote in my previous post, I have a ton of things I’m afraid of. One of them was skydiving – until I went. Now I can’t wait to go again.

But this story really made me think about how we (used imperially to group people together who work on brand communications) try to “cure” brand phobias. More importantly, perhaps, is that the story sheds some light on how this process can go wrong.

Let’s look at BP. This company caused a ton of real damage in the Gulf in 2010. People have legitimate concerns (phobias) about BP the brand. Why would I buy something with the BP name attached to it when there are so many other options, they would ask themselves?

BP started to attack the phobias by apologizing and attempting to atone. The brand’s communications evoked empathy by showing BP employees that are real Gulf residents (just like you!). This year, they told us about their commitment to safety and innovation. They even claim to be sharing their learning with other energy companies.

The next step in curing BP-phobia may be for the brand to try to show the company is an innovator in alternative fuels. Chevron does this fairly well. BP could help allay fears by showing its commitment to moving beyond fossil fuels and into sustainable energy. They could also produce research that shows seafood from the Gulf is now fine to eat. If true, that would directly attack the fears of its most vociferous phobics.

What if we choose not to follow some kind of methodology to cure fears? What if we surprise a ophiophobic by handing him a snake? What if BP skipped the apology and kept talking about how great and cheap its gas is?

Good luck. I suspect it would make things worse.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, they say, but nobody wants to die. Being afraid of snakes isn’t that hard and holding a snake is pretty easy; how we get there is hard. We have to take the necessary steps to identify phobias around a brand to begin to see what a roadmap to fearlessness may look like. And a brand that doesn’t stoke phobias is pretty powerful.