At a recent high-energy mastermind "round table", a question emerged about Thaut. 1
"What the heck is it?"
I told them that it can be hard to understand1 because it's designed from a different perspective from the one people are used to. Heads tilted, so I (perhaps mistakenly) took that as curiosity and continued...
"We ask 'How would things be different if instead of invading peoples' privacy to target them, we took our tech to the customers' point of view?'
"Instead of studying them, we study what they want so we can better give it to them. And, more than that, to respectfully listen, with the extra insight these tools give us, to discover what they would really love, but can't articulate because it doesn't exist yet2. We don't care who said what- that doesn't matter for this purpose - so there's no incentive to invade privacy or store any personal data. Listening with these insight tools, we can learn an unbelievable amount - about what customers want but aren't getting - from open, public conversations where people really speak their mind - like on Reddit and in comments to polarizing blogs."
The group nodded together. Or maybe it was to the beat of a passing car stereo, echoing on Charleston's old, pastel buildings.
One of the members asked, "how do you get enough data on prospective customers to target them that way?"
I cut, "You're misunderstanding our approach because you're trying to map it onto big-data paradigm thinking. And it isn't that."
He paused and looked at the blank wall while "bewilderment" melted to "aha!". As I watch, I'm thinking "Well, that's encouraging. Maybe that's what systems thinking's double loop learning looks like?"
While his response was reassuring, that kind of "mind opening" isn't as common as I'd like. My brilliant friend, John Seddon3, warned me "You can't just explain system truths and have people get it- they have to study their business as a system and see it for themselves."
Seddon should know, I suppose. His Vanguard Method is counter-intuitive to top-down managers like ours is to customer-data-harvesting marketers. I found it's worth getting past that paradigm-shock to get to the gold. We have found great value in importing a couple of his ideas from service consulting to content marketing...like the previously mentioned "outside-in" design perspective. And we also have Neuro-Linguistic Programming as a resource. NLP promises you can free people from limiting beliefs, without them necessarily even knowing it's happening. Hmmmmmm.
Maybe breakthrough change has to come from outside a dominant paradigm when that paradigm is as dysfunctional as "pay companies to spy on people so you can target them to sell to them". That's what much of our world has gotten used to, though. A break from that might not seem "normal". A new way can seem like a risk because it isn't common.
But it really isn't taking a wild chance when the other choices is staying on the "unsinkable" Titanic as it is going down. It's more like shifting perspective to a new point of view from where it makes perfect sense, like from the safety of a life raft. Moving the scenery to a drier climate, it's like that Monty Python skit I heard mentioned in an NLP training. Imagine a few people slowly shuffling alone and lost in a desert. They have run out of food or water. Over time they lose the ability to even walk. They are crawling, parched, and dying...
Suddenly a gaunt, crumpled English gent points back- "What about the camera crew?" A couple of jovial film crewmen enter the scene, put down their cameras, and share their lobster-artichoke sandwiches and ginger ale. The group is refreshed. They continue trudging with renewed energy, hours pass, and their supplies and energy wind down. The enlarged group, starving and thirsty again, look to themselves and then directly at the screen and blurt out in unison, "There's another camera crew!" A woman in a directors' cap and a man carrying a tripod enter the frame and open up their lunch bags, sharing waffles. And it goes on.
And I go on, explaining, "We don't need monstrous amounts of data on prospective customers. Sometimes just a handful of open discussions - where people really speak their minds3 - can provide so many actionable insights inspiring innovation in the message and service that it's a challenge to act on it all."
Once we know where audience thinking is, and hold it at arms length in one hand to compare it to what's in the other hand: the innovative (but not likely yet fully harvested) thinking that's somewhere in the minds of leaders in essentially every business, opportunities for stategic thought leadership reveal themselves like a sculpture reveals itself from a lump of wood in the hands of an artist.
And when we quit thinking of our customers as targets on a dart board, we might learn they are already pulling to learn online about what we sell. And we can fulfill that learning pull with leadership that steers it to set us apart from all other choices.
You can respect your audience's privacy and capture their hearts while data-targeting thinkers are busy looking under their fingernails, ticking them off and only finding a little dirt.
So it's time for this kind of change to take hold everywhere.
Not convinced yet? OK, I'll continue.
Following customers with ads gives them a distaste for a brand because they know they are being studied and treated as objects- do you want your brand to create a negative response in prospects? Conversely, putting the customers' needs first by listening to and serving their learning needs about what you sell gives them positive feelings about your brand. You are setting them free from feeling "targeted" and people revere their liberators! And it feels great. It's marketing with peace of mind.
You don't have to hunt them, they are already pulling for the learning you can provide. Doesn't delivering creative leadership as a service bring greater clarity and purpose to content marketing? How many ways can respect-based marketing can lead to more of what you want?
It's not about the (bot infested) clicks from a customer-data harvesting targeted advertising program, it's about the higher profits that come from developing long-term relationships of trust by putting your prospects' needs first.
Or, if someone wants to stay with the old way, at least do it right! If we are going to spy on our customers, wouldn't it be worth it to hire a private detective to follow and record all the activities of our closest, most profitable customers? Wouldn't they like that?
When you step back and look at the larger system, you see how privacy-invasive marketing is infesting the web and damaging the ecosystem like the pythons in the Everglades. It's the end user customers who pay the rent for the companies who pay the rent for the advertiser. And those end user customers don't like being followed around the web or having their data harvested to be targeted.
It's more ecological and profitable to serve the end customer with helpful strategic thought leadership that empowers them to get more value and make smarter decisions. And it empowers you, the marketer or company leader, to feel good about how you enrich others' lives through your marketing.
Want to know more about how it can work for you? We offer a Free 5-Point Consult where we discuss building your Market Leadership Playbook. Our programs can also be provided through agencies as a white-label or managed service.
Written by Chris McNeil
Founder of Thaut and 5th Level Web
.By, the way, it's a content marketing strategy designed to move market thinking to a particular point of view.2
.Our tools parse audience thinking into levels, including higher thinking levels like identity, values, and mental models, to reveal opportunities to add value by leading thinking somewhere new and helpful with strategic thought leadership
.John Seddon's Vanguard Group takes an outside-in systems approach (coupling it with intervention methods) for service businesses similar to how we approach marketing. It's also incredibly powerful: they have multiple case studies of slashing expenses, getting breakthrough sales growth, and boosting both customer happiness and employee morale- all at once and often in a matter of a few months. By the way- are you involved in a service business? Then you want his new book: Beyond Command and Control
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