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Let me start off by saying, I love Mad Men. It’s an incredibly well written show, that in my opinion, kicked off a Golden Age of television content. With that said, I think that it also perpetuated a stereotype in marketing and advertising that is unhealthy in today’s business environment.
There’s no quicker and easier way to kill your marketing goals then to act like you, or your agency has a Don Draper in their midst. It’s equally as detrimental to think that having one is even effective. Here’s a few reasons why this is the case.
Don Made Assumptions Not Decisions
Practically every pitch on the entire show was a collection of assumptions. A group of men, made the assumption that they knew the buying behavior and habits of every kind of person in the market. This simply isn’t possible.
There’s a saying, “to assume is to just makes and ASS out of U and ME.” The show rarely goes into the sales numbers of their clients, just their own. Marketing is about increasing sales. They would always lose clients to more creative agencies, but rarely did you hear that they left because sales were down.
And if you’re relying on assumptions instead of historical data, market conditions, and changing public opinions, you’re probably not going to get great sales numbers next year.
Of course this would make for bad television if they did. But too often businesses look at their agencies and expect them to agree with their own biases, or have their own set of clever assumptions about the target audience.
The hardest part of being a marketer is putting yourself in another person’s shoes. To truly understand the needs of another, to have that level of empathy, is nearly impossible. That’s why we rely on data, user behavior, market research to help shape our decision making process.
In the show, Don never much cared for the opinions of others. The best moments of the show are when he is using his bias, his life, and imparting it on all buyers. We get chills, and in some scenes tears, but that’s now how marketing works. Using your own bias only sells to yourself, not to your customers.
If you’re expecting your creatives to make decisions simply on their bias of a situation, the outcomes will probably not be that great. As a white male in my mid-thirties, what do I know about anything outside of what I have seen in my life? No, this is where research helps us do our job.
While it’s true that we buy with emotion and justify with information, using the initial information is paramount. You can use emotion in selling a product, but it shouldn’t be your lead. Data is meant to be interpreted, and then a pitch created that feeds that emotional need.
Don didn’t start in a position of analytical knowledge and then create marketing strategies that tugged at the emotions behind it. It was emotions only. It makes for great television, but when emotion is the only thing in there, buyer’s remorse sets in quickly.
This is especially important if you want repeat customers. A creative agency can write great ad copy, have beautiful imagery, and evoke emotion. But if the day after someone buys something they regret the purchase because they only bought with emotion and the product didn’t really meet the need; forget about a repeat customer or a referral.
One of our first impressions of Don was the episode with Lucky Strike, that shows him throwing away month’s of research on public opinion on smoking and risk taking. He walks into the board room, lights up his cigarette, and just when they’re about to walk out, he has this epiphany on “It’s Toasted.” They are all blown away, and drinks commence.
“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”
In the real world, that’s not how it happens; the sales pitch wasn’t for the customer, it was for his client. They didn’t want to hear any of the research, they wanted a silver bullet to their problem in a clean solution. In fact most of the time that Don pitches, he’s not pitching about what the actual customer wants. It’s his bias and interpretation of life that dictates his pitch. He just happens to be pitching to his own demographic, so they of course think it’s brilliant.
Who is your agency working for? That should be your first question. The answer seems like it would be for you, but that’s the wrong answer. They may be beholden to you in their time and energy, just as you are to them financially. But their really working for your customers. If we spend all our time focussed on what makes you happy and your customers aren’t, then we lose. So when you hear a pitch ask yourself, “am I impressed with this because it speaks to me, or because I know it speaks to the people that buy what I do?”
There’s a lot that the show got right about the creative process. Half of writing this blog was sitting and staring at a wall, editing a sentence, then staring again. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the agency who comes to you with creative ideas and presentations that pull on your emotions. But unless they backed that up with hard data that says this has a better chance of working because it uses the information we received and leverages that, it’s simply creative.
Outcome driven marketing isn’t always pretty. It doesn’t always come across as nicely in a presentation. Spreadsheets aren’t video presentations. But that was a TV show, not reality. Marketing agencies may want to be Sterling Cooper Draper Price, but they aren’t. You may want to grow your sales in one ad campaign, but you can’t.
Data and research are the the hard road. But hiring an agency that has that Don Draper mentality is the quickest way to kill your the efforts of your marketing. Because marketing relies on knowing your buyers, not an abstract interpretation of them.