When the Popular Vote Doesn’t Matter in Marketing

⬇️ What’s Below ⬇️
Marketing: Science or Art? 🔬🎨
The nature of feelings 🤗😭😡
How to measure success in marketing 📊


Here’s one thing that doesn’t impress me much as a marketing guy: The popular vote.

This might seem crazy, considering the goal of marketing is, at its core, to inspire the most people to buy your product or use your service. So let me explain what I mean.

Marketing is an art built upon the foundation of a science. Unfortunately, of all the sciences out there, the science of the brain is one of the least advanced. There is so much about our control center that makes even the really, really smart people who go to school for a long, long time shrug their shoulders when you ask probing questions such as, “So why does that happen?”

Because smart humans aren’t able to explain in precise detail how or why the brain “do what it do,” much of brain science is tossed over the wall and lands in the yard of those who might be not quite as smart and might not go to school for quite as long. These are the “feelings” people.

The reality is, though, that feelings are nothing more than chemical signals. And we do understand more of the how and why than we realize. For example, we know that getting lots of likes on a social media post makes certain people happier. Why? Because we know about dopamine, a chemical that produces in humans a state of contentment and joy. We know it’s not the social media post that created happiness — or even the number of likes. It’s the dopamine triggered by the likes that created happiness.

Why likes trigger happiness is a topic for another day.

So if you look at the science of marketing, it’s all about doing stuff that triggers certain chemical responses to produce the desired action. That sounds — and can actually be — really sleazy. Too often, marketers appeal to base instincts and deeply wired biases to illicit a certain response. Political advertising is so deeply rooted in this that you couldn’t yank it out no matter how hard you tried.

Thus, at its worst, marketing can be manipulation, and it’s best, marketing reaches us at a level we weren’t even aware of to inspire us to act to further our own or society’s best interests.

And here’s the thing: What triggers a group of people to act is often not what triggers the people doing the marketing to act. So if they are going to succeed, marketers must become their target audience. Training and experience up our ability to do that. The problem is that most other people in an organization that isn’t a marketing agency don’t have that training or experience.

Which is why I don’t care about the popular vote of those not in the marketing department who don’t have that scientific foundation and who aren’t as adept at empathy nearly as much as I do the popular vote of those to whom I’m marketing.

Case study: It is scientific fact that certain shades of yellow — deep, creamy yellows — elicit feelings of comfort and home. It’s why you’ll see them in hotels, restaurants and other places designed to set you at ease. These feelings, remember, are nothing more and nothing less than chemical signals.

The problem is, these colors don’t appeal as much to the younger crowd these days. Their brains don’t give off the same chemicals as brains of their elders. So if you’re working on a team with twenty- and thirty-somethings and you’re marketing to a group of people who are upper-thirty, forty- and fifty-somethings, it’s a wise idea to eschew the popular vote in the office when it comes to color choices for a marketing campaign.

Sure, there are other colors that art-school types of recent years will think look prettier. And to them, they do. That color creates different chemical signals for them than they do in me. But if those aren’t the colors than generate the feelings in those whom I want to buy my product or use my service, I don’t care if someone thinks the best color looks like dog vomit; we’re using the color.

Which all goes back to another foundation of marketing — and science, for that matter: Data. I’m willing to put something out into the marketplace that might not jive with someone not in our target audience just to gather the data that, inevitably, will show science trumps artsy-fartsy esthetics. I’d rather an “ugly” ad that helped sell 12 million units than a pretty one that sold 5.


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