The Routines of Learning: I see, I wonder

As promised I am writing a series on the routines of learning, better helping us understand how people process information most easily so that our marketing messages can stand out.

The first routine of learning goes a little something like this: You present a picture, a passage of text or a scenario and you ask, “what do you see?”

Take the example of the picture in the “featured image” at the top of this post.

What do you see? I see:

  • I see a black boy reading a bible.
  • I see that the Bible is torn.
  • I see that his brow is just slightly wrinkled,  as if concentrating.
  • I see he is lying on a bed with white sheets.
  • A wood paneled back wall.
  • I see him looking intensely.
  • I see a very good job by the photographer in having good contrast.

Now, what do you wonder?

  • I wonder what passage he is reading?
  • I wonder if he is confused or interested?
  • I wonder where he got that old bible?
  • Since the Bible is ripped, I wonder if he is poor?
  • I wonder why he is reading the bible alone?
  • I wonder what he might be feeling?
  • I wonder where he is, if he is at home or on vacation?
  • I wonder who gave him that bible?

All of the sudden, “I wonder” has made us open to the story that we are about to tell. Maybe we are going to talk about how to interpret the bible, or literacy, or what people do in their free time, or poverty? Guess what, now we marketers get to give a narrative to what we are thinking.

What if there was copy at the bottom that read: “His grandfather left him a great inheritance. Discover yours at St. Matthews” and was the copy for attending a local church?  That would work fantastically well, and it would pick up on each of the questions we might have. It’s copy that answers our questions, it’s copy that allows us to tell the story ourselves, because it matches with the things we naturally wonder about.

For marketers this puts a great burden on the quality of the images, and it requires us to ask the question “what do they see and what do they wonder?” about our audience. For example, a devout atheist might see this and wonder:

  • I wonder when he will grow up and get into Kant and Dawkins.
  • I wonder who gave him that to read?
  • I wonder what he is going to do with all the sex and violence he is reading about? It looks like he might be in the song of songs after all.

Then you have to change the copy to match the image. “Full of sex, violence and lies. #BanTheBible” Okay, honestly I’m having trouble coming up with good copy for an atheist audience, but you see where I am going.

The first routine of learning is extraordinarily powerful for coming to one’s own judgments about a deep, big-picture questions. For example, how do you get a group of 5th graders to talk about what do international children’s rights look like? First, show a picture, then ask the questions. What do you see? What do you wonder?

This routine is also powerful for discovery and priming the mind and helping it ask the questions that ready it for an answer. This means that the audience is ready and prepped to discover something big–they have already made mental space in their minds for the question you are about to ask. If we are looking at a cell membrane, the teacher can more effectively ask, “what do you see,” and then ask, “what do you wonder the function of this cell might be? What do you think these purple structures are?”

Perhaps the best location for this kind of advertising is places where your eyes tend to wander and gaze on things for a while. For example, in the inside of a subway someone will tend to zone out and look at the posters. If the image and text is engaging for them, then they will naturally start to ask questions. However, they may need some guidance and you may have to literally ask “what do you wonder?” If the image is clear enough, you will be able to simply add some guiding copy that starts to answer questions and ask more questions.


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