Making Information Unforgettable: the Routines of Learning

How do you make information completely unforgettable?

I’m talking “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” kind of unforgettable. In a world where attention and being memorable matters more each day, how do you stand out?

Let’s take a look at this psychologically: when the brain is confronted with new information, it has to digest that new information somehow, it has to “learn” something. Learning Astrophysics? Physiology? How to wear a tie? What is the nature of reality? You have to start digging into these immense topics with some kind of cognitive tool, otherwise it’s just a flash that you forget–kind of like the majority of interruption marketing that we see.

Only when the brain starts to “learn” something can it remember something. Let that sink in. Unless your marketing is actually “teaching” the brain something, it will not stick. In essence, by “teaching” the brain something, you are earning psychological permission to take up space in the neural networks of your students. Effective teachers, by profession, are those that promote the greatest amount of learning. They have become masters of helping our subconscious digest information quickly and turn it into actionable, memorable and concrete information. By contrast, ineffective teachers spend most of their time is spent saying, “pay attention.” And no, students really aren’t going to respond to that request.

So what are is the cognitive trick to making information completely unforgettable? There are only three, so it’s easy to remember. These are called the routines of learning. That is to say, they are the cognitive processes that help us digest new information and make it extraordinarily memorable. Over the next couple of days I’m going to write about how to use each of them in our marketing. They are:

  • I see; I wonder
  • Compare and contrast
  • The parts and the whole

They don’t have a lot of meaning just yet, but I guarantee that you will find them very powerful in the coming weeks.

FYI, this blog post was inspired by what Harvard Scholars have done as part of the Visible Thinking project, so I must give them their due credit.



Status Quo of Small Business Marketing: 10 Steps

Across the countless interviews and podcasts I have listened to there is a consistent set of marketing tactics and strategies that businesses are using that are effective in the new digital marketing universe.


Here is a boiled down summary of what I see as happening today across all these marketing messages.

  1. Simplify your message.
    Your business doesn’t have an effective story. Use something like the storybrand methodology. They have a sweet new video series here.
  2. Start blogging.
    Blog about your service or what you do. In my case, I blog about creative marketing and life insights that I have, because that’s what I offer.Are you an air conditioning guy? Write about what questions people always have about air conditioners (how much electricity will it really use? Is the unit I have sufficient? Am I over-air conditioning my house? Are there cheap solutions to my A/C problems?)
  3. Engage one key social platform.
    Don’t be everywhere in a limited way, be in one place in a very accessible and responsive way. That builds trust and relationships.  Respond to every comment.
  4. Earn email addresses
    This is the monopoly money of marketing today. Earn email addresses and personal information by giving something of value away free on those social networks. They give you the email, they get some bit of knowledge, information, etc. that they would otherwise pay for.
  5. Build trust.
    Instantly build trust by by automatically sending the “free” resource via email.
  6. Realize what you have been given.
    Email addresses are the #1 metric for marketing success. That person is now a qualified lead. Do you know how valuable that is!?!? Keep their vital information well organized and cared for.
  7. Send them followup materials or items of value every week.
    Send it once / week until they unsubscribe. Frequency builds trust, relationship and loyalty. Yeah, that sounds like a lot, but now that we aren’t doing as much print advertising, so we can afford to spend a little more on having a real, breathing human being creating a genuine relationship with customers. Send additional invitations to webinars, events, etc and analyze customer responses if you have enough data. Don’t sell their information. When sold, it’s worthless because there is no trust.
  8. Update your website.
    Make sure you website has high impact, clear call to action, and passes a grunt test, i.e. that your customer instantly knows who you are, what you sell and what’s in it for them.
  9. Survey
    Request information from your customer via short surveys, etc. to fine tune your market / customers. Ensure that you are telling the right story to the right customer.
  10. Deadlines
    Create sales and events with deadlines to stimulate customers to action.

There it is. Hours and hours of listening and learning in one tiny cheat sheet.

Looking at these techniques, however, very little has changed since Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, except that email remains the #1 metric for your marketing success.


Rethinking our Reference Point

Here is an embarrassing story.

I was traveling with a friend in the Czech Republic visiting Prague. The friend I was with had hosted a Czech as an exchange student, and we met up with him. Frank (František) turned out to be an architect, and was so thrilled to point out all the amazing sights and sometimes errors of the incredible buildings in Prague. He brought us to little-known, barely post-soviet bars, introduced us to the weighty gastronomy of Czech cuisine (read: meat and cheese!), and also constantly spoke like the count from Sesame Street. (Ah ah ah ah!).

The issue was as an insufferable 20 something, all I could do was talk about how Prague was like the USA, and how Oregon in particular had geographical features, even buildings that were similar to what we were experiencing there! Imagine that, as if a nation and city with thousands of years of history could be compared to a state who is barely 160 years old.  The saddest part? I didn’t think anything of it. *facepalm*.

It was only years later that I started to realize that I wasn’t the only one guilty of this. For example, I heard a Minnesotan tell me baldly how Minnesota looked exactly like Norway. I have also heard people from the Pacific Northwest say the same things. My judgement from google maps is that frankly my Minnesotan friend was delusional. But now I realize, in his mind Minnesota was the only thing that gave him a reference point. People here in Pamplona, Navarra joke about themselves doing the same thing when they go visit places. Imagine someone saying, “New York? Yeah, it’s EXACTLY like the old city, only bigger and more cars!” It is not out of the question.

Here is my point: it is extraordinarily difficult for our consciousness to observe phenomenon on its own terms. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to allow ourselves to describe a place without using metaphor or simile to places and things that we already know. That’s why we started calling cars “horseless carriages” or calculators “adding machines.” But gradually, we start to form a concept of the place that gives us enough information that we can approach the phenomenon on its own terms.

For marketers, the key point is this: Know Thy Audience.

Know that anytime you decide to offer something to someone that they have never encountered before, you are going to have to use analogies and comparisons that they will understand. Another important insight from this: never condescend, but lift up. People can smell it when you are talking down to them in order to explain something. Unless you are excited about helping them from their own point of view, you can’t effectively move them to the next level. Everyone has their reference point, what are you able to do to rethink your own so that you can help another rethink theirs.?

The question to ask today is “what are they going to understand?”

I am so grateful for Frank’s patience with me. My hope is that he knows, deep down, that he helped create the deepest appreciation for Prague and its architecture, and that I have a debt of gratitude to him for the gift of his time and listening.


Blind Spots and Permission Marketing

What do you do when a key player doesn’t show up?

This morning I had two presenters for a session on presentation skills coaching but one of them didn’t show up, and we had a good 35 minutes to kill. Dismissing the class wasn’t an option, because I believe in giving value for the time that someone pays me for. So, I thought I would introduce them to the concepts of permission marketing.

Now this group wasn’t a group of businessmen or salespeople. They were government employees, veterinarians who oversaw the regulations for animal health and slaughterhouses, and had little to do with sales because their jobs are permanent (about 50% of the population has the equivalent to tenure in Spain). So what use would permission marketing be for this group?

As it turns out, quite a lot. The core of what this group needed was influence. While many farmers complied with their requests, many also did not, presenting the entire region with a vulnerability for animal health, and potentially spreading diseases to humans. In addition, they often felt that their attempts to educate were thwarted by people’s disinterest or even distrust. However, when we started talking about permission marketing in terms of the influence that they might have and giving them the practical tools that they would need in order to earn that permission, their ears perked up and they became fascinated.

The group started to see how mandates from the government were entirely useless unless they were accompanied by a relationship. They started to understand why they shop at one grocery store or another, why they buy meat from a specialist butcher with whom they have a personal connection as opposed to the supermarket, why they chose one dentist or another. Once they started to see the permission web working in their own lives, they began to contemplate how they might use it in their workspace and how they might earn the trust and confidence of both their superiors, government officials, and the region as a whole.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the concepts in permission marketing can be applied to even the most obscure parts of our world. The humbling fact for me is that it took someone not showing up in order to have me introduce the material. And I own this as my fault for not introduce permission marketing earlier. I speak for myself and perhaps many of us when I say that I have a blind spot as to who would benefit from this material and that many more are in need of it than I ever realized.

Who do you think would least benefit from this material? What would it look like if you were wrong?


Permission to have Gratitude

After revisiting Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, I realized that the need for “permission” does not extend only to marketing but also a whole host of other interactions that we have on a daily basis. Marketing is perhaps the most important with respect to our wallets or profitability but even more important is the way in which we cultivate our communities, the way we develop our own social relationships, the way we spend our money, the way we organize our communities.

The core concept of Permission Marketing is that if we are merely interrupting someone and not offering something of value then we have essentially spammed them. However, once we have permission we have the holy grail of marketing “frequency,” that is, the opportunity to send repeated messages to another person that are expected, valued, and to earn higher and higher levels of permission with them.


However, I want to turn permission on its head for just a moment. Think about all the ways that others have given us permission, and think about the gratitude that this can inspire. For example, we walk into a restaurant and we have permission to sit down at a table, to use the bathrooms, to be served. We have permission to go to a coffee shop and read the news or have a conversation. We have permission to practice our faith to the fullest extent. We have permission to start a business that is for the good of society. We have permission to pursue our dreams, to get an education and to build a family.

Yes, each of these permissions is given for the sake of a relationship. We go to the restaurant to be served and we in exchange pay for what we order, we keep the bathroom clean, we treat the ladies and gentlemen with respect and courtesy. We have an ongoing relationship with the business or person. Sure it isn’t super deep, but at some point maybe we become a regular, maybe our picture winds up on the wall of fame, maybe we get to know the owner and each of the waiters.

Yet so many people still may abuse the privilege of going into a restaurant and abuse the relationship that they have with the restaurant, which begs the question of why people choose to squander this chance?

I’m not always sure in every situation, but I know one thing that is lacking is gratitude: gratitude for the permission given and for the value of the other, gratitude for the relationship. In order to make a “permission economy” working well, we must first practice of gratitude in our own lives. Without gratitude for the restaurant and their bathroom, trash is too easily thrown on the floor, and water is too often left splashed around the sink. Without gratitude for the customer, they are too quickly treated like a commodity, they are seen as replaceable, and there is higher wait staff turn over.

If we don’t begin entering into permission relationships with gratitude, then we will quickly squander what we have been given.