Magically Memorable Marketing Part II: Compare and Contrast

Here it is the second of a three part series on how to make your marketing message memorable to your audience until they meet their maker. It uses the same principles of teaching, and it encourages the audience to do the work.

We call these the “routines” of learning. By making someone engage one of their routines, you help them make the information their own. Also, the great thing about these routines is that they are very easy to activate in the subconscious, so if you have their attention (key!) they will easily be able to perk up and learn. The first routine of learning we looked at was “I see; I wonder.”

Today’s magical tool: Compare and contrast.

That might sound like kind of a letdown for some of you, but look how often compare and contrast is used in marketing. List of features between different plans? Compare and contrast. Your product do something better than another? Compare and contrast. You want someone to make a life change and sign up for your coaching services, but in order to do so they have to weigh two alternatives for their future life? compare and contrast.

Here is a quick example from the interwebs:


Compare and contrast is almost everywhere, but instead of shying away from it, we should engage it, using the exact same wording if part of body text, but more probing questions or quality visuals for headlines.

Compare and contrast is also useful for helping us understand completely different ways of thinking, of dressing, of living. In Marie Kondo’s book, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up, she teaches us a new way of organizing and improving our life, simply by comparing her old with her new, looking at what her previous methods got her and what her current method gets her. She uses compare and contrast to accentuate the cost of doing nothing and also the benefits of following the KonMari method of organization. Guess what? I’m a total convert.

Compare and contrast is also part of our evolution, especially when we are constantly calculating our social standings or social hierarchy. This can be used very subtle. For example, there is a story about how a guy won a round of golf with Michael Jordan. The guy showed up wearing a pair of very nice golf cletes but Michael Jordan refused to play with him, because they weren’t Nike’s. He actually told the guy to go into the clubhouse and buy a pair of Nike’s, I can’t remember if he comped them or not. What that story illustrates is that Jordan knew if he were photographed with a guy wearing another brand of sneakers, then he would be creating confusion. The line of contrast between the best (Jordan and Nike) and everyone else would be blurred if Jordan were to appear on the green with someone else, even if he weren’t wearing them.

Compare and Contrast belongs in every part of your marketing, branding, sales letters, etc. It is enormously powerful because it activates the brain very, very quickly.



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.

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.


What Story to Tell

When people ask to “tell me about your time in Spain,” what they are really asking is for a story. They want to hear a great story that puts them in the front seat of the sights, sounds, successes, failures, and above all the story that I went through myself. What I typically tend to do is present a bunch of jumbled up facts that don’t amount to much of a plot. But since my aim  is to be a story marketer,  I know that I need to obey the laws of “story.”

First of all, if I am in an interview, I am going to choose from the 7 basic story forms one that will be both appropriate, and put the great confusion of this time into a manageable framework. So, let’s walk down the list:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
    Yeah, there were monsters to overcome, especially Spanish bureaucrats, but that wasn’t the overall picture of what I was accomplishing. There was no major resolution after the monster was overcome.
  2. Rags to Riches
    This would work if I had gotten rich or had decided to make a life in Spain. It might be the story later, after I go from making near nothing to earning well.
  3. The Quest
    I didn’t have any particular quest in mind, except perhaps self-discovery and to help create a greater society in America by bringing back with me what makes Spain a great place (and leaving the bureaucrats here). Possible.
  4. Voyage and Return
    This is the land of Robinson Crusoe – a strong possibility. This is the voyage that always had the plan of return, and self-knowledge is gained and the disorder in the world is resolved as a result of the voyage. Let’s see.
  5. Comedy
    This is where things that are normalized become chaotic, but eventually become righted again at the very end. This righting is usually the result of some self discovery or some self-knowledge. This is another strong possibility.
  6. Tragedy
    There has been some tragedy while here, but that isn’t the main arc of my time in Spain, nor do I think it’s a particularly appealing plot device for an interview. Skip.
  7. Rebirth
    I certainly have undergone renewal, and would say I am a different, more confident man at the end of this experience, but I didn’t have to sacrifice myself at any point. There is no willing giving up of self in order to have a new life in a new way. Skip this for now too.

So, that brings us down to two strongest options, Voyage and Return and Comedy.

To decide on this, I am going to go for what I think an interviewer wants to hear in particular, “why do you want to work for our company?” This means that making the plot point of “self discovery” to be the key moment (no matter where it falls in the plot), is essential. Therefore, the choice is simple: the story I tell to an interviewer should be a comedy since its form has a stronger connection to this self discovery moment.

Okay, one other thing, how does my “comedy” plot fit into the story marketing framework? If the client asks me the questions, how does that help the client be the hero? Well, keeping in mind that my job is to be more master Yoda and less Luke Skywalker, so I need to give my credentials.Even Yoda says, “For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi.”

Therefore, the story needs to give credibility for who I am and what I can offer.

Alright, this week, I’m going to try and tell my story of my time in Spain as a comedy. I’m gonna make it short, and try and tell it 5 different ways, all using the comedy framework. That’s my promise to you!






Tradition and Intuition

Tradition is not based on intuition.

If you were an outside observe to so much of what occurs in a small city, church, or other community that had a long history, you would very much feel like an outsider. This doesn’t mean that this community isn’t welcoming, but rather that their traditions are not in the least bit intuitive.

This is certainly my experience in small town Spain and having to figure out any number of strange things, from the grocery stores being closed on Sundays to the strange ways that streets are named. In particular a choir I am part of would never bother to communicate that we would be singing 5 times during Holy Week, just because everyone already knew. I always, always had to ask. And yes, I always, always felt a bit stupid.

Now after about 3 years, I have finally started to integrate into the traditions. I am comfortable with the pace of the week, I have a sense about the upcoming events in the year, I understand how to go to the government to get most things that I need. I also understand how to use my networks of friends to find out the information I need. The best communication method in Spain is not the newspaper, it’s gossip.

What you have with any city that has a rhythm, a tradition, or a set of things that happen is you have a tradition. When you join a new company, you need a guide. When you get to know a specific community, you need someone to introduce you to these new traditions. Our success in living here has only been as a result of having excellent guides to introduce us to the places and people, and enabling us to grow on our own and be stabilized.

Tradition is wonderful in that it frees us from having to wonder what is going to happen next and it deepens our participation in what is happening with us. Serving the same food at thanksgiving means that you can salivate all year about the perfect doneness of the turkey, the special recipe of the gravy, and the goofy fruit salads with the marshmallows on top. However, those who are not part of that same tradition are completely missing out. They literally have no idea what is happening around them.

Now here is the marketing lesson: when we shape our communications, very few care about the traditions we have developed, they only care about understanding them as quickly as possible, so that they can avoid the embarrassment of having to “ask.” If you have traditions, make sure that you communicate not only where to look for the most accurate information, but also the information in a complete, clear way. However, once someone understands the traditions of your company, then they start to become a part of the company itself. They are a loyal customer, not just a buyer.

Southwest Airlines is an excellent case study. Southwest has a couple of interesting quirks, for example they only fly 737’s and they don’t assign seats. To an outsider, it’s very strange. It’s a foreign tradition. But, in the end, it’s also part of how Southwest  Airlines maintains such a tight culture: they make it easy to get into the tradition. We don’t assign seats, but don’t worry, we will make it easy to follow and fun.

Other Examples: Are you a chimney sweep? Run a Christmas in July special. Selling a special product seasonally? Make sure you explain why and what it is in 10 words or less. Selling wood pallets? Show them how they may need spring cleaning or maintenance check for their pallets. Offering life coaching? Talk about your quarterly webinars where you take direct questions and how the 90 check in with a life coach is one of the most cost effective coaching packages you can get. Once people know what to expect throughout the year, they will be far more able to participate in the tradition your company is building, and soon it will just be intuition.










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.


Keeping Track of all Those Ideas

For people who are strongly creative, the most frustrating thing is when you have a great idea and then you don’t have anything to write it down, or you are in a hurry or you have whatever it is going on in your life. Most frustratingly, so many ideas come when we are not using our brains in any particularly constructive way, like in the shower or walking somewhere that we pass by most days, in the line at the coffee shop, etc.

But perhaps the most frustrating part about all the ideas we develop is when we don’t get to take action on them. If we are thinking of something that is just brilliant, and then we lose it, we feel that we have lost a piece of our soul to the altar of hurry. What made us feel inspired and wonderful was spoiled by whatever it was, and we quite resent that.

Occasionally, and perhaps I should say very occasionally, I will pause to write down an idea, or make an audio recording of the idea I had. I guarantee you that I actually pick these up these ideas again less than 2% of the time. The audio recordings inevitably get lost, and often the notes are written in such haste that either the handwriting is totally illegible (guilty) or that the message typed in our note pad app lacks any of the crackle that our initial idea felt fresh in our minds.

On the 2nd episode of the Storybrand Podcast, they pointed out that people who are able to put information in the context of a story have a near infinite ability to remember information presented in those stories. Gut check yourself to an excellent story you heard–do you still remember details about how her lipstick was a Revlon red, about how the Dave Matthews loved Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, about how the the ice cream was chocolate chip mint. This is why I remember watching a video similar to this in high school…more than 13 years ago, on one day. I realized that there was a story behind these elements.  Each of these details only remain in your mind because they played some role in the story that was told. In addition, every detail remained with you because it had some function and that it fit with the way that your brain is designed to present information, it fit according to the story.


The truth I have to admit to myself when I feel an inspiration, is that I often lose those moments because I haven’t figured out the way it works into a bigger picture, or the way the idea will develop. Writing this blog, for example, is a way for me to begin telling a story, I have to begin connecting pieces together that will allow me to create a compelling narrative.

So, the resolution I have is not to stop and write down every idea I have, but rather to spend the time to develop the ideas into compelling narratives. Writing ideas down is best done when some pre-frontal processing has a already been done, and the ideas will flow naturally and easily.  And it’s more fun!