Social Media Measurement, Social Media Optimization

What Michael J. Fox Taught Me About Marketing

Michael J. Fox ConnectionsI like Michael J. Fox.

Jay Baer Blog PostI’m of the vintage that grew up with Alex P. Keaton, Teen Wolf, and Marty McFly. Further, I lost my grandfather to Parkinson’s a few years ago, and Fox’s efforts to raise funds to combat the disease are remarkable.

So it was a thrill to see Fox give a keynote presentation Tuesday, when I joined more than 4,000 other marketers at ExactTarget’s smashing Connections conference in Indianapolis. I’ve worked with ET for a long time, and have been a presenter at Connections every year.

Turns out, MJF is a terrific speaker. Funny, approachable, engaging, inspirational.

His message was “Don’t Play the Result.” This is an axiom in acting that reminds actors to not let the fact that you’ve read the script, and know how it turns out impact how your character behaves and reacts as the story unfolds.

This maxim turned out to be very useful for Fox when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, because it reminded him to not allow the diagnosis to inordinately impact his life.

Said Fox:

I ask you to mine the present moment for its hidden possibilities and allow those around you at work and at home to do the same. And whatever you do, never ever play the result.

Don’t Play the Marketing Result

Sitting there in the audience, it struck me how applicable “Don’t Play the Result” is to modern marketing.

We all have biases based on what we’ve done, read, learned, and forgotten. But we cannot let that slant impact our work.

I was involved in the online advertising business very early. And for years, I would encourage companies to purchase online display ads and they’d often say “We don’t want to do banners. We tried that once, it didn’t work.”

We tried that once.

A single data point isn’t a test, nor is it defensible. Anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be ignored, but it shouldn’t be used as a shield against innovation and experimentation, either.

Prove Yourself Wrong

Maybe your new corporate blog, or Pinterest page, or use of Facebook Collections, or gamification program, or customer insight mining initiative won’t drive the desired results. But if you go into it thinking that it won’t work, you are Playing the Result and are likely to skew the results in the direction that fits your preconceived narrative.

My friend Tom Webster from Edison Research has terrific advice for marketers and market researchers:

“Don’t seek to prove yourself right, seek to prove yourself wrong.”

If you think like that, you won’t Play the Result.

A few years ago, when I owned a digital agency, I would always tell prospective clients, “I don’t know what works for your company online, but I know the process to find out.”

If you think like that, you won’t Play the Result.

Embrace Experiments

We have the software and the skills and the protocols and the data to test and optimize almost everything in digital marketing. Truth is knowable. Best practices are definable. But they should be YOUR best practices, not something you read on a blog or a white paper. The magic formula for your brand will differ from the magic formula for your competitors because your brand attributes, execution, and customers are disimilar.

Think about how you can create a culture of testing and experimentation in your company. Can you create a testing budget? Can you reward team members who design great tests? Can you ask your fans/advocates for innovation ideas?

ExactTarget was just a 40-person email company in 2001. Now, they have 1,500+ employees, are a NYSE traded company (ET), and are a global leader in interactive marketing. The company was started for $200,000, and now has a market cap of $1.45 billion.

When you Don’t Play the Result, it unlocks the possible.

What can you unlock today?

  • Jonathan Steiert

    Jay, this is such a brilliant correlation between today’s industry and MJF’s message. I do not think we allow ourselves to look at each project with new eyes enough. Having done a bit of acting myself, I understand the pitfalls of anticipating the scripted ending of a scene. When we grant our thoughts access to the result, the steps to the end goal suffers. A post like this will be served as a constant reminder to reset my thought process when auditing a new client or mapping out a strategy for another. It also reminds me to audition for a show at a community theatre or something! Thanks, Jay.

    • jaybaer

      Jonathan get back on the stage!

  • Rosemary ONeill

    I’m going to have to marinate on this one! It seems to directly contradict “begin with the end in mind” and “always know your outcome.” But perhaps the magic comes when you do those things, but then let go in the moment.

    • jaybaer

      I know what you mean. But if you begin with the end in mind, you’ll end up right where you thought you’d be. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Okay in life, less so in marketing.

      • Rosemary ONeill

        Cue exploding light bulbs, lol. I feel a blog post coming on…

  • Michele Price

    Jay, you have said this beautifully. We not only do ourselves a disservice, we do our clients a disservice when we play to a result.

    Our brains collaborate with us better when we approach things with fresh perspective. That fresh perspective will generate creative answers that can be executed, because it had more beneficial constraints helping it to be born.

    I see many think the answer to being fresh and creative, is to not have constraints at all – “we want to be free flowing in our ideas with no boundaries.” That is a great goal, except constraint is where the magic occurs to allow you to tap into a deeper layer creativity.

    Seeing how many people are not comfortable sitting with “what is”, the thing “that is” in that moment. They immediately want to focus only on how they want things to be. While being positively focused is good, there is “gold in them there hills of ‘what is’.” Being willing to shift into observation mode, so that you are not manipulating your result into being is key.

    Loved Tom’s point to “seek to prove yourself wrong.” This keeps you more in the observation mode “If we do this ( to break the idea ) what will happen? Is one of the keys to unlock creative solutions.

    Jay, we both share a Grandfather who had Parkinson’s, I was not aware of that before. I remember sitting there watching him try to eat soup as a teenager, wondering how he keep his patience with the shaking. Funny thing is, he outlived my Grandmother ( which many times, he was seen as the first to go ). I wonder where the answer is waiting for Parkinson’s to be unlocked by us, not focusing on the cure alone?

    • jaybaer

      Sorry to hear about your grandfather, Michele. Indeed, Parkinson’s is a mysterious conundrum. I’m hoping progress continues to be made. MJF’s foundation has raised $300 million, and is the #2 funder of Parkinson’s research in the world, behind US government. Amazing.

  • Barry Feldman

    Sweeeeeeeeeeet! I too love and appreciate Michael J. Your story is hot stuff. I love that you’ve told your clients you don’t know what works, but know how to find out. I tell my clients, I’m not going to begin by giving you answers. I’ll begin by asking you questions. This turns a lot of them off. The ones that stick around get it and make for good clients who create effective communications. Kudos to the “prove yourself wrong” axiom too. Good stuff Jay, a walk-off homer, if you will.

    • jaybaer

      Thanks Barry. I find that line of inquiry to be a very effective client screening mechanism.

  • http://WWW.EXTRA-CASH-ONLINE.COM/ Robert Connor

    Prove Yourself Wrong -very powerful words! Have a great day Jay on purpose!

    • jaybaer

      That Tom Webster is a sharp guy!

  • Nayan Padrai

    Very, very true. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rachell S.

    Living in the moment is something I am trying to learn how to do. I’ve sat in tons of meetings where someone comes up with an idea, only to be shot down by, “No we tried that in “name a year” and it didn’t work.” Sometimes past history will keep us continually playing the result of a bad experience. Very nice message. I must admit that the use of Michael J. Fox is what got me reading…..made me feel comfortable enough to see what I could learn about social media. Thank you.

    • jaybaer

      My pleasure Rachell. Don’t let the anecdote lovers shoot you down. You’re right, they’re wrong.

  • Cendrine Marrouat

    Jay, what a great article!

    “The magic formula for your brand will differ from the magic formula for your competitors because your brand attributes, execution, and customers are disimilar.” – Absolutely!

    Be flexible, expect some twists and turns, but never stop trying.

    Thank you, Jay!

    • jaybaer

      Thanks so much Cendrine. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Muhammad Saad Khan

    An Amazing piece to brighten up my hectic Monday work schedule. I am great fan of Michael J. Fox – as i brought up seeing him in the movie series Back to the Future. It was an amazing experience to read about him in a marketing way.

    I want to appreciate Jay for this elaboration on how manipulation of results can smutter the whole marketing situation.

    Learned alot from this post!

    • jaybaer

      Thanks very much. They had the actual delorean care from Back to the Future on display at the conference. Pretty cool!

  • MicroSourcing

    Great insight on marketing and life in general. The variables change with every new and unique situation that marketers find themselves in. In that sense, they can’t simply jump ahead of the results.

    • jaybaer

      As Keith Olbermann said way back when he was on Sportscenter: We’re all day to day!

  • Sonia Winland

    What a great way to start a Monday morning. I use to watch him in my hey day too and what he has done for his charities is remarkable. When I was at Dreamforce Conference (Salesforce) I attended a webinar with a popular cruise line and the rep told me that no matter what, don’t doom yourself before you get started.

    He shared how many times they tried different things to get their fans engaged and nothing worked. Some on his team started doing just what MJF said and it took them a long time to get over that hump, but they kept on testing until they found the formula that worked and haven’t looked back since.Two million fans later…enough said.
    Thanks for sharing this Jay…sweet post. Off to share this!

  • Maura Rodgers

    Your post applies to marketing/business and real life and that is why it resonates.

    I was in a lunch meeting the other day with a friend catching up and giving an update on my company. Near the end of the lunch, I wrapped up by saying “I know I have a few decisions to make.” And he replied, “It sounds like you have a few questions to ask first…” While I have been asking a lot of questions along the way to help with my decision-making, we often start with assumptions that can cloud our judgement and affect the outcome. Like this post, it was a good reminder.
    Off to live in the present and prove myself wrong today. Have a great day!

  • Maria Ross

    Great post Jay! As a brand strategist, this part resonated the most for the work I do with clients: “The magic formula for your brand will differ from the magic formula for your competitors because your brand attributes, execution, and customers are disimilar.”
    You can also apply this to the thinking that, just because you simply try to copy or emulate a competitor, it doesn’t mean you will get the same result in a positive sense, either. Every brand and customer base is different. We can’t all be Apple, simply because we are not all Apple. You can’t just slap a coat of brand paint on your efforts and expect the same result, either!
    However, to your point about “We tried that already:” Yes, you did, but maybe your messaging was off, or your creative was not compelling enough, or you didn’t know now what you knew then. Point is, what did you LEARN from it last time? How can you make it better this time around? Are there better tools and technologies? Are people more accepting of what you have to offer, etc?
    Sadly, most companies I’ve worked for before I went off on my own consulting and author path did not give you the time or budget to test and experiment. If your campaign did not deliver sales leads NOW, this quarter, you got no second chance. I hated that. I would have tried more things, taken more time, tweaked and improved. I wish more companies would give their marketing folks the time and resources to yes, produce results to keep the business running (that’s a necessity), but also let them test and experiment in parallel for the longer term.
    Thanks Jay!

  • Jeanne

    Your headline caught my attention, Jay. I’ve been following MJF’s dedication to eradicating Parkinson’s Disease for years…… since we lost Cubby….. and he’s done an amazing job. As usual, you’ve written an insightful, inspiring column that pumps me up for the week ahead! Thanks!

  • Bhaskar Sarma

    Funny thing about experimenting and testing is that it’s very cheap to fail today online. You don’t need a massive marketing campaign running to find out if your idea is a hit or a miss. In some cases a few hundred dollars worth of Google ads might do the trick.

    And yet, why aren’t more companies trying to prove themselves wrong, and constantly trying to test the limits of how much they can convert? Is this a generational thing where most decision makers came of age in the pre Google Adwords era, or do you see this trend continuing even 15 years hence?

  • Raphael Paulin-Daigle

    Great post Jay! You’re absolutely right about experimenting. If you think about it, it’s actually the only way to find out what works and what dosen’t. With all the ressources available online, it’s now easier than ever to test and experiment. Unfortunately those who don’t might be missing the boat/good opportunities. What you said about “we tried that already”, is very true. I often hear business owners say that. The thing they don’t understand is that not everything will work in an experiment. Most of the time, you only need to change the message a bit to make it work. Like you said, you cannot expect to see results if you only tried what you’re testing once. (At least, people are starting to understand that and that is why A/B test are increasingly popular).

    Anyways, thanks for sharing!

  • Ian Cleary

    Hi Jay, I read 4 hour work week recently and it mentioned about throwing up a web page to sell a product and testing it before actually buying the product. That’s much smarter than the old way of buying and then being stuck with products you can’t sell! I think it’s easy to think that won’t work but we don’t know until we test!

    Cool post!