Have you ever wondered why each year you read new books on branding, marketing, salesmanship and SEO (some of which have been written by yours truly?).
Logically the only answer that would make sense here is if marketing, branding, selling and search engine optimization are activities with a massively complex technical side that keeps changing every year. Now, possibly, we could argue that SEO fits that bill but that would be disingenuous. Sure, search is technical in nature by definition and we know that Google carries out as many as 500 changes a month to its search engine but with the exception of the kind of shift evidenced by the Hummingbird update most other changes tend to be incremental improvements.
By the same token marketing, branding and selling has also changed in nature. These are, after all, human activities which makes them subject to evolution as our own knowledge, experience and culture evolves. This sort of brings up the point. In order to understand how something works you need to look not just at what it does but how it changes over time. In the changes we see not just the persistent characteristics that make something what it is but also the fundamental dynamic that drives it.
To explain what I mean better consider the dog and how it evolved. Its evolutionary arc points to specific ‘technicalities’ that revolve around its need for food, how it travelled and so on but its persistence has nothing to do with any of those things. Dogs haven’t gone the way of the Dodo because of their dietary habits. They have successfully evolved and are still here when so many animals that existed beside them in the ancient habitat that gave them birth, are not. Their evolutionary success comes down to a single undeniable and easily recognizable fact: their close relationship to man. This then also guides everything else we know about dogs, from their use in tasks that range from herding to war and their subsequent selective breeding that has given rise to a diversity that includes the Chihuahua at one end of the scale and the massive Kuvasz at the other.
The same principle applies in marketing, branding, selling and yes, SEO too. Each of these is a selective discipline that’s governed by its own special set of rules but ultimately all of these are aspects of the same phenomenon. Just like dogs are the result of a symbiotic relationship between man (who gained a loyal companion) and dog (who found an easier means of existing) all of these activities are governed by our need to solve a human problem we are facing.
To simplify matters a little (and also provide the unique insight you’re looking for) I will examine this only from the side of the consumers that marketers, brand managers, sales people and search engine optimizers target. Whatever the problem is, for the consumer, it will ultimately boil down to some kind of decision. And the decision, inescapably, will involve the brain and its prime directive.
Before we get to either of these two, it’s important to note that every human activity is a multifactorial one. We try to solve the problems we face but at the same time we build narratives that support our identity. We see the world as a movie because that way we can understand the motive force behind everything. This means that we can then predict what’s going to happen next which gives us a sense of trust in the world.
All of this is crucial but not all of it is at the very core of the human condition. Even trust, a component without which no relational transaction can ever take place, is not truly necessary to our survival. We can live just fine in a totally trust-free environment. We may live shorter lives because of it. Our brain may be irrevocably damaged and we may become schizophrenic which, tellingly, would allow us to finally see the “hollow mask” for what it really is: hollow and not a face looking back at us.
This is a digression. But it shows that the brain is capable of surviving even under the most difficult conditions and they, in turn, provide fresh insights at the way we view the world. So, back to the prime directive and the brain’s true, fundamental role. Of all the labels we can slap on it the brain is really designed to do one thing: pay attention. Attention is a brain-intensive activity that absorbs many of the available resources and defines reality for us. The thing we perceive right now is the most important one for us which is why book marketing, for example, requires activity that draws the attention of the potential reader to the book (and by now you will have heard of “The Sniper Mind”).
Because attention absorbs so much effort and energy, paying attention to the wrong things or paying too much costly attention is likely to shrink the length of our personal timeline. To avoid this from happening the brain has a prime directive governing its operation which states that it must optimize its use of energy.
This is why it can become easy to miss what we are seeing if we just happen to be looking and it is why the brain can be fooled by optical illusions like the dress that was either white and gold or blue and black, depending upon who you asked.
What Are You Doing, Really?
All of this now brings us back down neatly to marketing and branding, selling and SEO. In the multitude of tasks that go into each of these disciplines the connective thread and, indeed, the decisive factor that leads to that most sought after of metrics: conversion, lies in the answers to two questions:
- Does this truly fulfil a need?
- Does it do so intuitively?
If you have to explain what need you are fulfilling with your product or service to someone who’s looking at what you do, the chances are you’re not sure yourself or you’re doing it all in such half-hearted way that you really don’t want yourself to succeed. If the person who gets to your shop, brochure, website, app, market cart cannot figure out at a glance how to do business with you and what the benefits of doing so will be for them, you are making it difficult for someone to make the right purchase decision even if the product or service you’re selling is the perfect fit.
Now, there are a gazillion things I can itemize you should be doing in order to get to the stage where you can begin to address the two simple questions. I won’t do that because each time a prescription is laid out it becomes a binding element that restricts true thinking. Because our own brains, like everyone else’s, run on attention and the prime directive we crave for easy answers we can go out and employ.
The approach is great for similar books that come out year after year (it’s the same whether you’re looking at business or diet) and it helps sell the “next best thing” in motivation. But it doesn’t really help you get what you truly need which is the place we started this article from, at the beginning.
If you think you really could use some help read The Sniper Mind (I am not saying it’s an easy book, but it will change your life). Or, conversely, think long and hard about the critical aspects addressed by your activities as marketer, brand manager, salesman and search engine optimizer. Then decide how to fashion them in a way that comprehensively and convincingly answers them for your target audience.