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  • We’re all selling “tiny transformations and elements of identity”. Or, at least we should be.

    This will be the second entry in six months in which I praise the work of Malcolm Gladwell. But let’s be honest; the man can write about earwax and make it absolutely fascinating. So imagine what he does with the subject of how the marketing of hair dye has evolved since the Eisenhower administration.

    Maybe you market roofing nails and maybe you market hair dye. What tiny bit of transformation are you offering your customers that your competitors aren't?

    In Mr. Gladwell’s latest book, What The Dog Saw, in the essay called “True Colors”, he does such an exquisite job of crystallizing what we all do for a living (or what we all should be doing if we’re really good at our jobs) that I’m compelled to share it (not that Mr. Gladwell needs my help to secure his nearly perpetual position on the New York Times Best Sellers List).

    This is the kind of material you can quote and have people think you’re one erudite and articulate sucker.

    “…all of us, when it comes to constructing our sense of self, borrow bits and pieces, ideas and phrases, rituals and products from the world around us – over-the-counter ethnicities that shape, in some small but meaningful way, our identities. Our religion matters, the music we listen to matters, the clothes we wear matter, the food we eat matters– and our brand of hair dye matters, too.

    “…products offer something that songs and poems and political movements and radical ideologies do not, which is an immediate and affordable means of transformation (the italics are mine)”

    Sure, the brand of hair dye we choose matters. And so do the brands of soda, financial products, eye drops, farm implements, soup, light bulbs, executive training, life insurance and galvanized roofing nails that we choose. Whatever we’re selling, we’re all purveyors of tiny transformations and elements of identity.

    This may strike some of us as a “well, duh.” But, in this case, the well duh is such a beautiful distillation of an important point that I believe it’s worthy of repetition.

    And, for others, it may open a fresh eye through which to observe the people we hope to sell to. What tiny transformation are you offering? How does what you sell fit into a persons’ identity (and don’t give me some tired response like “that sort of thing is fine if you’re selling perfume but I’m selling drywall supplies”. That sort of narrow thinking was debunked about the time Decartes’ Errorwas published).

    If you sell life insurance, maybe you can have a small part in transforming a couple of customers from a mom and dad into “good providers.” If you sell roofing nails, perhaps you can help transform some random guy with a hammer into a “creator of shelter.”

    It’s fun to think about. Almost as much fun as reading a Malcolm Gladwell book.

    About Bill Mount

    A former advertising creative director, Bill is a tireless seeker of the hidden “hooks” in brands that make them irresistible. He combines wit, iconoclasm and an appreciation of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” with a deep understanding of the pressures that marketing leaders face today. View Bill's LinkedIn Profile
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