You’re acting like a child. Good for you!

fingerpaitingAt the beginning of my career, I was fortunate enough to have taken a class at UCLA taught by two great names in Los Angeles advertising, Jean Craig and Jack Foster.  Some of the most innovative, freshest advertising in the 1980’s and 90’s came out of these two remarkable creative leaders.  Jack, especially, inspired me because he was a Student (capital S) of creativity.  He explored – and later wrote about – what it takes to become more idea-prone, in other words, Creative.

No matter if you are a Sales Manager, an Accountant or a Marketing Director, everyone needs ideas. Not every idea needs to be earth-shattering or ingenious.  But good ideas break new ground and often generate better results than taking the well-worn path.  Jack, in his book “How to get Ideas,” quotes the Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto who defined creativity perfectly as “nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”

As you look around the marketing/advertising activities within your industry, you may come to the opinion that it may be sorely in need of new ideas!  And the market is wide open for new possibilities.  So it behooves anyone in marketing to think creatively and help bring about positive changes.  Here are some of Jack’s great insights into developing the mindset to think outside the box.

Have Fun

The best ideas usually come from people who are having FUN! Serious people don’t usually come up with innovative ideas. With humor and fun as the basis for creativity, you are more open to the unexpected. When we are having fun, we open ourselves up to new, unanticipated ideas and experiences.  Consider jokes: they are funny because they put a spin on something that seems illogical. I can always tell when I’ve come up with a winning idea because I find myself giggling.  Allow yourself to be playful!

Know that the idea is out there.

Jack believes that the ones who come up with ideas know that the ideas are out there; the ones who don’t come up with ideas don’t know that the ideas exist and therefore don’t pursue them.  Creativity, like so many other things is a self-fulfilling prophesy…just like telling yourself you’re not creative.  That’s a load of hooey!  We were all born creative but were taught not to be.

Go for the numbers.

One way to make it easier to get good ideas is to believe that there are many of them.  Never stop at “the first right idea.”  You have to muscle past that and go for idea quantity, no matter how silly some of the ideas seem at first.  Continuing to play after you think you’ve landed on an idea may produce a better one, or one that may combine with the “first right idea” and make it better.  Only after generating lots of good ideas is it time to be judgmental.

Set Your Mind on Goals

Free-thinking without knowing where you want to go will take you nowhere in particular.  Even within the idea of “playing around,” creativity must be a goal-oriented activity, just as with any other problem-solving effort. Start out by declaring what it is you want to achieve and then get playful on the road to getting there.

Be More Like a Child

Have you noticed that children play without worrying that their efforts are silly or childish? They don’t fret about painting outside the lines or making the sky orange. Jack points out that this is every adult’s problem: we think too much! Adults have too many boundaries, too many rules, preconceptions, assumptions, and restrictions. A child on the other hand, is innocent and free. They do not know what they cannot or should not do. Every situation is looked at with fresh eyes.  To be more like a child is to forget what was done before. Break the rules. Be illogical. Be silly. Be free. Then watch out, because the ideas that will flow.

Rethink your Thinking

There’s an old agency joke about how many art directors it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is, “why does it have to be a light bulb?’  That’s because creative people are always challenging basic assumptions and by thinking about the problems differently they often arrive at different solutions. So…why does a car have to be shaped like a car?  Or how can you double your income on a product you were ready to discontinue?  Make sure to ask the question “What assumptions am I making that I don’t have to? What unnecessary limitations am I putting on myself?”

The two most damaging phrases in business are “We’ve always done it this way” and “We’ve never done it that way.”  But, my friends and readers, give into your inner child as Jack Foster advises and say “What if…?” See where it can take you.  Like death itself, it may take you to a far better place.

# # # #

By Dan Katz, president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts on this blog or any marketing matters, email Rolf Gutknecht, vice president, director of account services, via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Creativity, Marketing, Production, Sales & Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Super Bowl Advertising with Socks Appeal

First, a cork-popping congratulations to the Broncos, and condolences to all the Panthers fans. Now comes the Monday-morning quarterbacking and all the after-game analyses, almost as much fun as following this year’s election season!

But personally, I think the big winner in the game was Kia Motors, whose “Walken Closet” commercial was one of the truly great moments in Super Bowl advertising.  Feel free to click here to watch the spot and then come right back for the play-by-play.


Welcome back!

For a commercial – or any advertising, for that matter – to be effective, it has to accomplish several critical feats:  It has to break through and attract attention, it has to be clear in its fundamental selling message, the message has to be compelling, and it has to be memorable when you walk away from it.

I’ve argued for years that most Super Bowl commercials only accomplish the first and last requirements. You watch and enjoy them, you may laugh at their gags and you talk about them after the game.  But on the selling-side, most hardly make it past the scrimmage line.  They don’t leave you wanting to know more about the product or even “get” the product’s unique selling proposition (USP), the thing that makes the product unique among its competitors.  That surely can’t be said of the Kia spot.

First off, who can’t be drawn into Christopher Walken’s creepily intense performance no matter what he does? And the gag about the “Walken closet” is hilarious. But when Walken metaphorically compares most mid-sized sedans to uninspired beige socks and the Optima to the “world’s most exciting pair of socks,” in a way only he can deliver, he absolutely nails the Optima’s unique selling proposition: a car with “pizzazzzzz” in a world of otherwise boring mid-sized competitors.  If you’re thinking about buying a mid-size after watching this commercial, you’re compelled to at least check out the Optima. (After all, who wants to be boring and beige?)

Our lives are way too busy for us to be attracted to “beige” things.  Yet, too many marketers don’t project that same line of thinking toward attracting customers. Decisions are made daily to keep producing and running the same run-of-the-mill, uninspiring stuff…week after week, year after year.

Keep in mind that when you as a consumer see anything from a company, either your opinion of that company is enhanced or it’s not. There’s no middle ground. You either like them a bit more or you go in the other direction.  So why do so many marketers turn that compelling, money-making value proposition into a beige and uninteresting “me-too” message that each and every one of their competitors could say.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been bored into buying anything. And I’m even going to say that 99% of your customers are with me on this. The marketing you do for your company should be an extension of you. You’re the person who’s responsible for communicating the passion of your company. When you talk about your business with others, hopefully your eyes twinkle, your heart begins to race, your voice becomes more dynamic and people are instantly attracted to you. When that show of enthusiasm and excitement happens, no one would confuse you with being boring, right? Of course not. So look at your marketing and see if it reflects that same level of specialness.  (Or you could always ask friends, colleagues or suppliers who will be candid with you, “Does this marketing make you want to pick up the phone or know more about us?”  If the answer is not an enthusiastic “yes,” then it’s time to start over.)

In a world of “beige” mid-size sedans, there’s the Kia Optima. In your competitive world where there’s so much beigeness, where do you stand?  C’mon, punch it!


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Creativity, Marketing, Media, Sales & Marketing, Strategic Planning, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s your company’s Achilles Heel?

AchillesHere’s an interesting question that you don’t ask yourself every day: If you left your present organization and went to work for a competitor, knowing what you know about your present firm, what would you then do from a marketing standpoint to grow market share at your old company’s expense?

As marketers, the tendency is to look at what your competitors are doing and saying and, if important enough, figure out how to mitigate it so it does no harm to your firm. BUT, when you take a look at your own organization through the lens of someone who has inside knowledge about your firm’s “Achilles heel,” as well as the plans you have in place for the future, an entirely different set of issues present themselves. And, that’s a good thing if you do it as part of a healthy review of your business and its marketing activities.

I’ve had business dealings with lots of marketing folks who have left one company to join another whose insights on their past employer have played an important part in the growth of their new firm. Now I know you’re saying, “Well, that isn’t right. People should keep what they know to themselves and not share that at the expense of their past firm.” I hear you, but I have a different view on that. If my job performance and my family and career prospects depend on my being successful, then knowing what I know is going to come into play either consciously or on some other level. And that, my friends, happens all-day every-day in this “new normal” business environment. Putting a company’s marketing efforts on auto-pilot and then playing the “Woe is me” card isn’t going to cut it as an excuse.  (NOTE: I’m NOT talking about a former employee illegally or immorally appropriating a company’s passwords or passing along genuine trade secrets or violating terms of an NDA, just to be clear.)

Maybe the best example of what I’m talking about takes place in competitive team sports.  Coaches, managers and players are always looking to fine tune areas that they feel the other team could exploit for their benefit.  Teams watch films of games and their own practices to identify things that they could be doing better before the other team can identify those problem areas. They talk to players who have come from another team to get some inside intelligence on what other teams see as limitations or flaws. Only taking this knowledge into account and addressing it can the team feel confident that they’re prepared for what lies ahead. It shouldn’t be any different for your company. Taking an introspective look at how or whether your marketing initiatives and business approach is susceptible to a counter attack is something that should be done before current and future plans are placed in jeopardy.

So now the question is, “how do we as an organization start the process?” I’d suggest the first place to start is the good-old, time-tested SWOT analysis, something that can be implemented almost immediately.  To begin the process, have those associated with your firm’s marketing functions put together their own SWOT analysis on the specific marketing activities that the company is engaged with, i.e., PR, Tradeshow/Events, Advertising, Social Media, Pricing, Promotion, etc. Then, assemble the team to discuss, review and make decisions on the input with an eye towards creating a next-steps plan to shore up marketing functions and activities that are critical to the success of the company’s integrated marketing program.

Remember, the idea of performing a SWOT analysis is to accomplish two primary things:

One:  Reduce Risk.  Improve the viability of your company by pairing up external threats with internal weaknesses to highlight the most serious issues faced by your company.

Two: Improve Performance. What actions you should consider to improve the performance of your business by pairing up internal strengths with the external opportunities.

With everything on Marketing’s plate today and the urgency in which it needs to get done, there’s a real danger of losing sight of the basics. Who has the time, right? Well, if we lose sight of the need to regularly and carefully look at what we think our company is (warts and all), particularly in light of all the resources we use or spend in the ever-evolving marketplace – not just our guesses about it – we risk losing all that we work so hard to achieve: increasing revenues and market share.

The time-tested marketing adage has never been more true: If you don’t really know where you are, it is much more difficult to get where you want to be.  And knowing what your company’s particular “Achilles Heel” is and taking moves to protect it will go a long way toward your winning the race.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Marketing, New Business, Research, Sales & Marketing, Strategic Planning, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Change your Words. Change your World.

Power of WordsThis is not a post about what headlines work better than others, or what power words you need to use, or how many syllables in the subject line of an email creates more interest. Rather this post has to do with something that every company needs to revisit since there will LOTS of marketing dollars put into play for 2016.  Specifically, this is about the need to change the words that your company may be using, in some cases for far, far too long, in order to change how the company wants to be seen by their customers.

You’re probably saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’ve heard that before. What else do you have?”  Well here’s the deal: so many marketing folks are hung up on using words and saying things that are either “ways we describe our product” or are industry-speak that they sound un-interesting, un-inviting and more times than not, just like their competitors…which isn’t a good place to be.  In turn, you’re valuable marketing dollars are wasted.

Over the course of my business career, I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with a number of really good copywriters. If you’ve ever spent any time in a marketing or advertising agency, you know just how critically important it is to have fantastic copywriters who know how to craft messaging so that in addition to being imaginative, original and fresh, the copy is so interesting that people want to buy the product. Unfortunately, and we all know this to be the case, many companies waste budgetary dollars on trying to convey an idea, a value proposition, or a reason for buying, with below par messaging that the prospective customer won’t even give second thought to.  I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have seen an ad or commercial where we’ve looked an one another and said “What the heck was that?” You have as well…I know you have.

And let’s not forget about online…like websites for example. Visiting websites with bad copywriting can be cringe-worthy as well as just plain boring!  Product stories without a conclusion, meaningless purpose statements and yawning lists of statistics are a few other reasons prospects will click out of a poorly-written website. What a waste of money from the creation of the idea to the production to the media cost, right?

Well here’s something I learned over my 30+ years helping companies…from Fortune 100 to mom-pop’s alike… copy is not valued, and I mean really good copy, as it should be.  It’s primarily because of two reasons: First, people are becoming more and more visual in today’s world and second, Mar-com folks have done so much writing that they’ve devalued copy in favor of other advertising or marketing messaging components such as accompanying visuals, click-throughs, QR-codes, etc.

So as you take another look at your marketing materials, and I would suggest all of your marketing materials, here are 5 simple things to have your messaging be acted upon:

  1. The human brain is wired to react to words that inspire action and conjure up positive images or emotions. Three things happen when you do this:  You stand out.  You attract the right audience. You create stronger connections.
  2. Don’t use jargon — language that just dresses up the message with self-importance. In fact, you should use jargon in your copy less often than swear words, i.e. pretty much never. I saw a story online not too long ago about a tax recovery firm that referred to their service as “sales tax recovery,” which all the firms in their industry did as well.  They were told to change that to “sales tax refund.” Monthly searches for each of the two terms: 170 for “sales tax recovery” and 5400 for “sales tax refund”…all by changing ONE word.
  3. Take notes from the companies that know how to do it. They’re not hard to recognize.  Look at companies that are in similar businesses and take particular notice of how their getting their message across. The successful companies are probably saying it differently in tone and style which is something you can learn from.
  4. You may need to contact an outside advertising or marketing firm to help. They do this day-in and day-out, capturing people’s attention so that they want to find out more about what you can do for them. In short, they speak to people in ways that people want to be spoken to. And while we all think we can write scintillating copy, the fact is that professional copywriters are just like a plumber, electrician, or brain surgeon, in that they’re more of an expert at what they do than you are.
  5. Choose the biggest problem that you’re solving for your target audience and stick with it. Now take this one step deeper and determine the deeper benefit of your product or service. In other words, how does your product or service solve their biggest problem? And, why would they want that? This all goes toward keeping your message focused on your product without muddying up the waters with lots of other things you want to stuff into copy.

The big finish: You may have already seen this video. It’s been recreated in a number of different languages around the world and speaks to the connecting point between a blind beggar and those who pass him by. I find inspiration every time I see the video and think you may find the same as it serves to illustrate the power that your choice of words can have in marketing your products, your services and your business.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Advertising, Creativity, Direct Response, Marketing, Online Marketing, Production, Research, Sales & Marketing, Social Media, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Back to the Future

looking back
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  – Soren Kierkegaard

The last quarter of 2015 is almost history and as we stand poised to welcome 2016 in less than 2 months, we hope for a future that is successful, rewarding and where your dreams will be realized. Having seen the start of more than a few “new business years” during my career, I’ve learned that you can do one of two things in preparation for the coming year. You can yet again try to create a brand new marketing strategy for the coming year or you can pause, look back and do some serious reflecting, resolving to change, or improve some aspect about how you will initiate your future marketing campaigns. For some people, looking back over the past year may be something better left in the rearview mirror; on the other hand, burying your head in the sand can be seen as the primary ingredient in a recipe for another disappointing year…and you know how much the CEO/President/Owner /Founder loves that kind of thinking. So before one celebrates the dawn of a new year…take time to ask yourself what are you going to do to change? What does success in 2016 look like to you and your executive management team?

Speaking for myself and our firm, the end of each year is met with a healthy dose of optimism for the coming year. We see 2016 through a lens of hopefulness, that things will continue to get better. Is that just us or will you and your organization also view the coming year with a level of anticipation that you haven’t had for a few years? Hey, it’s been tough for most everyone out there but let’s remember that at least a few organizations — perhaps some of your own competitors — have fared better than most despite these trying times. So what have they done to plot a course for a more optimistic and profitable path for success in 2015?

Depending on marketplace factors coupled with how well you were able to strategically position and market your company, the past year was either seen as a success or another year of same-old, or even a disappointment.  The question that begs to be asked here is, how much of last year’s growth or lack thereof was because of something you had no control over, such as good or bad luck, and how much was because of something you specifically chose to do or not do?  I’ve found through personal experience this is the time to be totally honest with yourself.  As Sigmund Freud said, “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

Hey, I’m all for a bit of luck but you probably don’t want to continue betting future success on lucky things happening in the coming year.  With this in mind, here are a few questions to ask yourself as thought starters as you begin the process of looking in the rearview mirror to last year and through your windshield to the next:

  • What marketing activities worked for you and which ones didn’t in 2015?
  • What 2 or 3 trends did you notice have taken place in your industry and outside of it that you need to incorporate into 2016 activities?
  • What 5 pieces of really good customer feedback did you receive this past year that you need to take deliberate action on?
  • Is there one part of your marketing activities that if it got more attention could yield better results?
  • What are the 2 mission-critical initiatives that absolutely need to be accomplished by June 30th 2016?
  • What are the top 3-5 problem areas that could impact your bottom line or stunt the growth of your brand if you don’t tackle them now?
  • What are the 3-5 opportunities that could grow your bottom line, brand visibility and preference?
  • How did your marketing (from strategy to execution) match up with your competitors? Was it “beige”- boring or was it “full of color”- impactful?
  • What do you produce, offer or do that excites your audience and makes them think “Wow!”

As marketers, one thing we know for sure is that change will not stop in 2016. The economy will continue to shift on us —hopefully with less drama. But by reflecting back on 2015, taking control of your marketing activities rather than being tossed around by the waves in the marketplace, along with thinking optimistically about what 2016 can hold, 2016 might actually be a year worth celebrating.  It will be for us and hopefully will be for you as well.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Creativity, Direct Response, Marketing, Media, New Business, Research, Sales & Marketing, Social Media, Strategic Planning, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Hope is NOT a Marketing Strategy.

crossYourFingers1I think we would all agree that having hope in one’s life, personal or business, matters a lot. Without hope (or dreams) whatever the positive outcome is that you’re looking to achieve, there is nothing to plan or look forward to and therefore no reason to put forth an effort. So while hope is important, basing the success of your marketing efforts on hope, like in “Well, we’re going to try this out and hope for the best,” is probably not something you want to bet your job or the sustainability of the company on.

You see, while hope may fill your heart… in marketing, Hope is not a Strategy. It never has been and it won’t be in this growing and increasingly competitive marketplace. Hoping people will register for a loyalty program or hoping the 5000 direct mail pieces you sent out will generate some leads or hoping that word-of-mouth on the new product introduction will open up some doors is all nice but without strategic thinking coupled with creativity (in the delivery of the message and how it’s delivered) your hope is nothing but a pipe-dream. In short, if there is no marketing strategy to match the business goals all you are doing is relying on luck to drive the business. In football, they call this the “Hail Mary”!

Speaking with the number of Marketing Directors that I have, you’d be surprised at how many of them and their teams use the word ”hope” to describe their marketing efforts. The reasons most of these folks live on hope has as much to do with human nature as anything else. Most people prefer the path of least resistance – the easiest track.  You see, having a grasp of what your current customers and prospects are looking for and how you fit that need requires an understanding that takes work and resources. Oh, and let’s not forget that if you look too close, you might uncover some truths that you might not want to know existed.  And rarely does one budget time or money for testing to learn what will have the best chance of success. For the “hope group,” it seems it’s easier to just create the marketing program and run with it rather than invest the resources and thinking to at least have some confidence in the outcome.

Here are a few things that “Hope Marketing” does and doesn’t do…

…Built around tactics and not strategy:

Hope Marketing people focus on the newest and sexiest marketing tactic du jour without any appreciation for how it fits in an overall marketing strategy. I’ve also seen entire marketing plans that consist of nothing but a series of tactics strung together one after the next without an over-arching marketing strategy. It’s easy to start with the “how” but if you haven’t identified the “what,” you may find yourself spending a lot of time executing tactics that don’t take you where you want to go and in so doing, you’ll be wasting time, resources and losing out on sales-producing opportunities.

…Based on an “insight-out” view of the world and not an “outside-in”:

Inside-Out thinking means the company is less sensitive to how the customer is interfacing with the market. Hope Marketing has slipped into thinking it’s “all about us and what we sell.” Inside-Out companies are surprised by poor sales results.  They don’t feel threatened when a new competitor enters the market. They’re out of touch with what value they really bring – or don’t bring – to their customers.  In short, their Hope Marketing mindset is “Here are our products and services and this is how we help you.”  The problem with this approach is that it relies on your customers having to work to find a place for your solutions in their lives.  Alternatively, “Outside-In” focuses on the customers’ point-of-view.  These companies stand in the customer’s shoes and view everything the company does through the customer’s eyes. They depend on marketing to increase the conversation they have with their customers which in turn allows them to seize on business-building opportunities. They ask their customers what their upcoming needs are and then figure out how to give it to them. These companies don’t wait around for change to happen but rather they create change by seeing their world through their customers’ eyes, allowing them to more quickly meet the customers’ needs.

…Not really understanding who your customer is:

It’s safe to say that it’s probably been a while since a Hope Marketer has actually taken a close look at who they should be reaching/their customer, to produce sales. When was the last time a customer profile was established? What are the best channels nowadays to reach these people? When was the last time the company spent real, quality time doing research – surveys, interviews or even focus groups.

…Not clearly knowing what customers or prospects think of you:

On the subject of research, there’s no excuse for not doing it. Yes, I know that budgets are tight, but if you’re spending money reaching an audience that may not think of you as they did in the past, then the money spent Hope Marketing is money wasted. Hope Marketing believes that nothing much has changed and if it has, it’s not affecting the company’s sales/preference/etc.  Maybe…and maybe not.  Doing research online or on social media to see what customers or people are saying about you doesn’t take soooo much effort.  Sending out a survey to current customers on a variety of different subjects isn’t an overwhelming project. You might not love what you hear but you’ll be better knowing it than guessing why marketing activities are not succeeding.

…Not understanding what makes your company and what it offers unique:

It’s not unusual to hear in organizations that engage in Hope Marketing differing answers to questions about what defines them or makes them unique in the marketplace. As a result, the marketing reflects that they’re trying to be all things to all people.  At closer look you see that messaging is different from one marketing channel and marketing initiative to the next. “We do it all” is more or less the message but in doing so, no real value proposition is ever delivered. Without a good USP you’re dead!  If you can’t very quickly describe what makes you, your product, your service or your company truly special in the eyes of the customer, don’t expect your customer to do it for you.  By default, they’ll just put you on the shelf called “commodity,” and there you’ll stay.

So, if you still want to hope for things to look forward to…great. I’m all with you.  Hope for a better tomorrow; hope for a cure to Alzheimers; or hope for anything else that you can’t directly control. But please don’t hope your marketing programs work.  If you don’t know or believe the marketing will succeed, you are not setting your efforts up for success. Time to stop crossing your fingers.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Advertising, Creativity, Direct Response, Marketing, Media, Research, Sales & Marketing, Social Media, Strategic Planning, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being your own best marketing teacher

I’ve been out of school for (mumble mumble) years but I still consider myself a student.

I’m constantly learning about marketing and new ways to engage prospective customers.  The absolute best way to learn about marketing is to watch other people – your spouse, your kids, your friends – and pay attention when they react to an ad or a mailer or a referral.  For instance, I watch my wife at night, when she’s sorting through the stack of mail, to see what she tears open and what she trashes without first opening it.  I listen to my kids when they tell me about a cool new app or commercial they’ve seen.  As long as I don’t influence them with my opinions coloring theirs, they teach me a lot.

The second best way to learn about marketing is to catch myself in the act of responding to someone else’s marketing efforts.  I do it all the time.

Let’s say the mail has just arrived and I grab the newest magazines.  As I sit at my desk, feet up, I occasionally find myself reading an ad without thinking – and then I stop for a second and wonder why.  What caught my attention?  What stopped me from turning the page?  Was it a topic I was already interested in?  Was it a surprising photo or clever headline?  What exactly was the trigger?  And then, did the ad actually make me interested in knowing more about its subject?  Did it influence me to consider calling or clicking or writing down a note?  All these are the questions I ask myself only after I have been caught up in the ad – not before, or the “data” is invalid.

The same goes for when I mindlessly watch TV and catch myself actually focused on a commercial.  Usually, commercials are just background noise.  But then, something occasionally pulls me in and when I notice that I’ve been hooked, I stop to analyze what just happened.  OK, sure, I’m always attracted by a sexy model, but hardly ever enough to really listen to the sales pitch.  Yet, every once in a while a commercial sinks in without my intentionally intending for it to do so.  That’s when I go from being a viewer to being a student and thinking about it analytically.  I make a mental note of what happened…what hooked me and what drew me in.  On the occasions in which I actually find myself seeking out the product afterward, I again rewind to learn what made me react the way the advertiser wanted me to.

Often, the answer isn’t as simple as how effective the ad or commercial or website was.  Often, it’s a combination of things, including some desire or disposition I had already brought to the party; perhaps having seen other ads or commercials for the same or similar thing before but now, I suddenly noticed it; something other people have said about the product or brand recently that gave the ad new context; some news or article or review I may have read about it; and most potently, an immediate need that was answered by the ad or commercial or web page.

Whatever the influencers, this I know:  I wouldn’t have been moved to act, having just seen the ad, without having seen it to begin with.  Woody Allen has said that 80 percent of success is just showing up!  So you gotta show up.  I also know that clever creative isn’t the end-all, but I more regularly notice ads, billboards, direct mail, radio spots and TV commercials that have some imagination and freshness – on top of a strong selling message, and I most typically ignore anything and everything that seems old or familiar.  And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so much more by paying attention to my own unintentional behaviors, as I learn by watching those around me.

I encourage you to be your own best marketing teacher in the same way.  Every time you buy a new brand of paper towel, or call a new plumber, or visit a new doctor, or make an online purchase, stop, rewind and consider all the factors that drove you to that specific buying decision.  Every time you inadvertently find yourself paying attention to an ad or commercial or recall a billboard you passed, stop, rewind and reflect on what was it that grabbed you and pulled you in.  Once you’ve gone through the day’s mail, notice which unsolicited mail you didn’t throw out and critically think about why.

Then take what you’re learning and measure that against the marketing your firm is doing.

There are a ton of books on marketing and lots of marketing theory classes at the local colleges, but you can acquire a great deal of knowledge on your own by simply watching yourself and others around you reacting in the real world…just like your prospective customers do every day.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Posted in Advertising, Creativity, Direct Response, Marketing, Media, Research, Sales & Marketing, Social Media, Strategic Planning, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment