Buzzfeed once called Dan Chan “Silicon Valley’s favorite magician.”
He’s performed at events for Google, Apple, Airbnb, and last month I invited this Master Magician to accompany me at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum.
Now, I had pulled a similar stunt at this show a few years ago as a sponsor, using a marching band in 2015 to bring attention to a startup I had co-founded the year prior.
But this time, my goal was twofold. First: get butts in the seats at my session. So, prior to my talk, we canvassed the halls of the event, giving people an impromptu magic show.
Watch as Dan finishes a trick with Rob and Stephan:
Here he is successfully guessing the code to break into Samantha’s iPhone:
(He’s done that same trick for Apple employees, something they’ve understandably described as “a little scary.”)
Here’s Dan making Jon suspend disbelief for a brief display of magic rings:
Each time, Dan would promote my talk and encourage attendees to come to my session.
Butts were in seats, enough for a standing-room-only situation at the back of the room. Someone sat cross-legged in front of the stage.
Now, to kick-start the session, Dan invited an audience member on-stage, asking her to pick 10 cards from a deck. At her direction, he shuffled the numbers randomly and asked her to phone dial the resulting digits shown on the cards.
My phone rang loudly from the back of the room as heads swiveled around, revealing that the 10 random cards were actually perfectly arranged to make up my phone number. It was awesome.
I thanked Dan, our audience member, and started my talk with one simple question: Do I have your attention?
Of course I did.
(By the way - no, I still don’t know how Dan did any of his tricks. Yes, I’m still freaked out by it.)
So, what’s the big reveal here? Why did I spend my own hard-earned cash to hire a magician in addition to the cost of coming across the country from Boston?
What was the reason behind using magic tricks to capture the attention of those in the event hallways and that of my audience in the room?
What does it mean?
Nothing at all.
That’s the point.
Attention, by itself, is meaningless.
Magicians are a great metaphor for what many misunderstand about the charter of marketing. We’re not here simply to get attention for our businesses.
Magicians know how to distract your attention to suit their goals.
For example, those rings? Some magicians perform the trick by covering up holes that exist where their hands are, or by opening holes with pressure. You’re shielded by their showmanship and the glean and DING of the metal as it smacks together.
(Note: This may not be how Dan does his tricks. It’s one common explanation.)
Some magicians, like some marketers, would like you to suspend belief in the world you know, and live in their fantasy world -- for example, one in which they can cut a woman in half. In reality, the trick is done with ample space and agile women.
It's a game of distraction and manipulation, nothing long-lasting, nor meaningful.
It is time to change.
Val Valentino, the Masked Magician who exposed long-guarded trade secrets on a special Fox series (available on Netflix) caught a lot of flack for telling such exceptional truths. Part of the magician's code dictates never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician.
Valentino’s rationale was admirable:
"It is time to change. The audience wants something new. Magicians need to think, not rely on illusions that other magicians have created many years ago.”
In a way the marketing industry operates under similar parameters.
We like to pretend our stunts somewhere between magic and timeless, while, in reality, the world is moving on with or without us and our “closely-guarded trade secrets.”
In fact, buyers are rebelling against these trade practices we accept as the norm.
70% of consumers don’t trust advertising and 42% distrust brands, calling them “remote, unreachable, abstract and self-serving” according to a study by Trinity Mirror.
Ouch. But something we undoubtedly deserve.
Meanwhile, Forrester called 2018 a “year of reckoning” for many brand as consumer trust is at an all-time low.
The stunts we pull are getting old.
Attention itself is meaningless without trust.
The science of capturing attention in marketing is well-worn, but it becomes a dangerously shallow practice if it’s all we focus on.
Recently, Lee Odden called me irreverent in his recent list of top women in digital marketing. (Thank you - I am in incredible company.)
Irreverence is the art of showing a lack of respect for things that are generally taken seriously. And, truthfully, I believe revering marketing the way we do is somewhat silly.
See stats above about our buyers’ rebellion.
NOW WAIT, before you blow up the comments, I have enormous respect for legitimate business leaders in marketing who drive real change among buyers in-market, who can help their brands be seen as leaders within crowded industries, and who can create the meaningful kind of growth that makes us invaluable to the world of business. Some marketing even affects positive change in the world beyond business growth.
That’s the kind of marketing I admire.
I have very little respect for hucksterism.
The kind of marketing that is often followed by the word “ploy.” The kind that is manipulative and shady (like magic), instead of honest and persuasive.
The kind that deploys jargon-filled nonsense and calls it thought leadership. The kind that looks, smells, sounds, and feels like everyone else. The kind that feels “generic.” Propaganda. Hyperbole. The kind that adds to the noise. Deafening noise.
The kind that over-promises but under delivers in the reality of the buying or user experience.
The kind that reduces the importance of social movements like feminism down to a tagline. That kind that sets unrealistic standards.
This is the kind of marketing that has led 42% of buyers to say “I don’t know what companies I can trust” according to Edelman.
That same study also found that the vast majority (69%) of CEOs said their #1 priority is now to ensure their company is trusted.
The bottom line is this: We’ve got a major trust deficit to crawl back from - and if attention by itself is truly meaningless today without trust, then the whole damn paradigm of marketing as we define it needs to change.
This is an incredible opportunity for marketing.
I know - you may be thinking this picture of doom and gloom I’ve painted is anything but hopeful. But there is plenty of hope for our misguided profession in light of these factors.
Marketers, we can see this current world of chaos as either a threat, or an opportunity. The truth is - these are the perfect conditions from which to lead.
Think about it, every brand is struggling with these same parameters - the playing field is somewhat leveled. No longer does simply the loudest brand win - or that with the biggest marketing technology stack.
Today, wins belongs to those brands who can help lead buyers through this chaos, and those who approach their roles a bit differently than our past may dictate.
I brought a magician to a marketing conference in order to prove a point. Nothing he did on stage helped anyone in that room trust me. What got them to give me such glowing reviews (thanks guys) was the quality of everything I said following that stunt.
My audience’s attention didn’t mean anything until I gave them a reason to trust me, follow me, and believe me.
What to do.
For B2B content marketers, sales enablement, field marketers, and demand gen pros:
Our marketing content can be a vehicle for trust if it includes:
Original insights and fresh ideas that challenge how buyers currently see their worlds.
Transparency into our expertise and honest clarity about the industries in which we operate.
Actionable, contextual ideas to help customers advance their business.
Anything other than this isn’t helpful - it’s just adding to the noise.
If trust is a strategic C-level priority, then every CMO now has something incredibly valuable to drive towards in 2019. If the #1 priority of your CEO is to ensure the company is trusted, what can you do to align with that strategic goal?
(Let’s be honest, with the shortest tenure in the C-suite, uncertainty over the value of marketing, and confusion around what it is we really do, the CMO of 2019 really needs a win.)
Trust is something marketing can directly create, protect, or destroy in-market. After all, it is perception. That means the ball is in your court.
How to make trust a part of your marketing plan in 2019:
I recommend auditing the pieces of your business that either create, or destroy trust:
1. Your transparency in the B2B buying process. Close these gaps, and reap the rewards. 99% of IT buyers want product reviews. Only 59% of marketers provide them. 95% want technical spec sheets. Only 72% of marketers provide them. 90% of IT buyers want a product trial to get their hands on the goods before buying. Only 57% of marketers provide it. (Spiceworks study.)
2. Clarity on your values. Don't just give them lip service, but examine with a critical eye how you live them. Buffer doesn’t just say they are transparent, they show it. Patagonia doesn’t just say they are environmentally conscious, they donated $10M in tax savings (due to the recent tax changes in the US) to climate change prevention initiatives.
3. Practice insane honesty. Even when it positions you at a deficit, insane honesty can be a differentiator. See Doug Kessler’s thoughts on this topic.
4. Tell extraordinary truths. What is everyone in your market thinking, but nobody is saying? Rand Fishkin of Moz found great success with his Whiteboard Friday series, revealing the truths of the SEO industry in a time when many service providers would prefer they stay secretive to protect their profits.
As he says in his excellent book, Lost and Founder:
“We were called crazy and foolish for oversharing so much about the mechanics of the business. But we also became trusted, and, especially because the field of SEO and the broader world of tech startups are so often impenetrably secretive, it paid off.”
5. Prioritize relevance - prove to buyers you’ve done the legwork to understand them. We kind of suck at this today. 60% of B2B companies fully admit they don’t understand their buyers (SiriusDecisions). 70% of B2B buyers feel brands don’t understand their business. (B2BMarketing.net).
Nothing we do can be trusted if it’s glaringly obvious we don’t understand the people we’re tasked with serving.
The greatest job of marketing was never simply to create noise, stunts, promotions or deals. It has always been to create change - to change buyers from apathy to giving a damn about us, and our ideas as a business.
My friends at Yesler kindly arranged that thought into an easy-to-share Twitter graphic (high five for real time marketing):
I hope my magician was not only entertaining (hey, I had fun), but reminded us all that attention is not our endgame.
This difficult charter takes so much more than simply capturing attention. We’ve got to prioritize strategies that earn trust in equal measure.
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Thanks to all who came to my talk. Email me email@example.com for a copy of the slides.