Have you ever taken a Rorschach test?

You know, one of these:

 

Also called an inkblot test, you’ve probably seen one of these in your lifetime. They’re pretty common in pop culture. In short, the goal of the test is to show you a seemingly random splattering of ink on a page and to ask you what you see.

Your answer is supposed to suggest some form of inherent perspective that you have. Since the ink is not “supposed” to be anything, whatever you see is what your mind is “looking for,” in a certain way.

In short, they reveal how you look at things. Sometimes something that is ‘designed’ to look like nothing, or perhaps even something completely different, can be interpreted in an entirely different way. As we recently learned, it’s a concept marketing professionals should keep in mind.  

Our Happy Little Accident

Our internal discussion about perception came up after we ran into what Bob Ross would call a “happy accident” on a website we were working on. Here’s what happened…

Take a look at this stock image:

 

 

Harmless, right? We thought so too.

Our plan was to have text overlaid on this image on a website we were working on. So, to make the text pop more, we blurred it out, like this:

 

 

Still not seeing it? You shouldn’t really, it’s just a harmless blurry picture. Or so we thought.

The final step was to resize the image to fit within the page design. So we cropped it a bit, enlarge it to scale, add our text, bada bing bada boom, and voila:

 

 

Oh.

Oh no.

If you still aren’t seeing it, don’t worry, we didn’t at first either. But lean back in your chair, maybe take a step back from the desk and unfocus your eyes. Kind of like you would if you were, I don’t know, aimlessly scrolling through a web page. See it now?

The troubling visual — which was lost on us until a brave soul in a focus group was bold enough to share their thoughts  — is the general shape of a naked man on top of a shirtless woman.

It took us by surprise too. But once we saw it, we couldn’t unsee it. We’ve since swapped out the picture, and with the help of multiple focus groups, confirmed there is no more accidental porn on the website. All in a day’s work.

After we texted our friends about the mistake, we realized there were a few takeaways worth noting from this incident.

  1. QA test your products like they’re movies. If you want to make a G-rated website, put on your X-rated goggles and comb through the content carefully.
  2. Perspective is subjective. Don’t fight that, just remember it, adapt to it, and use it.

The second takeaway sounds obvious, but it’s not 100% clear what to actually do about it. It’s a t-shirt away from being merchandise at a networking event.

But marketers who actually use this advice are better for it. Here’s how.

Embrace The “Porn” Of It All

Here’s one of the best pieces of advice I ever received: just because your opinion is an educated one, doesn’t mean it’s a good opinion.

“What you suggest can be based on research, white papers, reports, and data, and it should be. But it isn’t a good marketing opinion until the market proves that it works.”

That is the bottom line with marketing: the only good suggestions are ones proven by the market. If it doesn’t end up leading to more profit, in the long run, it’s not a good suggestion.

Our “happy accident” is an example of what we thought was a good idea proven wrong by the market (in this case, users). In our case, we were actually lucky that the error was so glaringly inappropriate. The fact that it was pseudo-scandalous was actually a blessing: it was an error we could not justify, so we replaced it.

But that’s not always the case.

Too many marketing professionals rigidly adhere to their own plans even after the market tells them they don’t like what they’re seeing. They may try to explain away why their strategy isn’t working; it’s advertising’s fault, we aren’t spending enough money, they just don’t understand the messaging, yadda yadda yadda. But if the market’s perspective isn’t seeing the same thing you want them to see, you can’t change how they see it.

It’s not the market’s job to see it how the marketer sees it. It’s our job to show them. So in these instances, we need to do our jobs better.

When we say “embrace the porn of it all,” we simply mean that a different perspective is not your enemy. In fact, it’s a benefit. You get feedback on what you’re doing and can adjust accordingly to create what the target audience wants. Isn’t that what we’re trying to figure out in the first place?

Different preferences and perspectives are half the reason marketers do so many of the things that we do. A/B testing, focus groups, demographic data — all of it is because we have a desire to account for the things outside our assumptions.

Good marketers account for different perspectives, adjust, and use it to better their campaigns.

Bad marketers blame the market.

It All Comes Back To The Client

At the end of the day, marketing teams have one real goal. Make their clients more money, and keep them happy. If those aren’t being accomplished, then there’s no point in our work.

If the marketing team is too prideful to adapt to the market, then they simply aren’t going to be able to deliver on that promise for their client. This is not the industry to have an ego. Marketing success is 100% based around how well a marketer can embrace their missteps and turn them into better results down the line.