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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.

Consider The Burma-Vita Company, a company Pre-Facebook, owned by Clinton Odell. Sales of their liniment were ‘sparse,’ so in 1925 the company introduced a product with wider appeal. The result was Burma-Shave, a new, ‘brush-less’ shaving cream.

American culture at that time included the assumption that most employees and most drivers were males, during a time that full face beards weren’t common in most parts. Many towns then and now have restrictions on the number and size of commercial signs on the roadside.

With almost no limited-access high speed highways, most people were thrilled to drive speeds once described as “a mile a minute.” So, we have men (who for the most part shaved daily) on well-traveled highways, moving at comparatively slow speeds over long distances, with little to do, but drive.

Did we mention there were no cell phones (the first real world cell phone call was in 1973), and CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, although an earlier technology was invented in 1940, didn’t become truly widespread outside of license-holder groups until 1975; prior to the late 1970s a license was required. “HAM” radio was expensive and required the passing of tests showing considerable technical acumen. Distractions or entertainment? No Sirius satellite radio. FM radio wasn’t invented yet. 8-track tapes, cassettes, Compact discs? Future, science fiction stuff in 1925.

I know.  I know. How did people survive! Today, anyone without an iPhone seems like  a caveman.

But modern reality in 1925, and for about 40 years was boredom on the road. The company had the new Burma-Shave product, and the son of the owner, Allan Odell, had an idea: pay attention to the cost-effective, result-generating possibilities of focused target marketing and advertisements that potential customers loved to see. In modern parlance, RTM (routes-to-market).

Burma-Shave Signs: Marketing Genius

Then came the Burma-Shave signs with their witty, funny, and effective ad slogans spaced out over some distance on the highway driven by men who looked forward to reading the next sign.

This was marketing genius. With a 1925 marketing budget of $250, sales increased dramatically. Imagine: advertisements that prospects loved to read.

Burma-Shave signs, starting in Minnesota, were in 45 States, including along Route 66; which was the name of a popular TV show aired from 1960 – 1964. It was ironically the same time that the new Interstate highways were being developed. Route 66 still carries an air of legend and was even featured in the 2006 Disney / Pixar movie, “Cars.” Burma-Shave ads were well loved part of the American way of life.

A Change of Culture

The demise of the Burma-Shave signs, and also the loss of the incredibly increased sales that came (and went) with the three-foot signs was caused mostly by the increased speeds allowed by the new Interstate Highways authorized by legislation passed June 29, 1956. The creation of the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” mostly bypassed the highways of the 1920s that involved slower driving speeds. The roads with Burma-shave signs were becoming less traveled.

Huge billboards replaced the three foot painted signs, along with the ability to actually see, and want to see, the Burma- shave roadside ad campaigns. The signs are mostly now in museums, and the once-wonderful sales revenues went out with a whimper. So did the company, which was sold in 1963. Online discussion groups have men relating that they were fortunate enough to have actually found Burma-Shave products sometime in the past several years. The Burma-Shave brush-less shaving cream was discontinued, with the company itself in 1966. 1997 saw the re-introduction of the Burma-Shave company, but no actual Burma-Shave brush-less shaving cream.

How could this have happened?

Yesterday’s Genius Can Be Tomorrow’s Old News

The genius of low cost, high return and great RTM principles and strategies used by Burma-Shave was a force that changed the practice and science of effective advertising. However, as Burma-Shave discovered, irrelevance will cost you. When the climate of your prospects change, as with the introduction of Interstate highways, failure to adjust to current realities will cost you time and money.

Burma-Shave failed to adapt their marketing strategies to current realities, and the result was a catastrophic loss of sales revenue leading to the sale of the business, and its ultimate shut-down.

The Times, They Are Always Changing

The list of social media platforms goes on and on.  The most appropriate social networking sites that will yield the most favorable audience for your business could be completely different days, months or years from right now. Remember Burma-Shave. Emulate their smart, out-of-the-box moves, but don’t make the mistake of failing to realize that the cultural environment is subject to change.

3rd Party Info: 6 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2014

Plain and simple, your social media strategy should resemble a gymnast.  Strong, agile, balanced, able to take direction—and of course, flexible.  With these qualities, your social media practices are poised to bring home the gold on a consistent basis.