Gabriel García Márquez is a master of fiction, but what most people don't realize is that he started as a journalist. But, he wasn't your standard run-of-the-mill writer. Below is a lede to an article he wrote for El Espectador about a remote part of Columbia. After reading an intro sentence like that, is there anyway you wouldn't continue?
Several years ago a ghostly, glassy-looking man, with a big stomach as taut as a drum, came to a doctor’s office in the city. He said, ‘Doctor, I have come to have you remove a monkey that was put in my belly.'
—Gabriel García Márquez, El Espectador
Inductive reasoning dominates current business thinking. This is why people look to case studies and best practices for guidance in their endeavors. It also leads to the belief that strategic management is more science than art. But, this viewpoint is provincial in nature. Inductive reasoning can reduce risk, but innovation requires a leap of faith for which there is little evidence.
The flaw in relying solely on inductive reasoning has been widely discussed in philosophy. Just because something generally happens one way doesn't mean it's guaranteed to be a repeatable outcome. Inductive reasoning isn't fool proof. You can't always learn the truth from past observation. Or, as aptly illustrated by Bertrand Russell in his story of the Chicken:
A chicken wakes every morning assuming a farmer will feed it. Day after day it's fed by the farmer. This is a reasonable expectation. After all, it happens every day. The chicken believes that seeing the farmer means he gets fed. But, one day the farmer comes and wrings the chicken's neck.
This doesn't mean inductive reasoning should be removed from your strategic toolbox, but instead it needs to be tempered with the realization that nothing is ever guaranteed. Requiring proof something will work is the surest way to guarantee that you'll always be one step behind. There isn't a case study for something that's never been done before. Innovation requires a different approach to problem solving. It requires abductive reasoning.
Abductive reasoning is a term that was originally coined by Charles Sanders Peirce. He viewed the scientific process as starting with a guess based on observation and intuition. This initial guess is an example of abductive reasoning. It's an explanation for what might be -- not an explanation of what is, or of what's been.
This is the basis for innovation. There is no blueprint for doing something new. You can observe and learn from previous research, but at the end of the day, you have to make that initial leap of faith. You have to guess and then work to prove what might be.
Next time a client or executive comes to you and asks for something innovative, Remind them that true innovation can't be supported with case studies of previous successes. Social media marketing right now is undoubtedly hyped, but just because there aren't books full of successful case studies (beyond customer service related campaigns) doesn't mean it's potential has been squandered. Instead it means that you'll have to take a leap of faith and try something new. After all, that's the first step towards innovation.
In light of the advancing trend towards products as communication channels (see: Nike+, Helge Tenno, and Russell Davies), it's apparent that the worlds of product design and marketing are creeping steadily towards each other. But what's driving this movement is more than just technology, it's the simple realization that the ultimate acquisition model is a superb customer experience.
While there's certainly a place for efficient direct sales campaigns, marketers are now, more than anything, care takers of the brand. This is the reason Starbucks cares about the atmosphere they create, why companies invest in great websites, why the social media bandwagon is so large, and why all of the branding fluff continues to draw discussion -- because beneath the fluff there is substance.
Over the years, advertising has grown more targeted and consumers have become more accessible. Simultaneously, and not coincidentally, consumers have grown weary of advertising. For most people, the contradictions between advertisements and their real life experiences with brands are too big too ignore.
But the problem isn't just the advertisements themselves -- granted, the click the monkey ads don't help the situation -- the problem is that as advertising increases, so does brand scrutiny. The more often consumers are bombarded with ads, the more opportunities they have to notice inconsistencies between the brand's message and their personal experiences.
So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with many brands who are in desperate need of a clean slate. More and more companies are starting to realize that their biggest weakness is their product. As the CEO at Dominoes puts it, "The weakness in our value chain with the customer was really in our core product."
What's the takeaway?
For brands and agencies alike, the time ahead requires more collaboration and more interdisciplinary skills than before. Brands that want to be effective need marketers that understand the importance of customer experience (and how to shape it), and agencies that want to stay relevant need a team that can advise brands from the ground up, getting involved in products from the beginning with insights that move beyond messaging and into product experiences.
Small companies have to differentiate. One way to do so is by creating marketing tools that get noticed. That's why a boutique fire truck manufacturer in Atlanta decided that they could no longer afford to play it safe. They had to innovate.
The first step was building a website that lived up to their brand's potential (http://www.foutsfire.com/). It wasn't easy. They needed to get professional quality photography of all their trucks, they had to rework their messaging from the ground up, and rethink the way they thought about their customers. It was an expensive step for a small company, but it was necessary.
The second step was to develop something that would help them get noticed at trade shows. How do you get noticed at a fire truck convention? You do something innovative. In this case, you build a custom touch screen application that let's fire chiefs interact with your products in a way that they've never experienced before. It might not be the same as going for a test drive, but we feel like it's the next best thing.
Check out the demo below:
For many of us, reading a work of good fiction is more than just a way to pass the time. It's a window into other people and places, an emotional catharsis, and a framework upon which to build our understanding of the world around us. In this post, Rob Parnell of Easy Way to Write explains fiction for those who don't understand its value. Fiction, like film, is simply another medium for stories, he says. People enjoy stories for four reasons:
- Hope and Salvation
In the ongoing discussion around branding, brands are frequently compared to stories. Is this comparison accurate? We believe it is. A brand that entertains, enlightens, validates, or offers hope to its customers is likely to grow in the right direction. People will turn to the brand in the same way that they turn to their favorite stories.
Do marketers need to read fiction? Probably not, but they do need to be in touch with the world of stories. Having an understanding of stories -- why people enjoy them and hold on to them -- will help you understand how to create content, messaging, and engagements that are effective. If you don't feel like losing yourself in One Hundred Years of Solitude, you can still benefit from movies, plays, standup comedians, and magazine articles, which are all great places to connect with the world of stories.
Do you have a story of your own? Share it in the comments or send us a tweet.
image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/the8rgrl/2949316275/sizes/m/