The Deception of Earholes and Eyeballs

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There are millions of eyeballs watching the Super Bowl.

A mountain of earholes listening to NPR podcasts.

An ocean of optic nerves pointed at the New York Times.

Seven semi-trucks of auditory receptors hearing the local zany morning radio show.

So what?

Getting your ad in front of the most people is the top priority of businesses. But it should be the third thing on your list.

Number one on your list should be how many times you can get into those eyeballs and earholes. If you have to choose between talking to 100 people once or 50 people four times, pick the latter. Every time.

Advertising, at its most basic, is a memory game. You remember the things that are repeated often:

  • Lyrics to a song
  • Your PIN number
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Dance moves

In advertising, when it’s time for me to buy a refrigerator, what brand to I remember? 

Memory pathways are strengthened only by repetition and relevance. The exception to that rule are rare events so profound they only had to happen once:

  • The Miracle on Ice
  • September 11, 2001
  • The first Black president
  • Accidently seeing your grandmother naked

Your business will never be as compelling as that list, so you need to focus your energy on frequency. 

How much advertising can you buy so you can get to the SAME eyes and ears repetitively and relentlessly? Like any relationship, it will take several dates before someone falls in love with your business. If you “play the field” and date as many people as possible, you will never “make the sale.”

So far, the order of things to consider are:

#1: Repetition.  How many times can you get your message to the same customer?

#3: Audience size.  How many potential customers can you reach?

Between those two considerations comes a target segment. A segment is a collection of people with the traits that qualify them to be potential customers.  

This is NOT the same as (infernally useless) demographics. Stop asking about demographics and stop letting people tell you about demographics. The amount of usable advertising information you can get from demographics is borderline nonexistent.

Think of a segment as like-minded customers.

Homeowners are 100% likely to have plumbing.

People with stomachs are 100% likely to get hungry during the day.

Bras will most likely be purchased by women.  

“But ‘people with stomachs’ could be anybody!”  


And it’s quite possible that your restaurant is perfectly suited for anybody with a stomach. It’s also possible that your restaurant is more suited for anybody with a stomach who is a “foodie.” Now you have information about who is… and who ISN’T your customer. Build your message accordingly.

Segmentation is thorny and weird (can ya tell?) and I’ll dive deeper into that in a few weeks.  

Let’s stick with this point: 

Don’t worry about how many people you’re speaking to until you know how often you can speak to them. Your goal today is to kick up your repetition until some people can’t forget about you.  

We’ll get to the “other” people later.  

Let’s win the ones you can win.

Johnny Molson

Actually, Most Things Will Be the Same

Not the reading type? Listen here…

Office chair prognosticators have been giddy…borderline orgasmic…imagining themselves standing on smoldering rubble, writing their own Anthony Burgess dystopia. As their film opens, words that look as if written on a digital clock flicker like a faulty fluorescent bulb.


Metro City – Sector B – 17 August 2020

Our hero, once a Windsor-knotted businessman, now stands shirtless atop a heap of twisted rebar, car axels, and – for some reason – 1990s CRT monitors.

“I told you EVERYTHING would change FOREVER!! You wouldn’t listen! You wouldn’t liiiiiistennnn! Damn you all to Hell!!”

Suddenly, a 48-story robot walking through the harbor turns its head towards our hero and vaporizes him, leaving only a screaming skeleton made of ash.

Amidst all the perverse “excitement” of proclaiming how “nothing will ever go back to how it was…” is a far more boring question:

“What will remain the same?”

(Spoiler: Most things)

Corporate movie-villain-with-a-monocle Jeff Bezos says, “I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ That second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

Consider the myriad of things that won’t change. And using the past as a prologue, you’ll find the “won’t change” list to be hefty.

Roll your brain back 50 years to 1970. Things have certainly changed since then: advancements in science, medicine, technology, and society.  

But most things that haven’t changed:  

  • Kids go to school.
  • Grownups go to work.  
  • We have lunch somewhere around the middle of the day.  
  • We fall in love and get married.  
  • We work to make money to give money to other people for things we want.
  • Red means stop.
  • Getting hit in the face with a pie is hilarious.
  • U.S. Taxes are due April 15th (in non-pandemic years).
  • Puppies are adorable.
  • Organizational charts follow the same path.
  • Car salesmen are…odd.
  • Jim Henson is a national treasure.

Shall I go on? For every “change” you can name, I can find 17 “still the sames.”  

Let’s go back a mere 20 years, right before everybody’s favorite transitional epoch: September 11, 2001. Old-timers over 38 years old can tell you of a simpler time when walking on and off a plane was like getting on a city bus.


But…did it? Did it really? A little more cumbersome, sure. Somewhat more time consuming, yes. But most things are exactly the same. Your luggage vanishes on a conveyor belt, you sit next to an over-talkative stranger, your ears pop, the flight is EXACTLY the same amount of time, and a gin & tonic is bafflingly overpriced. Within a year or so after 9/11, people were flying more than ever. In planes. Not magic cars, as other business pundits predicted.

“The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

– Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Please, please, please recognize I’m not ignoring the human toll and tragic loss of life affecting every continent. It’s profound in its magnitude and daunting to consider the mental and economic impact being felt by every human right now.

This is about the habits and motivations of the greater human condition at a macro-level. Dr. Abraham Maslow hasn’t failed us thus far, and his hierarchy of human needs isn’t likely to falter any time soon.

Look…according to 94.8% of the commercials on TV, “these are unprecedented times.” In some ways, that’s true. However, in most ways, we have plenty of precedents:

  • World War II
  • The Great Depression
  • The dot-com bubble
  • The Gutenberg Press
  • Canned spray cheese

Events that altered the world.  

But the stuff that stayed the same is profound in its abundance. The other side of COVID-19 is a mystery, and I don’t have a crystal ball any more than you do. But like World War II and 9/11, we will likely look back on this episode and say “wow…that was intense,” and marvel (once again) at our astounding resilience.

List what will be the same in 6 months…in 18 months…in 3 years…and plan for that.

“Because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

-Jeff Bezos

Bzzzzt Bzzzzt

Metro City – Sector B – 05 May 2020.


Johnny Molson

Basically the Basics

Listen here:

From a routine doctor’s appointment to survival in the wilderness, the basics are everything.

Temperature, blood pressure, listen to your heart. 

Shelter, water, food.

The basics.

Your marketing has basic elements, and I can’t think of a better time to fine-tune those than right now.

Like shelter, water, and food…let’s break marketing down to 3 basic items:

Brand Promise, Brand Consistency, and Brand Execution.

These all have the unfortunate word “brand” in them.  A term that has been flogged, folded and flushed to the point of unrecognizability.

But since we’re talking about basics, let’s define a brand:

1:  Your brand is an invisible link between your company and your product category 

Toothpaste = Crest. Chocolate = Hershey.  Tractors = John Deere.  Coffee = Folgers.

2:  It’s a physical link between your company and certain markers:

Swoosh = Nike.  Golden Arches = McDonald’s.  Naked Green Mermaid = Starbucks.

3:  And it’s an emotional link between your company and mental concepts.

Safety = Volvo.  Luxury = Tiffany’s.  Success = American Express.

Brand Promise

Let’s start with your promise.  Do you have one?  One that is uniquely yours?  This is something about your company that is specific and recognizable.  If you’re thinking “great customer service,” then you had better amp it up to Nordstrom or Zappos levels.  Think of your Brand Promise as a vow you are making with your customer.  It can be several things.  Firm beliefs about how you do things that will never, never waiver.  A promise so intertwined with your personal values, you’d turn down a paying customer if the exchange violated your vow.  It could be commitments and guarantees. 

Think of 4 things you promise that makes your brand special.  Be specific.  I should be able to see it happening when I do business with you.

Brand Consistency

These are the things that tell me you are YOU.  A palette of colors.  A jingle. A spokesperson.  The shape of your logo.  Words or phrases that are unique to you. 

Do these things exist consistently through all of your marketing?

If I hear about a mattress that’s 25% off, has that company planted enough unique flags so I can find them again?

A bottle of Coke has a shape no other bottle has.  It also has specific words, colors, and even an attitude that belongs only to Coke, not Pepsi.  If I hear about the “Splendizzle Super Sale,” but I can’t remember who’s having it – will I find “Splendizzle Super Sale” on your website?  On your social media?  On the lips of your employees?  There’s no such thing as too many flags. 

The color blue.  A lady with a mod-1960s hair-do.  Bright lipstick.  A white smock.  A name-badge that says “Flo”.  A “name-your-own-price” pricing gun.  A bumbling coworker.  Those flags make sure you will never, never mistake a Progressive Insurance commercial for Liberty Mutual. 

Be obsessively consistent in your flags and markers. 

Brand Execution

Are you doing the stuff you said you would do?  Liberty Mutual tells me I will only pay for what I need.  I’ve never shopped Liberty Mutual – but if I do, I’m expecting something in place to help me figure out what I need, and what I don’t.  And heaven help them if I ever discover they sold me something I don’t need. 

The simplest example I can give dates back three generations, and it’s as ridiculous as it is useful:

For the last half of the last century, Earl Scheib owned a chain of autobody shops.  His brand promise was hokey…and brilliantly clear.

“I’ll paint any car any color, just $29.95.”  One simple, understandable, and easy to execute promise.  It wasn’t “any car except station wagons and trucks.”  It wasn’t “any color except orange.” 

Any Car.  Any Color.  Easy.

Digestible.  Memorable.  Everybody knew it, and if you called and asked how much a paint job would cost, every employee would say “any car, any color, just $29.95,” and they would do exactly that.  Yes, $29.95 eventually gave way to $59.95, then $89.95, then $99.95, and eventually $499.95.

The point is: The customer knew it and the staff knew it.  You have to teach your staff your brand promise until they can recite it like the Pledge of Allegiance.  Then they must EXECUTE the thing you promised they would do.  No exceptions, no bendy rules, no “letting it slide.”

These three things work in harmony.  If you goof one up, you sink the whole thing.  Treat your brand like the sacred chalice that it is.  Protect it as if marauding thieves are crawling in the night to steal it. 

It’s the neurological system that holds your marketing together, and now would be a perfect time to make it right.  

Johnny Molson

Dave Said What?

Click above to listen. You’ll love it.

The marketing department often has a big ol’ bullseye on its back.  If you’re a CMO at a large corporation, don’t get too comfy:  Most of you will be gone in under 4 years.  If you are a Marketing Director at a small or medium company…you probably aren’t “directing” any marketing.

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

So sayeth the late David Packard (he was the other guy in Hewlett-Packard).

Was this a snarky dig at marketing?  Or was Dave trying to get something else across?

The odds that you’ll overestimate the importance of marketing are slim. 

The odds that it will be relegated to “that lady over there in the corner who buys ads” are practically 1:1.

Dave, speaking from beyond, wants you to know that marketing isn’t “ads.”  But ads are part of it.  Marketing isn’t “being creative.” But those are good chops to have.  Most importantly:

Marketing isn’t a department, c-suite title, or one person.  If it has something to do with touching the customer, it has something to do with marketing. 

  • Your pricing strategy?  That’s marketing.
  • The texture of your business cards?  That’s marketing.
  • Your refund policy?  That’s marketing.
  • How fast your website loads?  That’s marketing.
  • Being a part of a charity event?  That’s marketing.
  • Where your business is located?  That’s marketing.
  • Where to buy chairs for the waiting area?  That’s marketing.
  • Qualitative and quantitative research?  That’s marketing.
  • Business hours?  That’s marketing.
  • Staff training?  That’s totally marketing.

This is not to suggest that your CMO or Marketing Director should make all these decisions alone.  This is to expound on Dave’s point:  Marketing is too important.

Your Marketing Director should be a clearing station for these decisions.  Is this going to fit with our greater marketing mission?  Yes…do it.  No…don’t do it.  Far too often I hear marketing directors say they would like to do something “but the sales department won’t let me.”

Shut up sales department.  If you want to direct marketing, apply to be the marketing director.  Your world is selling stuff.  Do that.  Marketing’s world is making sure what is being sold is consistent with the overall message being put forward.

If you’re Tiffany’s, Ralph Lauren, or any business that wants to convey that the quality of the product is more important than the price, your Marketing Director needs to body-block the door to prevent any department from having an “80% off storewide blowout sale.”

If you’re a plumber who proclaims how important fast response is, your Marketing Director needs to be empowered to judo-kick anyone trying to install an automated phone tree.

If your Marketing Director comes to you and says “hey, that meathead at the front desk was watching TikTok videos when a customer walked in,” don’t reply with “that’s not your department.”  Say “thank you,” and FIX IT.

Frankly, if anyone sees a rift between your values and the way your company is being portrayed by your employees, they need to be able to bring it to the attention of the owner. 

If you’re at a Chick-Fil-A and say “thank you,” employees consistently reply with “my pleasure.”  Is it some kind of southern charm?  Is it because the owners are devout Christians?  A smidgen of both…but the real reason—Marketing.  It’s good marketing.  It’s their way of saying “we are selling the same, dull, and pathetically tasteless meat everyone else is…so we better make the experience special.”

Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department…so get everyone involved.

Johnny Molson


In no particular order, here is an incomplete list of the things Marketing should be paying attention to:

  • Pricing strategy
  • Invoice terms from your vendors
  • Inventory
  • Available billing hours
  • Value : Benefit ratio
  • Email response time
  • Staff skills
  • Refund policy
  • Membership perks
  • Location
  • Hours available
  • Professional logo
  • Sales promotions
  • Brochures
  • Website
  • Message consistency
  • Business card texture
  • Bathroom cleanliness
  • Responsible drivers
  • Visible signage
  • Merchandising
  • Incentives
  • Financing
  • Customer interaction
  • Public relations
  • Advertising
  • Product research
  • Qualitative data
  • Quantitative data
  • Secondary data
  • Friendly receptionist
  • Staff attire
  • Service contracts
  • Rent
  • Frictionless purchases
  • Minimal errors
  • Message cohesion
  • Facebook page
  • Google search
  • Brand promise
  • Community involvement
  • Profit margin
  • Blog posts
  • Staff training
  • White glove test
  • Positive word of mouth
  • Website responsiveness
  • Comfortable waiting area

What would you add to that list? Send me an email.

Business is Not a Football Game

Click above to listen

…and it’s not a war either. 

Spend 8 minutes listening to a less-than-mediocre manager, and you’ll likely hear an infernal sports analogy. “See, it’s like this: Ya got yer head coach, that’s me, then ya got a quarterback. He’s the one that makes sure the guy on third doesn’t steal home. Ya get in a huddle, see, and block the forward from making a free throw. And THAT’S how you build a team.”

The purpose of a football team is to win the game.

But you’re not playing a game, and there’s nobody to beat.

The whole thing falls apart when you remember that your job is to help a customer. Your customer needs a root canal, a new air conditioner, or a bag of groceries. Your customer wants legal advice, brakes that stop the car, or a puppy. Your customer doesn’t care about your competitors, industry trends, or internal policies. So, why do you?

Your company’s purpose isn’t to “beat the other team.” Even if you did, there’s nothing to “win.” No trophy to kiss. No Gatorade bath. No ring. 

You win when you view things from the customer’s perspective and make things easier for her. This is not a feel-good philosophy to fill an article. This is called Market Orientation.

A business can choose to focus on making their product better (product orientation), make their sales team more efficient (sales orientation), or choose to serve the customer’s needs (market orientation).

Your customer doesn’t care about your competitors, industry trends, or internal policies. So, why do you?

“Oh, our company is ALL ABOUT customer service.”
I’m sure that you think you are, but your behaviors suggest otherwise. A survey conducted by the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland showed that 63% of executives said that understanding customers and acting on that understanding was critical (really? Only 63%?). But in practice, only 24% had a customer-led approach to running their companies. An overwhelming majority of companies like to say that “customer service is #1,” but customers don’t agree. In the 2018 Serial Switchers report, a chilling $75 billion is lost to poor customer service. That’s up $13 billion from the 2016 report.

More than 65% say they will drop you like a sack of hammers if you give them bad service. And they won’t think twice about it.

Your football team sucks.

Market Orientation, as taught from Harvard to Wharton to London School of Business, isn’t about “wow-ing” your customer. It’s about figuring out what the customer wants from you, and how to make it as easy as possible for that to happen. Amazon isn’t dangerous because it’s big or the prices are better. It’s winning because they spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out how to make things easier for you.

You don’t like using a steak knife to open your packages? OK. Amazon researched and found tape that holds a box together for shipping, but pops open with a simple tear at your house.

You don’t want to click all those pesky links to make your purchase? OK. Amazon made a one-click link.

Wait…let’s make it even easier: How about I just say what I want in the air and it comes to me? “OK,” says Amazon. We’ll do that, too.

Company decisions must be made with the customer in mind, but too often are made with the company in mind. When companies over-weight research, sales, and product, they move further and further from the customer. It may sound somewhat backward, but the numbers are hard to ignore. “…research has shown what intuition suggests—that businesses that are more market-oriented enjoy higher profitability as well as superior sales growth, customer retention, and new product success,” according to Professor John C. Narver, University of Washington and Professor Stanley Slater, University of Colorado.

It’s easy (almost habitual) to say “we need a better product…our salespeople need more training…the marketing department needs more budget…we need more research…” But the hard work is figuring out what the customer needs from you. Then doing that.

You never see that at a football game. Because business isn’t a football game. Your customer doesn’t care if you beat the other guy. Your customer doesn’t care if your team has won the local “Best of Duluth” newspaper award. Your customer…that selfish little snot…only cares about – – – –


If you want to play sports, here’s a link to the CBS Sports Fantasy Football League.

(This also isn’t a “war.” In war, people lose their limbs, mental well-being, and sometimes their lives. Things that never happen at an accounting firm. If you feel you need to go to war, here’s a link to find a recruiter in the U.S. Army. Otherwise, just stop).

In the fog of business, it’s easy to obsess about the product and sales. Naturally, that’s important, and it sure seems like those things are all about helping the customer…but in practice, that’s just not the case.

In their 2017 book “Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It,” Jeffrey and Brian Eisenberg delve deep into just how customer-obsessed a guy like Jeff Bezos really is. And yes, a lemonade stand can do it. Indeed, a little HVAC company in Charlotte, NC went from making under $5 million a year to clocking in at over $100 million.

In Charlotte. North Carolina.

That customer-obsessed story is told here in “Mr. Jenkins Told Me… Forgotten Principles That Will Grow Any Business.”

I’m not here schlepping books for you to read (but those are good ones), but to remind you that constantly operating from the customer-inward, instead of the business-outward, is what’s missing. You don’t need more Xs, Os, and squiggly lines on a whiteboard.

It’s not easy. It takes a long time. Most don’t have the stomach for it. But when it’s done, it works so much better. Every time it’s tried. Every single employee, from the CEO to the receptionist, has to answer these questions:

  • Am I making life better for our customer?
  • Am I making this easier for our customer?
  • When was the last time I talked to my customer about what they need from us?
  • Do I even know what that is? Really?
  • If I don’t know, how can I find out?

Don’t bonus your employees for making more sales. Bonus your employees for doing what’s right.

Can you imagine giving a bonus to a salesperson who says “ya know…what we have isn’t right for you…but here’s the name of a company that can help.”

That salesperson never gets the bonus…but damnit, she should. 

She just scored a touchdown.

Johnny Molson

For a deeper dive on this topic, watch the TV thingy below