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The client is not an idiot. She is your Mum.
September 16, 2008, 5:21 am
Filed under: Digital Strategy

I have always worked in an industry where my parents have been in the dark about my day to day life. I’ve worked in online longer than Google has been around (ouch!) and love the way that the landscape changes as you look at it….and that’s its challenge.

We work in a field where we are trying to make sense, of not only new technology, but new behaviours, new habits, new tribes and a new sense of identity as well.

And so we make up words to try to describe these new things. And as a consequence very few people can understand what the hell we’re talking about.

I know that I never learnt how to program a VCR and that I still have battles with our printer and I won’t go anywhere near a photocopier. These machines just don’t impact my life and I can live without ever having to acquire this technical knowledge.

But what I see is that social networking, in particular, is not a technology- it’s a behaviour. And as mega trends of community and simplification are driving people to connect and share their lives online it is my fate to try to teach my clients and colleagues all the whys and wherefores of our new world.

David Ogilvy said: “The consumer is not an idiot. She is your wife.”* What’s been helping me is to try to explain what I know, with respect and humour, is to imagine that I’m painting a picture for my Mum. (Now she’s a very hip, creative and switched on lady and someone who really wants me to succeed- so I’m sure she won’t mind if you need to borrow her for this occasion.)

Teaching requires creativity, patience and playfulness. It’s not about about dumbing anything down- it’s about using sophisticated metaphors and an inclusive structure so that questions are welcomed and embraced.

We need to believe that our clients want to understand change. We need to be able to create stories that they can understand and champion.

And am looking forward to my parents finally being able to brag about what I do.

* (Implicit in that remark, of course, is the idea that everyone being dressed down by Mr. Ogilvy was a man — and that all the men would be married. Sometimes, it seems the TV series “Mad Men” is a documentary rather than a drama.)

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4 Comments so far
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I always know when something has become “mainstream” when my mum knows about it. Though, really, I call it the Nanna test — because Google is really young enough to be my illegitimate offspring ;)

Comment by Gavin Heaton

This title is spot on in so many ways. I’ve often joked that my mum is a focus group of one. Too often, people who are ahead of the technological curve scoff at the ‘mainstream’ but to my mind, it’s the most exciting part.

Comment by Georgina

I also think it’s good to talk to clients using real world examples from their industry or category. It makes things tangible for them. It also shows that you have been pro-active in understanding their business – just a thought from an ex client!!!

Comment by Tony Thomas

@Gav and @Georgina – I’m interested that you’ve both used the term ‘mainstream’. I like that we can use that stream metaphor and really flog it…..and allow our clients to see how all the different online behaviours form streams that become a raging torrent etc.

@Tony- thanks for visiting! Of course most clients want to see examples of exactly what you’re proposing with budgets and ROI, and a case study, and an award and the career progression of who supported the initiative….

Mums do love show and tell!

I find it useful to segment other brand’s activity into understandable bite sized pieces.

A great example is a presentation by the lovely Dominique Hind :http://www.slideshare.net/DomHind/social-marketing-5-characters-types-presentation/

Comment by katiechatfield




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