Go ahead: Pick a famous artist to paint your personal world. Rockwell, Monet, Dali, Bosch? Better yet, pick one to paint the world we live in. What style would best capture our distracted and fragmented lives? How does one paint A.D.D., anyway? A pointillist, no doubt. Georges Seurat, you’re hired!
Too much access, too much news, too many websites, social media, data—as George Harrison said, “The more I am, the less I know, and what I do, it’s all too much.” Marketers are as guilty as any for fanning the flames of overload with boring noise and cheap thrills. And, if our job as marketers is to find the holy grail of consumer engagement, then our challenge first and foremost is to clear the field and interrupt patterns.
Douglas Van Praet, a researcher, author, and executive vice president at Deutsch, recently wrote an article about how ideas become action. He points to demographic information and research as poor resources for engaging customers. Number one on his list? “Interrupt the pattern!” Second: “Create comfort,” which is another way of saying gain customer trust by appearing authentic about bettering their world. Third: “Lead the imagination,” i.e., create messaging that piques, charms, mesmerizes, enthralls, provokes, or arrests.
Precisely what pickpockets do.
Marketers, pickpockets . . . we’re all in the business of gaining people’s attention long enough to “bust” them. The big difference being, our “chump” should come away from the experience with pockets full, not empty.
The New Yorker had a great piece recently about a master pickpocket, Apollo Robbins, who’d gone straight, ala Frank Abagnale, the reformed flim-flammer and the subject of Catch Me If You Can. Robbins describes the art of pickpocketing as very similar to the challenges corporate marketers face, finding a “quiet” moment with that ever-elusive consumer from whose “attentional pie” we hope to carve a slice.
As Robert Cialdini says in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, “Attention is like water . . . you create channels to divert it and you hope it flows the right way.” The role of marketer and content creator is all about interrupting patterns and becoming masterful at creating channels of high-utility information and buzzy, entertaining storytelling—told with finesse, intelligence, and without the heavy sell to which most corporations default when left to their own resources, or the oppressive lobbying of their business units.
Getting people’s attention is not a mystery. Ironically, con men, a few magazine editors, and pickpockets are the best practitioners, more than demographers, ad agencies, metrics analysts, social experts, and corporate marketers. The true interrupters, Van Praet says, are “the strategists who make subjective leaps beyond data, succeeding in spite of research, not because of it.” Apollo Robbins goes one further. “I’m a jazz musician,” he says. “I improvise with what I’ve been given.” Shouldn’t we all? Engagement is a lot more about art and a lot less about science, a necessary leap that many corporations just can’t seem to make.