Download: Roses in the Thornbush: How Marketing Can Leverage the Value of Recruiting
and How Recruiting Can Leverage the Value of Marketing
Client Stages(September 23, 2004) We're fortunate enough to be getting to know Mike Moser, one of the world's great branding people. Over the course of his career, he's made the "Moser Memo" a famous part of training his team (of clients and employees) to create memorable brands. Mike always says that a brand is like any other relationship, the details are what its all about.
Today, we present a really interesting Moser Memo, from his files:
Below is a model that has to do with "growing up" and the different levels
of "questioning" that can occur in one's lifetime. The particular one below
has to do with "faithing levels" (originally articulated by James W.
Fowler), but I've seen this concept expressed in a lot of different areas -
from art appreciation to raising kids.
I think there are a lot of parallels in our client relationships. It shows
up in their ability to question their core beliefs, to see beyond themselves
and their industry, to be open to more expansive ideas, and to absorb honest
criticism and insights into their business. Our recent inability to
communicate effectively with Boston Market crystallized some of these
thoughts, but I think the parallels also apply to a lot of our other
The Innocent Early childhood
The Literalist Late childhood
The Loyalist Early adolescence
The Critic Late adolescence/Early adulthood
The Seer Integrated expansive thinking
In general, the first three levels are concerned with what "others" think
and "How do I fit in with others?" The last three are more individual
focused, as in "What do I think is right'
This group echoes what their parents do and say. They don't grasp concepts
in a personal way. They tend to imitate an authority figure. In business,
these are the true believers that follow the lead of a charismatic leader: a
Steve Jobs, a Bill Gates, a Michael Dell. They do only what the
parent/visionary wants and no more. These are the blind followers, both at
the client and within the agency.
Concrete, literal thinking guides this level. There's security in this phase
because one believes that there is only one right way to do things and
that's their way. In religion, these are the Fundamentalists. The word is
the word. There is no interpretation. If the Bible says God created the
world in seven days, then it was literally created in seven 24-hour days. If
David Ogilvy says that reversed out headlines are ineffectual, then
reversed-out headlines are ineffectual.
People at this level tend to connect intensely with "the program." Rules
count. Processes matter. People who need order naturally gravitate to this
This level is also very seductive to people who haven't traditionally played
by the rules. They tend to go right to this level after a traumatic event or
during very stressful times (in the case of Boston Market, the Falling of
their stock from 42 to 11.The same thing happened to Dell a couple of years
ago when their stock dropped. You also see people who've been living on the
edge as alcoholics or heroin addicts gravitate towards this more rigid,
literal, rules-oriented level for "the answer."
When clients exist solely at this level, it's a miserable area for the more
creative/questioning types of advertising people. They get treated like
vendors and are constantly being to told to "get with the program." The
advantage of working with people at this level is that they know what they
want and they don't waffle. Joel Kocher, the president of Dell in the early
days, was a literalist. His mantra was "Just give me big computers, big
prices and a big phone number. Just think of all the time you'll save. I
could be your most profitable client."
Certainty is in abundance at this level. Questioning is non-existent.
Belonging, loyalty, harmony and conformity are key words. Fitting in and
having a close bond with peers is important. The security of the group is
comforting. "We Catholics believe." "Us Southerners believe." "Marketers in
the fast food industry do it this way." "People in the computer industry do
it this way." The security comes from doing it the way everyone else in your
perceived group does it. People in new industries, like technology
companies, tend to fall into this category.
If you don't believe me, try bringing up a consumer analogy in a high tech
meeting. The feeling you get is one of stone cold indifference. You can
almost hear the screaming through the silence: "How dare you contaminate
this pure industry with your consumerisms. We're new. We're different. We're
the future. YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND US!"
Because of this group identification, most technology companies never get
past this stage. And, in general, most companies never get past this stage.
Car companies look to other car companies for answers. Telecommunication
companies study their rivals. Packaged goods companies idolize Proctor &
Gamble. Advertising creative people look at awards annuals and imitate other
advertising creative people (oops, did I hit too close to home?).
This stage is defined by observation, experimentation and a growing inner
awareness that often leads to disillusionment, struggle, doubt and difficult
questions that go against the established order (walk around the creative
department and this level is palpable). The person/client evolves from"what
do others think?" to"what do I think?"
Advertising agencies like us tend to have a lot of people in this area. A
willingness to experiment, to go against the established order, to probe the
difficult questions. This can be especially hard on a client unless you have
one that's willing to go through the process with you. But if you're dealing
with a client who's looking for certainty (as in the Innocent and Literalist
levels) then the process is painful. It's also painful for a client who's
moved beyond this level and really does know what's right for them. They
generally don't want to deal with the chaos or cynicism that's inherent in
On the positive side, a lot of creativity comes out of this level.
They've taken in their experience, mulled it over, questioned, synthesized,
and integrated it until they arrive at values that ring true for them.
There's a deep sense of internal rightness. Great clients and great agency
people operate at this level. They're always open to new ideas, but they
intuitively know what's right, and they're able to act on that intuition.
Advertising agencies tend to be great allies at this stage because of their
exposure to a wide range of businesses and consumer buying patterns. They
intuitively know the universal truths in the marketplace that apply to a
Clients who are at this stage are generally open to what's going on outside
their industry. They want to find out how their brand fits into the culture,
and they want to understand the bigger trends so they can find the bigger
answers. They also tend to treat advertising agencies like valued partners.
Clients at this level are great for an advertising agency like us.
This level is defined by a total commitment to a higher authority than
themselves. Values, beliefs, and actions become one. Gandhi, the Dalai Lama,
and Mother Theresa achieve this level in a spiritual sense. In the
marketplace, Nike operates at this level. They're cultural icons,
representing much more than just themselves. They inspire, educate, and
transcend traditional perceptual barriers. They play by a completely
different set of rules than traditional people or companies. These are the
visionaries in life and in business. These are the clients that elevate
business and advertising to an art form. The client/agency relationship at
this level is hard to separate because they operate as one voice in the
marketplace. For example, it's hard to know where the Wieden culture stops
and the Nike culture begins.
Okay, so now what. The general rule is that people have a hard time
communicating with someone two or more levels above them. I repeat, the
general rule is that people have a hard time communicating with someone two
or more levels above them.
The Literalist has a hard time communicating with a Critic. A Loyalist has a
hard time talking to a Seer. This is true whether they're clients, agencies,
parents or kids. (It's not as hard for people in the upper levels to
understand the levels below. Usually they've been through the level and
there's a certain amount of empathy. But as any parent of a teenager can
tell you, it's frustrating to deal with on an ongoing basis.)
With this in mind, we need to be aware of what level we're at. And what
level we're trying to communicate to. We deal with all kinds of levels every
day. For example, inside a level 5 or 6 company lead by a visionary CEO,
someone in the marketing department will inevitably be a Literalist (in
fact, almost always).
Or vice versa. The Literalist CEO will have a Seer in the marketing
department that we'll have to communicate with (although, as a rule, the
lone Seer in the marketing department usually doesn't have a lot of power,
and usually leaves after a couple of months because of "communication
problems" between themselves and management).
I hope these observations can crystallize the reality of a client or agency
situation and help you deal with it. If you're having a hard time
communicating with a client, or internally with a colleague, go over some of
these thoughts and see if any of them apply to your situation. 1 can't
guarantee that anything will change, but at least being aware of what's
happening may make your life a little less frustrating, and a little less
stressful. If that happens, then it's worth it.
As far as I can see, we have a ton of level 4 (Critic) and 5 (Seer) people
in this agency. That's good. That means we have the creativity,
understanding, insights and ability to do great work. We also have a lot of
Literalist and Loyalist people within our client organizations. The only way
we're going to turn our creativity and insights into higher level
advertising is by educating our clients. Getting each of them to stretch to
one level above where they're at (I know you want to get them to 2 or 3
levels above, but it isn't going to happen overnight. All you'll get is
folded arms, or a downward stare, or a "deer in the headlights look," all
leading to a phone call to Fred asking that you be taken off the business).
Just do your homework, listen to their issues, slowly get them to question
their safe "beliefs" and give them sound, alternative solutions that will
enable them to start communicating on a higher level.
You guys have the talent. I know you can do it. Go for it.