Episode 203 | Posted on

Get a PhD in Marketing in an Hour with Dr. Flint McGlaughlin

As marketers, we often make a lot of assumptions about what people want and how they’ll behave when presented with certain information. Occasionally, we have a study or two to backup our hunches but often we rely on gut instinct and a few insights glean from the collective wisdom of our peers to get us over the line. Usually it’s enough. But what if you were able to go beyond the general consensus, the conventional wisdom and access hard data about what works and what doesn’t? Unfortunately, it’s rare that someone takes a systematic approach to uncovering the underlying principles that drive human behavior and decision making and applies them to marketing. For the last 25 years, that’s exactly what Dr. Flint McGlaughlin has been doing through his brands MECLABS, Marketingexperiments.com and Marketing Sherpa. Flint has been using the web as his testing ground in conducting behavioral experiments and real world situations to gain data on human decision making. 

What has emerged from Flint’s research is a replica method of offer response optimization and messaging that could change the way you think about marketing. On this episode number 203 of Marketing Speak, Dr. McGlaughlin joins me to talk about the blind spots of the marketing industry, how we can drop the buzzwords and create more authentic messaging that resonates with our audience, and various other pearls of wisdom from his book, The Marketer as Philosopher. Stay tuned for an episode that will take you beyond focus groups and shallow insights into profound philosophical questions about human behavior that will help you transcend the current marketing paradigm.


The Marketer as Philosopher by Dr. Flint McGlaughlin

Flint, it’s so great to have you on the show.

Thank you, Stephan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Well, let’s talk about research, real-world case studies and all that stuff. That’s the world that you live in with MarketingExperiments and case examples and so forth. Why is it so important to have real-world testing of different marketing best practices and not just go with the best practices?

When I think of the internet, best practices tend to be pooled ignorance, Stephan. More importantly, the more we become exposed to marketing as a discipline, the more we distance ourselves from the experience of the consumer. There are no expert marketers; there are only experienced marketers and experts at testing.

If you’re not careful, you develop marketing language which is arrogant, braggadocious, and pretentious. It feels okay because it’s how other marketers speak but those same people don’t talk to each other the same way. After they work all day doing copywriting and talking to people with these vague, braggadocious words like “Leading. We’re leading with this and that,” they don’t go to a local hang-out afterward, a pub, and introduce themselves as the leading marketer in New York City. There’s a real need to get past the blind spots of our bias and into the mind of the prospective customer.

Yeah, and it sounds like it’s inauthentic too when people are talking about being the leading this and that. It’s not only something that sounds braggadocious, arrogant, and unapproachable but inauthentic too.

Here’s what I found. We’re basically a behavioral research laboratory. We started the first lab like this, utilizing the internet as a testing space, and this is just about 30 years ago. In fact, when we started, the internet was still in Unix before HTML. One of the things that I have noticed is that when we don’t understand whether a proposition is true or not, we tend to judge the truth of the proposition by our perceived trust in the source. I can’t see you now because we’re on this podcast, if you were to say to me that it’s raining outside, my sense that that’s true would be based either on me verifying that or trusting your judgment. If I could not verify that, I would have to decide how credible you are and trustworthy you are.

The minute we start using language that is inauthentic, we damage the authority of the speaker. When we damage the authority of the speaker, we create a psychological trap that we fall in because so many times as marketers, people are trying to make judgments about our claims without having pure and absolute evidence, the evidence of the experience. In fact, they can’t experience the product until after they’ve exchanged the value, so many times they don’t know if the claim about the product or service is true, so they’re going to judge the claim by the source. This is the problem we create for ourselves.

This sounds related to an issue we’re facing in the SEO world and that’s something called EAT—Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. If you have low EAT, especially if you’re in particular verticals like home remedies, wellness space, financial advice space, or  anything that affects what Google refers to as YMYL—Your Money or Your Life— it could have negative repercussions on your quality of life, your longevity, your financial health, and ability to be financially independent. Then it’s going to rain very hard on you if you are missing EAT because you’re not a credible source.

But I believe that EAT is going to be addressed and applied across the board to every industry over time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a basket weaver or a downhill skiing enthusiast who has a site with skiing tips. Your credibility, expertise, and trustworthiness is going to affect whether you’re ranking at the top of the results or very deep where you’ll never get found. I’m curious, what are your best tips to establish expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness based on your research in your behavioral lab.

There are no expert marketers; there are only experienced marketers and experts at testing. Click To Tweet

I did an interview in The Washington Post regarding the election when Romney was running against Obama, and the reason is there was a concern that you can’t trust what a politician says. They wanted to understand what a politician can do to create credibility in the marketplace. In fact, I did not think Romney would win. The answer I gave then was based on the same answer I would give you if you were running a service business today or the same answer I would give you if you’re designing a website.

People make decisions about a part by judging the consistency of the part to the whole. This means two things become very important. One is congruence and the other is continuity. Congruence is making certain that all the parts agree. So, a web page that claims to be a representative for a large organization and communicates that you can trust them through all of its claims but is designed in such a way as it doesn’t look like it belongs to an organization of that size and contradicts itself with problems and faults in both the communication style, the quality of the graphics, etc. What is does is it’s out of sync with its own claims.

I’m a father. I’ve been married for 32 years in September. I have three children, two of them are working and completing courses at Harvard. I can tell you that even as they are making decisions about who they’re willing to choose as friends or even as it may, they’re trying to judge based on a limited set of observations. But the minute they start seeing the inconsistency between parts of the whole, particularly the claims, and the actions, they start to suspect all the claims. We’re designed this way. This is the shortcut that helps human beings survive in a dangerous environment.

The other piece here is continuity. When I think of congruence, I think of the whole. When I think of continuity, I think of the steps. Think of the word continuous. One is like sequence and the other is like the whole. In a sequence, that would be the string of actions. One of the problems with politicians is they have all these expert teams that help them try to present a congruent image, but it’s very hard to manage the sequence of actions that occur over time.

It’s much easier to make certain that the clothes match the claims, that the setting and all those things that the experts work on to help you trust the politician, they try to manipulate very carefully. But the string of actions, if you think about them, you can backtrack them right into—what we say in philosophy—the ontology, into the very essence of the being of the person.

This would mean, on a practical level, if you’re a marketer, your claims must be both congruent and they must also have continuity. Those two pieces help endear trust over an extended period of time. Does that help to answer your question?

Influence by Robert Cialdini

Yeah. I’ve read the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, and I do recall a lot of stuff in there about how our brains make shortcuts so we don’t have to burn a lot of calories trying to evaluate things. If somebody comes pre-selected, if there’re a lot of testimonials or whatever, then I’m more inclined to just go with the person or the company and not do all that due diligence myself because I don’t really have time for all that.

If somebody is lacking in authority or in that kind of credibility, then that’s going to show up in a lack of congruence and continuity. I’m curious, do you do a congruence and continuity audit of clients to see if they’re lacking those two things in their marketing materials, website, keynote speeches, and so forth?

We do that sometimes. We have a research partnership, part of our organization that does that with major groups and entrepreneurial ventures, but we do especially when we’re teaching and training in our programs to help people apply heuristics. There are sinking frameworks that you can apply to a page or to a piece of marketing collateral or to a campaign, and you can spot the inconsistencies when you get that right.

The greatest danger we have is what I would call the Marketer’s Blind Spot and it’s derived from self-interest. Self-interest helps us survive but it also blinds us to company-centric thinking instead of customer-centric thinking. You need a lens. I’m wearing glasses as I speak. It’s like putting on a new set of glasses so that you can suddenly see your collateral through the eyes of a prospect. What helps you do that is not hearing me say “Be consistent. Be congruent. Apply continuity.” It is applying very specific frameworks that can help you detect what you can’t see right now because of your own self-interest. We’re all made this way.

I was helping The New York Times. They rented our service for 12 years. We tested 300 paths and helped them pioneer the digital offerings. I remember some of the early offerings and how off they were. I also know that these were very smart people, paid a lot of money, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and yet there were these basic errors. They didn’t exist because somebody there was not intelligent. They didn’t exist because somebody there didn’t care about the customer. These errors existed because of the Marketer’s Blind Spot. Self-interest made it difficult for them to see clearly, and so we had to bring frameworks, heuristics that help you see the content or see the collateral through a different lens.

This Marketer’s Blind Spot gives us a handicap that we have to overcome. For somebody who’s not working with a consultant or an expert who understands this stuff and can spot their blind spot, how does somebody spot their own blind spot on their own, a DIY solution for them?

The blind spot is connected to some basic understanding. One is that reality is not directly apprehended by any of us. I want to answer your question, but if you don’t mind can I be theoretical for maybe 60 seconds, and then I’ll get practical?


Your brain, it’s locked in a vault. It doesn’t see anything. It has data flowing in and that data comes in through our sensory mechanisms, but we only see, for instance, about 1/10 trillionth of the spectrum. I’ll give you an example. If you were to take the skyscrapers around the world, and you were to build them all by Legos, and let’s say we took half of all skyscrapers everywhere in the world, built them out of Legos, and then you were to go over to that stack and take one Lego off all those, not in each building, but one in total from half the skyscrapers in the world, you’d have about 1/10 trillionth.

Authenticity is key in marketing. Setting clear intentions is important because customers can sense if you’re lying.

As I speak to you now, I’m in a room inside of our laboratory and I perceive the reality around me, but the mistake we make as human beings is the same mistake we make as marketers. We think we’re actually seeing what’s there, but we’re only seeing what we perceive. Reality and perception are not the same. If you take that further, there are animals that perceive things we don’t know. Infrared for instance. A viper can see with infrared sensory mechanisms, and other creatures can sense and see things. Birds find their way across thousands of miles because they have these receptors, I think it’s called magnetoreceptors, it allows them to determine compass bearings to a point that baffled scientists for years.

Let’s back up for a second, and let’s suppose that we’re the marketer. We think that by presenting reality to someone, they will see it and buy it because it’s good for them. But you see, the value that we communicate is never communicated directly, it’s communicated to perception devices that are basically just like apps for the brain. These are like plugins that plug into the mind and they allow us to see. The eye, for instance, takes about 70%. If I have my numbers right—it’s been some time since I did the research on neuroscience—it impacts about 70% of these critical areas in the mind or in the brain.

I share that with you to say, as a marketer, you create a web page and you think you have a web page. You don’t. You have pixels, on a screen, produced by 0s and 1s, creating an illusion in the mind. The first thing you have to realize as a marketer trying to get a result is that you don’t optimize pages. You optimize the sequence of thought. The page is not there. What matters is what’s occurring through the page into the mind, and by starting with that point, realize that value is not received before the value is perceived. Then you understand that your communication task is to communicate that value in such a way as it can be perceived.

Let’s break it down tactically, and maybe for someone listening to me know, you might be looking at a piece of your content. It would be helpful if I were listening and you’re thinking about a piece of content that perhaps you already have. If you think about that content, understand this. Before people can conclude that they want it, there are two other conclusions that take place at the subconscious level and you control those. Here’s good news for you. Learn these two pieces that I’m sharing with you now and you can influence, you can increase the force of perception, and the perceived value of your work. Here are the two.

It’s going to sound too simple but stay with me and you’ll see it’s profundity. The first one is, they have to understand what it is you’re saying. They get to understand the message. When I come to most websites, it’s like a real estate war between turfs. Each of them throwing information at me, multiple voices screaming at the same time, boxes and banners and lines, and there’s no fluid conversation. There’s no voicing.

I was on your site and on your site, Stephan, you have a vertical and you’re talky to people, but many of us are missing that. People don’t buy from websites, people buy from people. The first thing is if they don’t understand it, everything else will cancel out. If I started speaking in Greek, many of my listeners right now wouldn’t understand it and would tune out, no matter how valuable the content is. They’ve got to understand it. 

A brand’s power is in impression, and the best way to create an impression is to tell a story. Click To Tweet

The second thing they’ve got to do is believe it. But if you can’t understand it, you can’t believe it. But if you understand it and you don’t believe it, it’s still of no value. Everyone trying to get perceived value into the marketplace has to first say, “Have I clearly communicated in such a way that is easy to understand? Is there a vertical flow?” In a tactical application, three evenly weighted columns seldom produce the conversion rate of a single column. You can have a narrowing column on the side providing supporting information but never the main information because people can’t hear two conversations at once and process them well.

There’s no excuse for the plague of confusion we currently experience on the internet. Website after website is so poorly thought through that we’re not even sure what the objective of the page is. That’s one. Here’s the other thing, and I’ll give you three ways to do this but once you have set it clearly, you got to say it so that they could believe it. This requires three concepts. 

Specificity. Be very specific. Don’t say you’re the biggest. Tell me you have 14,633 products on your site as of March 21 or whatever your date is. Be that specific. Be careful about the difference between qualitative and quantitative claims. You can tell somebody that you have been in business for 26 years and you can imply, for that reason, they might be able to trust you. But if you start your content out by telling people to trust you, the first thing they’re going to do is resist that and guard up against that. You don’t make qualitative claims about yourself like “We’re trustworthy. We’re high integrity.” I don’t trust real people. In the real world, you say that to me, much less marketing signs. In that case, you need somebody else to say those things. Stephan, you do that on your site. Other people make qualitative claims about you. You can only make quantitative claims about yourself. Specificity is one of these key pieces and understanding the difference between quantitative and qualitative is another.

One thing I see a lot of  big mistakes in this regard is About pages that are just this wall of text, a boring biography of this person that talks about them and oftentimes in marketing language—highly sought after keynote speaker who blah, blah, blah—and it’s not quantitative, it’s qualitative. It’s world-renowned or one of the top leaders in such and such industry without the specificity.

Whereas what I’ve done with my About page is I’ve got a lot of vertical flow with a lot of quantitative details of me on magazine covers for example when my first book came out, and major milestones, applying for a patent application and so forth. All are part of my timeline. I rarely see About pages that are timelines like this. Your experience is with the more innovative About pages. I actually got this idea from Greg Merrilees of Studio 1 Design. He implemented this timeline About Page on his site and many of his clients’ sites. It’s awesome. I love that idea.

If you walk through our campus, there’s a long wall. It will take a long time to walk down, is a timeline built, unpacking the last 20 plus years and with the milestones. When someone visits, I believe the walls should speak. We use the walls and the website to tell a story. Very few people understand the difference between value proposition and brand. The value proposition’s power is in the conclusion. Brand’s power is in impression, and the best way to create an impression is to tell a story. But to tell a story, you need to understand the three-act structure of all stories, and then you need to use the timeline to do that.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric broke out three acts thousands of years ago, and it’s still one of the best marketing books ever written, nearly read by anyone who’s thinking about marketing. I would say when you use a timeline, what you’re doing is you’re telling a story but you’re doing it with visual shorthand which makes it easier for people to grasp the components. And often done right, it would draw people into a written narrative which should have, by the way, short paragraphs, bold font, a clear eye path, should have a climax, and a problem-resolution approach. When you do that well, the most powerful tool you have to impress the brand on someone’s mind prior to the experience of the product is the story you tell, and the About Us page becomes one of the most important pages on your site when you design it right.

I totally agree. For those listeners who are unfamiliar with the three-act structure of storytelling, could you elaborate a bit?

Aristotle’s Rhetoric

I’d tell you two books I recommend and I didn’t write either one of them but I would have been proud had I been smart enough to do so. One is Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and Aristotle was studying the structure of the story thousands of years ago. You can get that for nothing on the internet or you can get on Kindle for a small amount. It’s worth your read and it’s not inaccessible. I’ve studied it in the original language and the translations are pretty good. It’s rich. It’s very rich.

The second one—it has nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with marketing—is a book by probably the greatest expert I know on story, and he doctors many of the most important movie scripts you’ve ever read, but he has a Ph.D. and he studied story, his name’s Robert McKee and his book on Story. Look up McKee perhaps, you won’t have a hard time finding it. Story and Robert McKee, you’ll find it, is one of the best books I’ve ever read that explains how all of this works.

Story by Robert McKee

There are some attempts to the five-act structure but almost everything drops down to three, and really a five-act structure is just a three-act structure that’s taken two subpoints and extended them. The bottom line of it, three-act structure is this. In the first act, you’re drawing them in and achieving story click just like a web page, you draw them in. Every headline has two goals, two micro-yeses: to capture attention and convert it to interest. That interest gets them into the story below. You bring them into that story until they achieve what’s called story click which is a sudden understanding of where I’m at, what I can do here, and why I should do it. Three questions. You have seven things to accomplish that.

Then comes the second act which is the rising action. This has got to be a problem-resolution format. It’s like watching a Bond movie. As soon as he resolves one problem, he’s in another. This rising action keeps drawing you forward by presenting a question or problem and answering it until you reach the climax.

That third act is the resolution. In many websites that resolution is the purchase experience but it’s all the way through. It doesn’t end when they click on the buy button. It just starts there and you draw them through. Even if it’s lead gen, it’s the same thing or subscription, it’s the same thing.

That three-act structure applies to the design of the site, but also it’s a tremendous way to tell your own story. So you apply the same thing when you’re telling your story and your story should impress upon people’s minds why you’re qualified to deliver a unique value proposition to the marketplace. I ran about 10,000 experiments on the value prop framework. We have the largest library in this world, in this behavioral psychology and conversion and so on. We’ve run over 20,000 treatment tests and I keep coming back to these familiar patterns over and over again.

This is really fascinating here when you said that the buy button is not the resolution, it’s just the beginning of the resolution, I was thinking about innovative stuff that not everybody does like in-cart videos. When you are in the checkout process or you are in your shopping cart, there are videos there to ease the anxiety that you might have, the buyer’s remorse, etc., and the concern that you have put in your credit card details and so forth. You don’t see that very often, but that plays in well to what you’re describing. Make the story full and complete, not just assume that once they hit buy, that’s the end.

The way I sometimes teach is through metaphor because it’s easier to understand. I’m participating in this podcast right now from Florida and I’m right here near the beach. Our original lab was on the beach, we just got too big to stay there, but I’m still very close. If you go down as I was this weekend, you’re on the beach and people are surf fishing, they worry about two or three things right away.

The first one is to get the right bait, and every marketer understands even though that’s got a negative connotation, but you have to have the right feel factor. You’ll notice that a good fisherman on the surf discovers where the inward channels are, the bottom’s just a little bit deeper, running like a trench on the inside edge, here in North Florida. The tourists all cast away past that, but the people who know the area will only toss a few feet in front of them into that little trench and they’ll get huge fish right there whereas else’s casting out as far as they can go. 

Deep dive in to conversion marketing, A/B testing, and value proposition to get the exact data you need about your prospects.

They get the channel right. They get the bait right. They get a hook so they can hook the fish but here’s what they don’t do. The key to landing that fish is to keep tension on the line. Without that tension, the fish can spit the hook out. I’m sharing that with you just to say this. What you’ll never see anyone experienced do is hook the fish then set the fishing rod down in the sand, sit back in a chair and pop a beer and wait for the fish to swim in.

The only people that do that are marketers. Fishermen don’t do it. But a marketer’s doing the same thing and that’s what happens when you just think once they’ve hit the buy button, I can just set the rod down, it’s over now. If you don’t keep tension on the line, that fish may not swim in and likely won’t swim in. You keep tension on the line, so to speak, by continuing to present value through every single step of the checkout process.

I love that. Maybe even after the checkout process is complete, right? When you’re sending that confirmation email with their order details and maybe even the shipping progress, two more days and your product will be arriving at your doorstep sort of thing.

I’m glad you brought that up and you’re absolutely correct. I stopped there because I’m talking about the story arc and the third act, but ultimately, you don’t just present value. You need to remind people that they’ve received value. You need to continue to build that perception because the problem with perceived value is it leaks. It just leaks because of human nature, because of self-interest, it’s hard for us to appreciate it.

To illustrate a point, we’ll go to the extreme. Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I was with my 85-year-old father and my mother, and we were in front of their house at a big lake in Florida, and doing what I know my dad wanted to do, we were bass fishing. My daughter was with me, I have three children, but I had the youngest daughter with me.

And my point is this, in that environment, when those things were unfolding, you have two people that have contributed more to your life than anyone else, in many cases. I understand some of us have had tough backgrounds, but the value that we receive the most is the value that we often appreciate the least.

Let’s assume that people listening has had a good mother. Most of us don’t appreciate how amazing it was to have a good mother until she was almost gone. Strange, isn’t it? I mean, she sacrifices and sacrifices even her own body for us. I don’t want to get too esoteric when I say this, but it’s a thing in human nature. We don’t tend to appreciate value very long or very accurately.

A marketer is doing a service, actually, for a customer. Let’s say you’re into subscription offering. Retention is tied to how they perceive that value. You’d better help them see and then continue to see its value or you’re going to see your average customer value go down because you’re going to see retention go down. That’s the same thing in eCommerce, with repeat business.

Frankly, it’s the same thing in lead generation because often we use really poor devices to get a lead. We promise a white paper or report, and it’s not even useful. We’ve wasted people’s time, we’ve failed the first trust trial, and we’ve already started to injure our brand by overpromising and under-delivering.

We failed the first trust trial. How many trials are there where we can fail that milestone?

It depends on the motivation. I’m glad you asked that; I wanted to speak about it earlier. I’m just going to keep it because I didn’t know where to go with you. I’m letting you optimize me as we go. I don’t believe in optimizing presentations, I believe in letting the audience optimize you, and you’re the expert interviewer and I’m just a tired, old researcher with a lab. But I’ll tell you what I found two years ago through a lot of experiments. A new model, a new framework to understand how trust trial and brands connect.

Imagine that this is how it works. I come to your website, and this is true in every area of life. It’s true with a person that you might consider for a friend, it’s true with a person you might consider to hire as an employee, it’s true with the school you might consider attending, let’s just take a website. I don’t want to, again, get too abstract, but Stephan, I study marketing because I want to study life, and all marketing, by the way, is about conversion. In Greek, we call it metanoia. Metanoia is a change of status, like from prospect to customer, from unbeliever to believer. When I study metanoia, I’m studying everything in life because I am a product of my choices and the choices made about me.

People don’t buy from websites, people buy from people. Click To Tweet

I’m trained in philosophy. I studied philosophy with the Jesuits in England and I studied philosophy and theology there. What I’ve been doing is using marketing to do philosophy but it has enormous commercial application. We built a $250 million tech stack for Verizon based around this type of thinking. We’ve done a lot of things to apply it so that it’s pretty practical. I’m going to come out of that to get to the trust trial because this applies to every area in life but applies right now to your customer relationship.

When a customer comes to your website, they are making a series of observations. They’re looking at illusions, 0s and 1s. From those observations, good or bad, weak or not, well-constructed or not, if they get to confusion I understand it, then they got to decide if they believe it. When that happens, they’re drawing from the observations, a conclusion. Before they ever make a decision, they draw a conclusion. These are the stages of the trust trial. First comes the observation, then comes the conclusion, next comes the decision.

In my research, I witnessed behavior comes next. I would say the decision and the behavior are simultaneous. There are reasons that I won’t get into now, but with that decision and with that conclusion they drew about you in order to make that decision.

Let’s suppose we were thinking about interacting with you, Stephan. First, we come to your site, we make observations. Then we draw a conclusion that maybe you are the right person to help us. Then we’d make the decision to reach out to you or to hire you.

When that happens, it comes with a set of expectations. You created those expectations as a marketer by the way you presented those observations, those things for me to read, those facts, those points, your timeline, Stephan, and the things you say. But now comes a set of expectations, and what comes after that is the make or breakpoint in the trust trial.

First comes observations, then comes conclusions, then comes decisions, then comes expectations, and then, then comes experience. Here’s what makes this fascinating. The experience of you or your offering becomes my new set of observations. It replaces the tin of observations that I had through your collateral, and if you exceed my expectations, I’ve passed the trust trial. You’ve got to at least meet them. But if you fail to meet the expectations you created for me, I fail the trust trial.

I don’t even like the word lead because what it means is I just want you because you lead to something I really want, money in my bank account. When you think about that, that you call people a lead, what we often do is ask the wrong question. Here’s the right question. What does this person need? How can I serve them something that would really help them? We ask, “What do I need to give this person in order to get them? Get a lead? In order to get their contact information?” Then we put together some lousy little thing with poor value, but we talk it up on our website, we get them to give us contact information, they download it, it’s not a very positive experience, we’ve failed the first trust trial, and now we want to talk them into becoming service clients.

It’s a blind spot again. It’s human nature again. We’re thinking through our own self-interest. People have intrinsic value, not just extrinsic value. You need to create a trust relationship, and marketing and business are not like building a relationship. It’s not metaphorical. It is a relationship, just like the one you have with a friend.

It reminds of Jay Abraham’s teaching around preeminence. I love what he explains, that if it’s in the prospect’s best interest to be referred by you to a competitor, you should do that. It’s in your best interest as well as long-term, karmically. It’s in your best interest but putting their needs first means that you are taking the high road, you are adding value regardless of whether it directly enriches you or not, and you’re just a better human and a better marketer apart of that, too.

What else it does, it adds an unquantifiable asset to your business’s balance sheet because of the currency of relationship of trust. The currency of a business relationship is trust. You can’t accurately measure. Buffett was a genius that he invested at Coke because he realized that Coke was being undervalued because there was a problem with the balance sheet. The problem was they hadn’t adequately valued their brand. Buffett saw through that and because he saw through that, he made one of his sharpest investments ever.

The business that constantly endears trust is creating a remarkable asset that doesn’t show up on the balance sheet but does show up in the P&L because it would lead to more revenue. Here in the influence business, I would say—correct me, Stephan, if I’m wrong—I believe in your field, the key is to create influence and then you define it in three ways: reach, intensity, and capacity. Reach is how many people. Intensity is the impact you have on their thinking. Capacity is how big is their kingdom, how big is their budget, how big is their wherewithal.

Develop a customer-centric way of thinking rather than personal or company-centric.

An example would be if I had one list with two people who read what I wrote, it might be worth more than a list with a million names on it. What if I had a list and it was read by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and they cared. I had reached those two, but I had high intensity and of course, they have high capacity. That list could be more valuable, produce more in the world, create more impact than a list of a million names.

My point for you is, when you have all three, now you can monetize that, but you monetize that through a series of trust trials that build incremental levels of commitment. That’s the essence of content marketing. It’s missed by so much. We’re trapped in our buzz words. We’re trapped in our poor imagery, our poor metaphors. Like the word lead, we get trapped in words that keep us from seeing what’s really going on here. The power of this podcast is for you to create influence. 

I’m running experiments with a new friend. He’s in Michigan. He is an attorney who builds trust, as in financial trusts, and helps you protect yourself from catastrophic illness and things of that nature. What he’s done is he’s built the highest-rated radio show. Reminds me of you, Stephan, in his approach. Highest rated radio show in his area according to the Nielsen Ratings, and it’s a three-hour show that his demographic loves.

From the radio show, they’re invited to a seminar. There’s another level of commitment, but it’s free. That’s time. That’s a big commitment and from there, a large percentage, I don’t think he’d mind me saying, 40% or more avail him of his very effective, high caliber, customer-centric solutions. All he’s done is created influence—reach, intensity, capacity—and then carefully monetized it by passing a series of trust trials.

He’s at the heart of doing this. His name is David Carrier. I don’t have any interest in that business. I’m not promoting him that way. I just respect and admire him. I think it’s interesting that there’s a built-in ethic to thinking in this way and to marketing this way. There’s an ethic that combines itself with the equity. A lot of young leaders today, people coming out of college, they have a very negative connotation attached to the word marketing and they don’t realize that it’s really about human nature. It’s noble. It’s profound. It’s a superpower if you really understand it. I appreciate what people like you are doing to help people learn more.

Well, thank you. I appreciate what you’re doing in the world, too. It’s important that we help people to see that it’s about the value that we produce and not about just getting paid what we’re worth. It’s like, what can we create in the world? It’s value creation. Money creation. Money is created, not earned, I think.

Value is not received before the value is perceived. Click To Tweet

Money, in my little system of understanding the world, is freedom. When I have more than I need—unless I keep score of that way and some do and they play that game very successfully—I get a diminishing return on the additional effort to create it. More than I need might be, for some people, millions of dollars that produce absolute freedom and helps them protect their family and perhaps even posterity. My point for you and I is, if money were the drive of what I’m doing, I would’ve taken the ridiculous offers over the years instead of focused on discovery and on building people.

Here’s the thing. I’m achieving a passion and satisfaction even by communicating on this podcast with you. I don’t know who’s listening, but if it impacts the paradigm of their thinking. We’re delivering together, you and I, on this podcast a particular marketplace value that I find more rewarding than just adding another $100 million to the balance sheet. Not that that’s always wrong, but it just bores me.

I think business is a spiritual game, personally.

I think you can create that freedom and enable yourself to do something remarkable. I have enough of the quote, “The strong to takes care of the weak.” You can be Genghis Khan and just exploit them, but if you are strong, you start your day with gratitude. When I mean strong, for instance, here you are healthy, and driving results, and building a business, and doing things a lot of people can’t do. Now you have options to do something with that capacity, and there’s something inherently rewarding about using it to help others. Really, it’s exciting. So that becomes spiritual, right? In that sense, very spiritual.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m curious with regards to these series of trust trials that you’d referred to a little bit ago. What is your customer journey look like for your customers or your clients? What are the series of trust trials that you have to pass with your prospective customers?

Are you talking about me, personally, as a customer?

Yeah, with MECLABS and MarketingExperiments.

We have three brands: MarketingSherpa, MarketingExperiments, and MECLABS. MECLABS is the parent, science group. Here’s how I’ve thought these things. I have about 10,000 pieces of content. I’ve spent precisely $138 million in research building the discoveries. I didn’t want private equity to direct my world so I found a way to create a pretty significant revenue and reinvest it back into mattered most to me which was the mind, discovery.

I protect content all over the world at no cost, and then from that, we attract certain kinds of people. I hope we attract every kind of person. I believe in saying no so that you could say yes. Ten thousand no’s are required so you can say yes when it’s right. People should say no to me, and I should say no to people that aren’t the right fit, but there are some people who, when they hear what we’re talking about, it resonates inside. Something stirs in them. When that happens, we want to draw them into more trust. They might download a piece of content and realize, “Wow. That’s different.” Or they might invest in listening to something like this.

I have a YouTube Live. We just started a YouTube Live. It’s only our 10th–12th episode of YouTube Live. I have hundreds of videos, and we wrote graduate part courses and many of those things. Through the content that’s out there, we draw them in and typically engage them either in training or something we call a Quick Win Intensive which is where we teach them while we worked with them to discover serious revenue.

I want to be very precise when I say this, I was with an entrepreneurial group in Boulder recently, six CEOs, and then before that, I was with one of the biggest companies in the country, a week before that. In both cases, the joy here with me was actually teaching them how to see their work through these new eyes, using heuristics to see their website and their collateral, and then applying it directly.

I know what the first group that already made, and I know we’ve made at least $57 million from that Quick Win, and that’s because we measure it with financial tools. I’m thrilled by those types of things.

In a Quick Win, we look for that low-hanging fruit but we use the experience of looking for it to train and teach. What I’m trying to produce is a new kind of marketer. I’m trying to create metanoia in the marketer so they can create metanoia in the marketplace. For me, marketing is just a way.

It reminds me, did you ever see Karate Kid when you were younger? Remember “wax on,” and “wax off”?

The greatest danger we have is what I would call the Marketer’s Blind Spot and it’s derived from self-interest. Click To Tweet

Yeah, of course.

For those, if you haven’t seen it, he’s a martial arts master teaching a young man and he starts out by having the boy wash and wax his cars. He doesn’t realize he’s learning techniques. To me, marketing is like that. It’s a way into the mind. It’s a way into the heart. I’m looking for marketers that appreciate and value that. Yes, we create a commercial result so that we have financial freedom, but we also do something in the world that’s worth doing. That’s what happens.

People progress into different levels of training. You could see it in MECLABS if you click on Training. Sometimes, we perform a service in what we call a research partnership. I’m just grateful, frankly, for people that are in our community. I’m learning as much from them as they are from us.

This Quick Win Intensive, what’s the cost to participate and how often do you run these?

We run them regularly. It’s hard to get in them because we have about two million people in our community, and a lot of there are reaching out to us regularly. We run them at specific times and you can get in them by reaching out to us. The cost in a Quick Win Intensive depends on the size of the organization, but let’s just say on average it’s between probably $5000–$30,000 to get involved in one of these and it produces far more than its cost. There are larger skill things where we work globally, but it’s different.

We just finished working with a major brand, they paid $1 million a month. We had one test for these $200 million dollars. One test. They made over $1 billion, I’m not kidding, we measure it, the actual cash. There’s a system, 66 days after each test we take the cash to multiply it by two, cut the annualization by a third, so it’s real money not some pie in the sky statistical guess. They actually made over $1 billion. We take the research that we learned in those partnerships, reinvest it back in learning, and that’s the stuff we teach in Quick Win Intensive. You get that same benefit, but you don’t have to spend $1 million a month to get it.

Amazing. Is there a favorite keynote or YouTube video where you’re presenting some of your best stuff that would be really valuable to include in the show notes for this episode?

Yeah, if you were interested in the Marketer’s Blind Spot and some of the things I was talking about, I did a keynote on that in Las Vegas. You could probably just put my name in Flint McGlaughlin and Marketer’s Blind Spot and find it, or go to one of our sites like MarketingSherpa or MECLABS and search it.

I’m thinking that if I only had one thing I could do to help with your audience—this doesn’t cost, neither one of these cost anything to help your audience—we have a YouTube Live channel called MarketingExperiments, just go to YouTube and search for it. You’ll see a huge group of videos and playlists, but there’s one recently, about 10 weeks ago, something about the value proposition. It has the words ‘value proposition’ in the title.

You’d probably learn more in that one broadcast that you could apply right away. It’s dense and yet it’s full of examples with case studies and things that you can learn. I notice a lot of leaders reaching out to me that have been using it. It’s new. There’s probably only a couple of thousand people find it. I just think it’s a good starting point for somebody. It could help them.

Thank you. The MarketingSherpa brand was started by Anne Holland and you actually acquired that company. What was your thinking around taking over that brand and merging that into what you were doing with MECLABS?

We had MarketingExperiments and MECLABS and some earlier brands that were all part of our research group. Anne’s a smart businesswoman and she built a community and she knew the power of the brand. She was already doing case studies. This was 10 years ago or so. We thought if we acquired this and add our science to it, we can take the research to a new level, and also increase our community reaching out. She had a lot of the Fortune 500 on there.

Eventually, what happened was we purchased it, invested significantly, then added our scientist team to do cutting edge research, and expand in the community dramatically. It was a good move, in retrospect, for us. I think it was 2008, the economy was crashing. I remember I bought three companies that year. I thought, “Now’s the time to buy.” I’m grateful to Anne for the investment and the time she spent into getting it where it was and she’s done very well for herself.

I still remember some of those case studies from back in the day. My favorite of those early MarketingSherpa case studies was one where they created a barbershop quartet song and they commissioned to this song. They’re like, “Let’s all blame the marketing director.” There was a recession going on at the time. Marketers were losing their jobs. They were being blamed for the slump in sales and everything.

You could see the song sheet through this semi-translucent envelope and you could see the title of the song. It was intriguing, people would open it. There was a reply card that you’d send in to get the song on a CD. Brilliant. I just loved it. I’m a big fan of case studies where you get the specificity and you get the full view of the problem that they were trying to solve as well as what the solution was. It’s not just a fluff piece.

Yeah, there’s a world that’s enough of that, and I appreciate that’s one of the things you do in your podcast. You try to get rich, real, and vital content which is important.

All right. If we could leave our listener with one particular tip that we haven’t already discussed that would make a difference for them in the next week if they were to implement it, what would you suggest they do as a next action?

The single greatest element impacting all your marketing results is an effectively forcefully articulated value proposition. If you’re listening right now, let me take a complicated heuristic and use something called a Plain English Statement—a PES in philosophy—and I’ll ask you a question. I will try to answer this question. First, I’d try to write down my value proposition in 30 seconds or less without thinking about this question. By the way, it’s better if you do it with three or four of your own team and see if they put down the same thing.

Then ask yourself this question, “If I am the ideal customer,” and you’ll notice you changed to first person, very important, “why should I purchase X,” whatever that product is, “from you rather than,” then fill in X, Y, and Z, “rather than these competitors?” The answer that you put is the absolute most essential key to the future of your business. If that answer doesn’t create four conclusions in your mind, it’s going to fail to be powerful enough to drive the kind of growth that you probably desire.

Can you give us an example from your business?

Sure. I would say this, and I teach this on YouTube. That’s why I mentioned that YouTube Live video. Get to that video. Go YouTube Live, type in my name and value prop. Go to MarketingExperiments there because I break it all down, whiteboard it for you so you can apply it to your business.

I’ll include it in the show notes, too.

Yeah. Perfect. That’s great. Put it in the show notes. Because I don’t have the time to teach the whole thing now, I’ll just tell you I remember a guy who got it right. I saw a company. I knew they were on the edge of bankruptcy because we did the testing program with Google and AdWords. We’re engaged all across the internet with some of the earliest brands that you guys probably for years.

This company, I watched them rise, I watched them fall. Four months from bankruptcy they hired somebody. He slashed all the product lines. Somebody asked him how he’s going to turn the company around. He was very, very careful in his answer. He didn’t give them a direct answer, but he hinted it—critical innovation.

Then he quietly worked on a value proposition. He delivered one, but he had to know how to say it because having one and saying it are two different things. Then he put in the genius version of it to market. He didn’t have any of the heuristics frameworks that we teach. He didn’t need it. He was Michael Jordan. He was a natural. 

Most of us aren’t as naturally gifted as he was, but I watched him put that value proposition on a billboard, and as soon as I saw it, I said, “Lookout. Something’s about to happen.” Then I watched his company to go from four months from bankruptcy to the biggest company in the world. The billboard had a perfect value proposition. It answered all four critical questions, all four of the key conclusions, and it simply said this, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” And the rest of the story is the history of Apple. I watched Steve Jobs change the entire world because he was a genius at building value propositions.

Very good. Thank you so much, Flint, for sharing your brilliance with our audience here today and myself. It’s a wonderful service that you’re providing the world with what you’re doing, with all the behavioral research, with the heartfelt intentionality that you bring to is as well. Thank you for that.

I’m honored. I really am honored and grateful. You just keep doing what you’re doing. We need you.

Thank you. Listeners, now, go out there and do something with this wonderful knowledge and advice that you’ve heard in this last hour, and make a difference in the world. This is Stephan Spencer, your host, signing off.

Important Links

Your Checklist to Actions to Take

☑ Always test my marketing campaigns to keep learning about who my target consumer is. According to Flint, we as marketers should get past the blind spots of our bias and into the mind of the prospective customer.
☑ Stay authentic with my customers. Let them realize that my intentions are clear and that they are the number one priority. 
☑ Get the right bait. In other words, I should factor in the timing, the hook, the environment, etc. to come up with the right feel or aura to get my prospects’ attention.
☑ Establish congruence and continuity on all my branding materials from website to communication style. Congruence is making sure that all the parts of my business are cohesive. Continuity makes sure that each step people take are towards the big picture.
☑ Develop a customer-centric way of thinking rather than personal or company-centric. I should always refresh and see my business in the eyes of my prospects. 
☑ Make sure that my customers have a clear perception of the value I am offering them. 
☑ Once my customers understand my offer, I should make them believe that I can help them achieve their goal. Most importantly, I should be able to deliver in the best and most convenient manner. 
☑ Create an innovative and interactive About page to help my prospects know me better by utilizing the art of storytelling. 
☑ Don’t end the customer nurturing phase when they buy my offer. Instead, it should be the start of a long-lasting client-business relationship.
☑ Grab a copy of Flint McGlaughlin’s book, The Marketer as Philosopher: 40 Brief Reflections on the Power of Your Value Proposition.

About Dr. Flint McGlaughlin

Dr. Flint McGlaughlin is the CEO and managing director of MECLABS Institute, the world’s largest independent research institution focused on offer-response optimization.

His personal work has focused on the philosophy of human choice, experimental design, and the cognitive psychology of conversion. McGlaughlin has patented 10 conversion-related heuristics.



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