Marketing makes your brain bigger

I was fortunate to spend a day in london last week.  I had been invited to speak at a conference and I had some business meetings on the same day.  Conveniently all my meetings were in the same area around Covent Garden.  It gave me a chance to walk around London, on a beautiful crisp winters day, as I walked from the Grand Connaught Rooms to Somerset house and so on.

You cannot help notice the black cabs buzzing around like throaty wasps as you wander around London.


It made me think.

You inherently trust a black cab driver to do some fairly basic, but important, things.  If you want to travel from Euston to, say, The Savoy Theatre for example, you trust the Cab drivers knowledge to get you there safely, efficiently and on a route that he has tried or used before.

You can expect this because the Black Cab driver has a Green badge; he really does have knowledge … in fact he’s been tested on it:

‘The Knowledge’ is the means of getting that Green badge.  A potential Cabbie has to learn 320 ‘runs’ or routes covering 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks within a 6 mile radius of Charing Cross.  Fairly impressive I think you will agree.  It takes 2 to 4 years to get ‘The Knowledge’ and you can then operate a Black Hackney cab anywhere in greater London.

It has been scientifically proven that completing ‘The Knowledge’ increases the size of your Hippocampus – the area of your brain associated with memory.  It’s also interesting that in order to test the runs and their knowledge the candidates do so, not using a Black cab or car, but a fleet of foot Scooter.


I believe that to be a good, perhaps great, marketer you too, have to have the ‘Knowledge”.  If you think how developing greater levels of trust for brands is becoming more important in the current environment then the parallel with the almost automatic trust you place in a cabbie cannot be lost on anyone!

So what is the marketing equivalent of those 320 runs?

  •  Knowledge of the customer    STEP 1

Easy to state, hard to act on as the canvas is large.  But at the very minimum I would contend you need to know who they are, what they look like, by whatever criteria is appropriate in your market ( that is a potential blog in itself ! ) and most importantly what their needs are.  You can add to this all the usual things about social & geo demographics, what they are doing, where they are in life stage and so on.

Knowledge of their attitudes is an alternative starting point, and, for me, as a financial services marketer, this is really important as it starts to lead you down the road of knowing what their goals are … and away from simple, unsophisticated, product push.  Is it the place I would start? no, but it is the place I would like to end up as I move into step 2 …

  • Knowledge of what you want to say    STEP 2

Now I know that sounds very obvious, but clarity is crucial.

Do you wish to acquire them as a customer, welcome them into your brand, educate them on how to make the best of the product or service they have with you and so on.  The list can be long, but don’t let it broaden too much, or the focus of the communication strategy will undoubtedly be lost.  Think about the ratio of ‘runs’ to ‘streets & landmarks’ and apply that logic.

  • Knowledge of WHY (you want to do what you have identified in step 2!)     STEP 3

This is a great litmus test of relevance to the target customer … be sure you have a reason to communicate that is relevant for the recipient or yourself.  You can ask the Black Cab driver to take you to the Savoy Theatre, but If you have no ticket or if its ‘dark’ between productions, you have just wasted the fare.  Not a way of hitting business objectives or , indeed, keeping your marketing career going upwards!

  • Knowledge of the most appropriate timing of your communication    STEP 4

Back to knowing your customer again; know their channel of preference, know the right time to communicate.  This should, for me, always be when the customer need is there/highest, be that the opening night of a show or the renewal date of an insurance policy.  This is the area where technology is really helping us.

  • Knowledge of what has worked before    STEP 5

The cab driver knows what ‘run’ is likely to work best at different times of the day or night as well as the differences between weekends and rush hours.  Marketers must apply this rigour to understanding which creative treatment and media channel work best for which groups of customers, at what times.  There is an internal efficiency point here too.  The Cabbie doesn’t want to waste his diesel and nor should Marketers.  In creative terms the knowledge of consumer reactions to communications should be captured in step 1. It is a crucial part of knowing your customer.

  • Know how to ride a scooter    STEP 6

Not literally, although if that is your thing please feel free !

The potential Cabbie is wise, he doesn’t risk using his expensive cab all the time; he tests his knowledge using a low-cost alternative that is flexible in how it can respond and where it can go.  Simply, for me, know how to test and learn and know how to measure your success. Oh .. and know this before you start step 1 !


So, there you have my shortened views on the importance of knowledge in customer focussed marketing.  Will it make your brain bigger? well … theoretically it should, as long as you always follow these basic, simple steps to gaining greater knowledge of your customers.  If you know a scientist who can help prove or disprove this please let me know … one flaw in my argument is that I have no idea how you go about measuring the size of your Hippocampus !

What I think it will do is get you the marketing equivalent of a Green Badge i.e. permission to run successful marketing campaigns, because it should improve your return on marketing investment and gain you greater advocacy from customers along the way.  It might also win you an award or two as well.

I would love to know what knowledge you think I may have missed out in this short summary, add some comments, … go on, I know you want to !



2 December 2012

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