On Shilling, Pandering, Edutainment, and Development
Here’s what I think.
I don’t like going to a presentation where I’m shilled at for 40 minutes. I don’t like being told about why a product is the best. I hate the saccharine story telling from the biz dev guy even more than the unenthusiastic “I am so tired of flying” delivery. They hate giving them. I hate listening to them. I think we’re aligned on that front.
I don’t like going to a presentation and getting pandered at for 40 minutes. I hate it even more than the commercials. And you know the ones. They get up there and mouth platitudes and buzzwords. Stuff they know you want to hear purely because that correlates to an easy 4.5/5 every single time. There are references to an outsider group, repeated statements of “right?, right?”, stories about how the others don’t get it, or about how easy something is. At least garbage can go to landfills. The damage that heightened preferences carry is permanent. And I’m never certain if those around me know that they’re getting pandered at and the harm that it causes them. But it happens because it’s so damned reliable.
I absolutely love edutainment. Some presenters are fantastic at educating, informing, and entertaining at the same time. They’re not pandering. They’re not shilling. But they’re delivering solid content, actual bullet points of knowledge and things to try, without the crap. They’re a joy to watch.
There are two types of development – there’s talent development and there’s business development.
You want junior and intermediate staff to attend a conference and come back smarter, more critical, and more informed. You want them to value that experience. It shouldn’t be a junket; some mental stretch has to happen. But you don’t want them to come back completely captured. Edutainment takes care of that.
Business development is tougher. You don’t want to shill and you don’t want to pander. Unless you do, in which case, screw you. You’re the problem.
Telling an amazing commercial story is really tough though. At least I’ve found it to be so.
In 2010, I told the story about Earned Media Value a lot. I delivered variants of the same talk five times. It was shilly. I believed that EMV was vital in the PMV/OMV mix. I had evidence that EMV could be measured, and crucially, that it impacted known RFM curves in database marketing. I took for granted that a unified marketing model was understandable and that objective evidence was evidence. Did I ever lose that debate. It’s 2014 and nobody talks about Bass or the Paid/Owned/Earned Pearson matrix. I lost bad. Rekt.
In 2011, I had a basic presentation about how we were using agile methods and Balsamiq mockups to iterate through enough designs for a data product we were developing. The story was about how agile methods were really appropriate for data scientists. One audience really enjoyed the presentation. Another one hated it (with heckling!). The story wasn’t about the product alone, of course. I hardly mentioned how the product even worked. It was about the process of product development. But when that point is lost, the consequences suck.
In 2013, I had a basic presentation about recsys, and the various techniques available. I delivered that presentation to three different audiences. Again, it wasn’t about my company at the time. It was about a set of techniques around recsys. I experienced significantly more success with that presentation. The six minute version of that presentation is now a core part of my repertoire. 10/10, would do again.
It’s taken three seasons and multiple iterations. And that’s what it takes and that is fine.
I’d like to generate a lot more value than I capture in 2015.
I’d like to drive trial. Hypothesis four of the marketing theory states that trial will cause habit. That’s a pretty bold causal chain, but that’s H4. It’s either true or false.
You don’t drive trial by shilling.
You drive trial by educating and entertaining. You get to hear about a whole bunch of stories and pick up a few points about statistics along the way, and, maybe if you enjoyed what you heard into those 40 minutes, you’ll try the product. That’s the tactic on that front. Tell multiple stories. Find likeable people to tell likeable stories. Work on my own likeability factor – loosen up in front of crowds exceeding 70 people. Edutainment hits so many quadrants.
But that’s a pretty hard architecture to develop. Probably more interestingly, getting that presentation up to be a reliable 4.25/5.00 rating, without the explicit use of known pandering tactics, is going to be really brutal next year. That does take a sustained genuine enthusiasm for the stories, and that enthusiasm is not rooted in emulating behavior that I fundamentally hate. I don’t think I got it in me to sustain full shill mode for a year.
And that’s what I think; and that’s my story arc.