February 14, 2022

The Psychology of Blue Jeans: What marketers can learn from 150 years of Levi Strauss customer letters – Podcast Episode #4


You are not your customer.

In our latest podcast episode, our guest discusses how marketers often think of customers as just a (perhaps better) version of themselves…and how to overcome this inherent human flaw.

Get ideas for how to connect with customers. Listen in to hear what Dr. Michael Solomon, Professor of Marketing, Saint Joseph’s University has learned in a career spent researching customers and teaching marketing (including poring over more than a century’s worth of correspondence about Levi’s 501s).

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

The Psychology of Blue Jeans: What marketers can learn from 150 years of Levi Strauss customer letters – Podcast Episode #4

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Don’t overlook unconventional sources of data. Interact as much as possible with real consumers when you’re developing a new product.

These are a few of the lessons Dr. Michael Solomon, Dirk Warren '50 Sesquicentennial Chair and Professor of Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University, shared with me in Episode #4 of the How I Made It in Marketing podcast.

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen in Amazon Music

Some lessons from Dr. Solomon that emerged in our discussion:

  • Don’t overlook unconventional sources of data. When Dr. Solomon worked with Levi Strauss on the psychology of blue jeans, he learned a lot by poring through letters customers had written to the company over 150 years.
  • Interact as much as possible with real consumers when you’re developing a new product. Dr. Solomon’s team observed how users struggled with a popular cleaning product from Black & Decker. By making a simple design change that didn’t occur to the engineers, this brand became the market leader in its category.
  • Get frequent reality checks from customers. As an author of several marketing textbooks, Dr. Solomon discovered that his frame of reference is not the same as his readers (typically college students). For example, when he discussed cultural events like 9/11 or the killing of bin Laden, he had to remind himself that his readers were infants when these major events occurred.

Dr. Solomon also shared lessons he gained from the people he collaborated with in his career:

  • John Greco, Chair and CEO, Marketing IMPACT Council taught him about the strength of weak ties. Networking with associates of a colleague can be very effective. John reinforced the value of maintaining strong networks and partnerships where members possess complementary skills.
  • Dr. Malaika Brengman, Associate Professor of Marketing, Vrije Universiteit Brussel taught him about finding collaborators with complementary skillsets. Collaborating on research about robotic service providers, he has seen how valuable it can be to team up with a colleague who has a different frame of reference and background.
  • Jacqueline Lew, Executive Director / Global Head of Consumer & Brand Health Practice, CI Product Leadership, NielsenIQ taught him to always be vigilant about updating assumptions. Jacqueline’s frame of reference is global (she is based in Malaysia) and her perspective has been useful to him as he checks his assumptions about consumer behavior in other parts of the world.

Dr. Solomon’s parting words of advice to marketers – “Always start at least with the assumption that your frame of reference is not the same as your customers.”

Articles (and a webinar replay) mentioned in this episode:

The New Chameleons: How to Connect with Consumers Who Defy Categorization – Dr. Solomon’s book

Is Customer Intimacy at the Forefront of your Marketing Campaign?

Mobile Marketing: 4 takeaways on how to improve your mobile shopping experience beyond just responsive design – eBags used customer anthropology to discover how customers shop for handbags on apps and mobile sites

Customer Theory: How to leverage empathy in your marketing (with free tool)

Content Marketing: You must overcome The Jackson 5 Effect to find subject matter experts

How Marketing Skills Are Helping Employee Recruitment and Satisfaction: 3 quick case studies

Marketing Career: 4 questions every marketer should answer (and what you need to know to start asking them) – Includes the key quote from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that I mention in the podcast, “People don’t pay for average”


Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.

Daniel Burstein: Here is the hardest thing for me in marketing and probably in life, it’s understanding, truly understanding other people. I work to really understand the people closest to me, my wife, my kids. And it is so many levels harder to understand people who may be very different than me, my customers, if I'm engaged in copywriting or even you, the listener of this podcast, how can I best serve you? That’s what I'm trying to figure out, anyway, have you faced a similar challenge?

Lend us your ears for the next 30 minutes or so, we're going to discuss unconventional sources of customer data interacting with real customers when you’re developing a new product, getting frequent reality checks from your customers. Plus, keys to your marketing career, like the strength of weak ties, finding collaborators with complementary skill sets and always being vigilant about updating your assumptions. With our guest today joining me is Dr. Michael Solomon, Professor of Marketing at Saint Joseph's University. Thanks for joining us today, Michael.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Hey, Daniel, thanks so much for having me on.

Daniel Burstein: So, I'm going just going to go through your LinkedIn really quick to give people a background of where you're from. You started undergrad at Brandeis with a B.A. in Psychology. You went on to get your Ph.D. in Social Psychology from UNC Chapel Hill.

You’re author of Textbooks on Principle of Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Introduction to Business and Social Media Marketing you’re a contributor to Forbes. A lot here. And your new book is called “The New Chameleon's How to Connect with Consumers Who Defy Categorization.”

And as I mentioned, you are the professor of marketing at Saint Joseph's University, so we're going to get into a lot of interesting stories from your career. First, just kind of give us a brief understanding of what you're doing right now.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Right now. I'm really focused on customer engagement. And the big problems that that poses, the pandemic, of course, hasn't helped with that. But you know, that's probably the biggest challenge many of us face today is just getting our customers attention because as you as you observed, you know, there are so many different people and companies out there that are jockeying for our attention. It really is a challenge for a marketer just to get heard.

So, I'm focusing on, I actually recently developed an online course using psychological principles to help your customers to stay engaged and focus on what you're doing. And once you have that focus, there's no guarantee you'll make a sale. But if you don't have it, you're certainly not going to go anywhere.

So, it's a big problem and it's very interesting, of course, with the pandemic, you know that's thrown another wrinkle into things and made it even more challenging for everyone.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Made it harder to learn about customers because we're not maybe seeing them as much. We're not going B2B we're not going to events and seeing them. If we are B2C, not being more like going to a store and listen to your customers.

But here's a really interesting story you shared with me in the pre-interview where you're working with Levi Strauss and you're trying to understand the psychology of blue jeans, which you know, I guess has a psychology, hadn't really thought of that. So how did you do that? How did you try to better understand customers of Levi Strauss?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Well, I was working with the 501’s brand, which is the original Levi's brand, you know, and it has an amazing amount of heritage to it and that's what we want today. We want brands that have a story to tell. And a company like Levi Strauss, of course, doesn't have to worry about that because they're sitting on hundreds or even thousands of these stories.

And so, what I did was one of the things I did as part of my engagement with them was they were kind enough to give me access to letters and packages that people had sent to the company to headquarters in San Francisco over the past 150 years.

And it was really fascinating to go through some of these letters that people had written, talking about how these this humble pair of blue jeans, you know, this relatively inexpensive product had made such a huge impact in their lives. Whether it had saved them from injury. You know, they were working somewhere, and some scalding water went on them, but the pants protected them.

But there were also very sentimental stories. You know, I met my wife when I was wearing these jeans. You know, I got engaged when I was wearing these jeans. And so there was a tremendous amount of really original material there straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. And, you know, when it comes to consumer data. That's what you want. You know, you want the unfiltered stuff. If you can get it, you can summarize it later. But it sure is helpful to look at what people are actually saying. Not just reading a summary in a marketing research report.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. How did you how did you use that information? How did Levi's use that information once you learned it?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Well, part of it was for PR purposes to publicize. We were doing some also some surveys about blue jeans and how people felt about blue jeans. So, it was kind of like color, if you will, that we could insert into these reports. But I think it also gave us some insights and especially reminded the company that, you know, people aren't buying a piece of fabric, they're buying a story, they're buying heritage, you know, they're buying that brand.

And that brand is really playing an important role in their lives. And that's something that even a company like Levi's that knows pretty well how to do this. It's good for them to be reminded and for all of us to be reminded that, really our customers are, you know, they're all flesh and blood people. And every one of them has a story to tell. And your brand should be a part of that story.

Daniel Burstein:  Yeah, that's great, you know, I like to call that customer intimacy because as a writer, it can be so difficult to just write generally, like the more I can understand the customer and try to write directly to that person.

So, I agree with you even sometimes when maybe we read through all those letters, we don't use something specific from those letters. It does something in our minds that we get to understand that customer a little better in their own language and speak to them better.

So, for me, I know you say here, don't overlook unconventional sources of data, and I love it. 150-year-old letters and packages are certainly unconventional. But you know, today, if you're in the pandemic and you're stuck working from home and know something that's helped me a lot is reading customer review sites like B2C.  You might be Yelp or Google reviews or B2B. You might be, you know, G2 or Trustpilot or forums or LinkedIn, because hearing customers speak in their own words is so powerful. Do you have any other good unconventional sources of data?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Well, you know, there's I mean, look, there's a lot of value in sending out surveys and questionnaires and so on if you can get people to answer them these days. But you know, as you point out, you're not getting it from the original source. They're you're getting some analysts version or summary of that. And so, whenever you can get out and see the real thing happening and when you talk about unconventional, you know, I mean, there aren't. I have not personally done this, but there are even people called garbologists, you know, who go through who go through consumers garbage and look to see what they're really throwing out, as opposed to what they're telling surveyors that that they're buying, you know, and it doesn't get any more real than that.

But, you know, I'm not saying go out and look through your neighbor's garbage by any means. But as you say, you know, combing through reviews, seeing because when consumers are posting this stuff, they're not participating in a study. So, they're not trying to be polite and please the interviewer and all that. You're getting the real thing here.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I agree. And I think also when they fill out a survey, I don't know what you think about this, but we're in a different frame of mind because we're being asked and kind of forced to reflect on a product.

And so sometimes it's kind of this unnatural feeling. You know, I know when even when I filled out a survey versus if you were driven or motivated to write that letter or to post something on social media that was just that human being’s natural reaction to that product or that experience, right?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, I was just I was just going to say the closer you get to the original source and not rely on that to be watered down or overanalyzed the better you are. You know, and but again, you can't just absorb one or two of those because then you have the representativeness problem, of course.

And you know, we've all been in situations, say, in a focus group where one really loud, domineering person has totally skewed the results. So we don't want to just base our findings, you know, on one or two people. But to the extent that we can get in there and really, as you say, have some actual people in mind when we're developing our strategies and so on.

That's very helpful I think that's what's driving you know, the big push today toward customer personas and, you know, creating this avatar or this ideal customer. And I think that can be very useful as long as we keep in mind that there's no such thing as one ideal customer. Because even your ideal customer is actually several people, he or she is going throughout the day, actually changing their identities. That's what I wrote in my book about the new Chameleon's. We're all changing our identities all the time. And so even just having that one “ideal customer” in mind is probably not quite good enough these days.

Daniel Burstein: That's a good point. You are probably a different person at work. They there at home, in the morning, they were at night on the weekend than we were on vacation only. That's a very good point. Yeah.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah. And that's why you know, you're starting to see some companies shifting toward even when they organize their brand management. You know internally. Some of them are reorganizing around, say, occasions like if you're a snack food company, some of the big snack food companies have done this, so they no longer have a brand that they're organized around, like Fritos.

They're organized around an event like, say, tailgating and that allows you to think about all the different products that play together in a tailgate or some other situation.

Daniel Burstein: That's great, that's what we would call also moving from company centricity, like we've got these divisions and these brands to customer centricity, right, to having that customer idea. So I yeah, one last thing I want to mention because you brought up a really good point of the loudest voice.  In a letter, in a review in anything is another thing you can do is pair this with quantitative data.

So, a big challenge with quantitative data sometimes either if we are looking at analytics or running an AB test or sales figures. So, you see this thing happen. But the biggest challenge is, well, why the heck did it happen?

You know what I mean? And then you're trying to form a hypothesis of it and actually seeing how people are talking can help you like, OK, backfill. Like, maybe this makes sense here, you know, as opposed to relying on an outlier to.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, you know, I like to tell my students that a survey like that is very valuable. Because it tells us what we're looking at, but it doesn't tell us why we're looking at it. So, you need both. It's not a question of, you know, a lot of people say, “Well, I, you know, I'm a qualitative guy” or “I'm a quantitative guy.”

Well, that's ridiculous. You know, then you're a hammer in search of a nail. Yeah, you know, that happens a lot. You know, people get trained in some technique and they want to use it for everything. And that's not a good idea. You know, it's a better idea, if possible, to triangulate by using multiple techniques and then you can start to see whether there are some consistencies fallen out there.

Daniel Burstein: In fact, let's take a look at your next story, you say interact as much as possible with real consumers when you're developing a new product which we kind of touched on, but tell me, how did you do that with Black and Decker, where you were able to discover something, the engineers didn't realize?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, we, and it was interesting. We followed some housewives around as they were using a particular product that the company made. It was moderately successful, but not really doing great. And what we realized is that when we followed these housewives around, it's a product that cleans showers and things like that. Not too sexy, I would say, but effective.

We realized that they were they were having essentially to carry the product in two hands, one hand for the actual cleaner and one for a reservoir that held the cleaning fluid. And what we realized is that if we if we integrated the cleaning fluid into the main device, then that would free up a hand. You know, this is not exactly a cure for cancer, but that the engineers, it hadn't occurred to them because they were more focused on, you know, how do we deliver this liquid most efficiently into the cleaning surface?

And so, by taking the customer's perspective and by actually listening to them talk out loud, if you will, as they're doing this task. We were able to come up with a small insight that they made that design change and the product wound up doing very, very well as a result.

Daniel Burstein: That's awesome. I mean, I've heard that called customer anthropology, but if you're listening and you've got a digital product, let's say you don't have a physical product and you're saying like, “Well, this wouldn't apply to me.” Here's a great case study we did before – eBags – that was somewhat similar.

You know, E-Bags they sell, luggage they sell purses with this, and they were trying to understand how people were using or women really were using the app to buy purses. And so, they went, and they actually went in these women's homes and they were looking for purses and they found that, you know, kind of the engineering mindset was, OK, how do we get people as quickly as possible to these purses? How do we make the search as efficient as possible, get them to the right purses? But that's not how women were shopping.

It was like after a long day, they put their kids to bed, they whip out their phone, they whip out the app and they get a glass of wine, maybe. And they're just kind of like to browse and they're liking to look around. And so, this insight, which would be really hard to get digitally, like you mentioned actually going and following people around in their homes, be really hard to get digitally by going in people's homes and seeing how they interacted.

They were able to actually see this, you know, inside of maybe not, maybe the most efficient way to design this user experience isn't the best way.

Dr. Michael Solomon:  Yeah, I guess, you know, I don't know if market researchers are having to wear masks when they go in people's homes these days, but I doubt that's a very popular research technique, right about now.

But you're right. I mean, even if you're in e-commerce, you're selling your processes totally online. You can still, you can still follow people and see what they're doing and how they want to use your product. And you know, your basic insight is, look, you know, there's a lot more to shopping than buying.

Daniel Burstein: Exactly. And there's probably a lot more going on in their day than using your product. So, you're seeing in that small moment, how do they use it and what else is going on and how do they get distracted?

Dr. Michael Solomon: And that what else is very, very important. That's been a that's been very important for me throughout my career. Is looking at adjacencies and looking at how people are incorporating these brands into a lifestyle that also involves the simultaneous use of other brands.

And so, by looking at what people are expecting to see in one category. Given that they have something in another, that kind of horizontal perspective is actually lacking, I think, in a lot of marketing strategies. But, you know, people don't buy a brand, you're selling them a brand, but they're buying something that fits into everything else they're doing all day.

Daniel Burstein: Right? And we're in our four walls or at home and in our virtual four walls. We're only thinking about our products. And you know, something I've noticed too in my career is it's the same for our marketing messages and our advertising messages.

And so, we created this the customer theory tool because when I would, for example, if I was working on a video or, you know, an ad or something like that, I would experience it, you know, with like studio headphones with like studio, you know, speakers with this, you know, massive.

You're in the editor's suite where you have this nice catered lunch and then you have this like massive screen where you see every detail and you've seen it 32 times when they edit it and you know, every detail when you actually go out in the world.

It's very disappointing where they're looking at on their phone, on a subway with crummy headphones or they're distracted or they're, you know, like their kid just stubbed their toe and is crying. And this other thing is going on. And you don't realize how the thing that you're spending so much time on is such a sliver of their attention and their time.

Dr. Michael Solomon: That's right. And we look we all have egos, and we all believe that if it's important to us, it must be important to everybody else. So, you know if you're, If you're selling kitty litter, you’re up all night wondering about the best brand of kitty litter and you figure, well, everybody else must be worrying about it too, you know?

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, OK, this is that is the great one. I've experienced this in my career. You know, often as marketers, we're in a different demographic persona, whatever you want to call it than our customer and how do you better understand them?

And so, you talk about getting frequent reality checks from your customers. So as an author of several textbooks, what have you learned in writing those textbooks because you get farther and farther away from that demographic as you go on in your book?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know you. You got it. I mean, I love to say every fall when I walk into my classroom, I've aged, I've gotten one year older. But they haven't. They’re still 20 and I'm not, you know? So yeah, it does get very difficult to keep that perspective. And so, you know, in many cases our customers are dissimilar to ourselves. And yet we have trouble believing that and there's even been research that's been done on brand managers that shows that, you know, as they're thinking about this persona or whatever, they're actually thinking about an ideal version of themselves.

They assume their customer is just a slightly better version of themselves and that is often not the case. And I certainly find that with writing textbooks, especially in a field like marketing. You know, if I was writing a book on algebra, I probably wouldn't worry about It too much. But in marketing, obviously things change very, very, very quickly.

Way too quickly for most of us and of course, for these young students, you know, if something happened in 2019, that's ancient history. So, there is this constant struggle to stay, you know, really current.

And so sometimes what I find is when, you know, I'll say to a student did example that I use make any sense to you and they'll say, well, frankly, I didn't know what you were talking about, but I figured you must have meant well, so I went along with it.

You know, memories are short, and it's just so important to take your buyer's perspective, even if you're say 50 years older than they are. You know, the further away you are, the more important it is to check in with them frequently and say, have I got this right you know, am I at least close? And on the other hand, making sure that you don't try to sound too much like somebody who you're not, you know, being a, let's say, being a 60-year-old copywriter you know, writing an ad for 20 somethings and trying to sound like a 20 somethings? Probably not a great idea.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. The examples you used kind of blew my mind because you said the killing of Bin Laden and 9/11 and you know, I thought because 911 was such a big, I mean, I still remember exactly where I was on 9/11. My daughter is a college freshman now, and I hadn't really thought about it, but she was born after 9/11. So, she, you know, that's such a different experience than one I had with it.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, yeah. Some of the bedrock memories that we take for granted, you know, young people have, well, I won't say they've never heard of 9/11, but they just know it was a really bad thing that they didn't have to deal with. You know.

Daniel Burstein: They didn't experience it vividly like we did. And we're remembering, you know, that was my generation's probably Kennedy moment where, you know, it's like you knew where you were when that thing happened. So, when I read this example from you, it got me thinking also of internal communications within a company because here's an experience I faced.

So, you know, with marketing Sherpa, the great thing is we're pretty influential in the marketing space. And so, but when you're in the actual building with these other people, you don't realize that that other person sitting next to, you know, thousands of people are reading these articles.

And so, I used in a company meeting, I thought this was just a brilliant analogy. Everyone's going to love. I used The Jackson five. And I talked about, you know, hey, to the rest of the world Michael Jackson was this amazing talent, and he was, you know, but to like Randy or his brother, he was the annoying little brother. And so, when we're in this building together, you're like, “Oh, that's whoever is annoying, you know, whatever.” But out in the world, they're actually someone. And I look and I'm like, “This is going to be huge,” and I get a lot of blank stares because I realize a lot of the people in the company were younger than me. And at the end I had no idea what I was talking about. The Jackson Five? Michael Jackson was even ancient to them. They didn't understand that.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Well, I knew, you know, Daniel, I knew it was over for me when I was teaching an Undergrad Class. And this was many, many years ago actually, I mentioned the Beatles, and this girl in the front row had this puzzled look on her face and I said, The Beatles, you know, the Beatles.  And she thought about it. She said, “Oh, wait wasn't that Paul McCartney's old band?”

Daniel Burstein: Ha, Ha, that's great!

Dr. Michael Solomon: And I said “Oh, I'm done here”.

Daniel Burstein: Oh man. All right. Well, we talked about some of the things you made in your career in marketing, but the other key thing we do as marketers is we collaborate with people, right? No real marketer is works in a silo.

So, the first person you mentioned that you really collaborated with and learned from was John Greco, the Chair and CEO of Marketing Impact Council. Currently, I think he used to be the DMA, so you learned from him the strength of weak ties that tell us that story. What is the strength of weak ties?

Dr. Michael Solomon: You know that means, you know, that's an expression that means that really, we tend to focus on our strongest ties within a network. You know, the people we know, the people we work with, our clients, et cetera. Those are our strong ties.

But social scientists like to talk about the strength of weak ties as well. And these are the connections that you have to other people's networks. And so, you can kind of, you know, if you're working collaborating with someone who has their own like you were saying with other writers at Marketing Sherpa, you know, everybody's got their own kind of constellation of networks and so on.

And there may be relatively little overlap between your network, which could be a very rich network and somebody else's network. So, by making that jump, we essentially gaining permission to get access to their network as well. You're suddenly catapulting yourself into an entirely new, I was going to say minefield. I don't think it's a minefield, but an entirely new set of possibilities that you wouldn't have if you stuck with your own network, even though that network is quite strong. So, it’s always good to connect with somebody who is very, very active. But is not necessarily running in your circles.

Daniel Burstein:  So, these are I forgot what book it was, but they call them the super influencers and the kind of super connector type of folks and how did John Greco’s network help you out in your career?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah. Well, in this in this case as I mentioned, I'm developing this online course on customer engagement. And John has an amazing network. He's had a long career leading the direct marketing association and some other big organizations. And so obviously many of the people that he's had the opportunity to interact with are not people that I, as a college professor would have encountered.

So, it's tremendously valuable for me to be able to go up to one of John's contacts and say, You know this is something you might be interested in. You normally wouldn't have heard about it, but because I know him now, I know you.

Daniel Burstein: That's great, yeah, yeah. I hesitate to say this because I get so many sales messages, but when I started on LinkedIn, I used to be very, very rigid about only accepting people that I really had worked with and knew very well.

And I read this article by Chris Brogan, who was just explaining, hey, look, LinkedIn works better if you just accept all connections. That's just how the platform works. And so, a few weeks ago, I'd written a case study about hiring practices and customer employee retention practices of companies.

And one of the sources was, I'm in Jacksonville, Florida. one of the sources was in Minnesota. And after the article, he connected with me and he just finally reached out and he said, hey, I see you're in Jacksonville and you're connected with so-and-so do you know them? And that’s someone I happen to know socially. It's not even, you know, through marketing. It just happened. You know, our kids, we go to the same synagogue. And so, I just thought it was like, it just kind of, not that I used it in any business way, but it blew my mind that this guy had written his article way out in Minnesota, also had a connection that I knew very well here in Jacksonville that I knew socially.

So, if you are in business development or sales and not sending out the spammy LinkedIn messages, I get 20 times a day. Maybe there's a constructive way to use that in your career.

Dr. Michael Solomon: You know, I’m no LinkedIn expert, that's for sure. But I've never quite understood this thing of when people block, you know, access and I'm thinking, what do you think you're giving away? I mean, this is not an invitation to your daughter's wedding. I mean, this is just, you know, it's just a click.

So, what is so important about you that you can't share your connections? But I'm sure people have legitimate reasons like you say, you know, I don't receive, you know, 10,000 sales pitches a day, only maybe 1000. So, I like my category.

Daniel Burstein: So, here's your next example, Dr. Malaika Brengman, and feel free to correct me because I probably got it wrong. And I, I think she’s the associate professor of marketing right now at Vrije Universiteit Brussel.  And so, you talk about finding collaborators with complementary skillsets that I've definitely, this has helped me in my career. So how are you collaborating with Dr. Brengman?

Dr. Michael Solomon: We're actually, we’re in the early stages of a study looking at robots and how they might be used in service settings. And she has a lot of background with that. And at her university in Brussels, there's a big robotics institute there.

And so, this is a great example where, you know, many of us might have, you know, 70 or 80% of the assets we need to do a project, but we're missing a few key pieces. And, you know, it's just like a company that acquires another company to get technology that they needed. You know, think about acquiring collaborators and hopefully not a hostile takeover, but now think about acquiring collaborators. Strategically to plug the holes, you know, because none of us has 100% of the skills we need to do anything. I certainly don't. And so, by looking for someone who has, let's say, statistical expertise or experience in a certain industry. You know, they're usually going to benefit from you as well.

So, it's, you know there's that expression, No man is an island and that's really true. You know, we can try to do everything ourselves, and at some level, we don't want to delegate. You know, there's a happy medium. We don't want to delegate everything. But I really have found that nine times out of ten, you're better off admitting that you need some help and being proud of it, really, being proud that you have the, you know, the foresight and you know, the ability to see that you had to plug some gaps. There's nothing wrong with being strategic.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, it's funny you talk about it in the corporate way, you know how corporations talk about their core competency and what they're going to outsource, but you know what I've learned in my career? 21 Laws of Leadership is a great course I took. I forgot the guy's name, but one thing he talks about is people don't pay for average. And this idea that like you really need to, you know, there's some ideas of like, you need to be well-rounded, you need to be a renaissance marketer or renaissance man or woman and do everything.

And he's like, “no, you need to find out what is your special skill and just go all in on that and the other things, you know, work with other people on it because if you’re going to be average at it, you know, it’s not going to help you.” And so, I know in my career, like I know my skills writing, storytelling, content creation, and when it comes to things like design, to technology, to all these other things like to your point, it's like find someone who you can collaborate with, who you can really rely on for that because I'm never going to be that good of a tech guy. It's just not going to happen. So got the computer on. I got this recording set up. That's enough.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah. And it's, you know and it's quite possible that tech guy can't write his way out of a paper bag, and he needs you.

Daniel Burstein: And that's that great teamwork. That's that great collaboration you were talking about. So last person, we want to mention you collaborated with Jacqueline Lew. She's the Executive Director and Global Head of Consumer and Brand Health Practice, CI Product Leadership at NielsenIQ.

And you mentioned always be vigilant about updating assumptions. So how did Jacqueline help you update your own assumptions?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Well, I recently worked with Nielsen to I directed. A project to update their brand health model that they use for clients around the world to help them understand what their brand Is.

You know, the impact it's making on consumers, how consumers think about it and working on this with a huge company like Nielsen was really great because obviously they're dealing with clients in just about every country in the world. And dealing with data from every country in the world.

So, as we look at something like brand health. You know, we have to recognize that of course the same brand can have very different meanings, and different profiles as we move around from market to market. And it's just so important to remember that. And when you know you're working with people, you know, in a global company like Nielsen and you realize, you know what they've been doing this working from home stuff for a long time because their teams are made up of people that are, you know, taken from offices around the world.

So, in this case, she's based in Malaysia. Some of her team members were in Vietnam, in Austria. You know, it was just fascinating. And but there really is some danger there of you know, having this mindset that, well, I know the way it works in my country. How different could it be anywhere else?

And you know, most of us have had that eye opening moment where we realize that a brand that we've been involved with has a totally different profile in another country and to assume that you can just move from place to place with your, let's say, American centric attitude is really, really a mistake.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I'll tell you one thing I learned to, internally, working with others because I'm based here on the East Coast and I'm originally from New York. And so, you know, the stereotype of people from that area are not I don't know what the word is shy.

So, when we're, you know, working on a project together, I have no problem sharing my thoughts and opinions on how we can improve it in these things. And kind of I've learned over time not only people from other countries. Certainly, when we've worked with people from Europe and Asia, they definitely don't have that same kind of brashness to interacting. But even the Midwest, when we've worked with, you know, some folks from the Midwest, I've had to learn to kind of like, OK, kind of dial it back a bit and really kind of really pull it out of them because they're not going to want to say anything negative about the project. They're not going to want to raise any red flags.

They'll just kind of go along with the strongest voice in that meeting. And so really kind of being aware of those different cultural differences and letting them know it's OK if you see any flaws in the project, let's know it now before, you know, failed on the back end and just nod and like, yeah, that's kind of what I thought, but didn't say anything.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, absolutely. It's a great rule always have at least one New Yorker on your research team, and you can get to the facts quickly.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, let's go. All right. Well, this has been great, but your stories have been great. But before we go, what can you tell the audience? What is your advice to them about the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah. Well, sell lots of stuff. But other than that, I'd say that. You know, I guess the key, and this won't surprise you based on our conversation, it is empathy. The key is being able to, you know, take yourself out of your analyst or your brand manager persona. And to the extent that you can try to understand what you're selling from the point of view of the customer and that can be a tall order, of course depending on what the product is.

But, you know, always start with at least the assumption that your frame of reference is not the same as your customers. If it turns out to be, then you know, no harm done. But it’s likely that there's going to be some differences. So don't just sit in your office and assume that you know how people will react to this latest promotion or whatever. Without testing it first.

That doesn't necessarily mean, you know, doing a representative survey with 2,000 respondents or something, but try to get some reality checks as you're going and don't wait until the end, you know, bring your customers into the process I've written a lot about co-creation and the importance of collaborating with your customers because they often are your best salespeople and they often are your best product designers.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, that's great. And one thing I would add to it can be fun. You know while it's really hard to try to understand other people, it's really fun to me to learn other things about them and be curious about them. And you work with them when they're really, you know, passionate and helping you create something.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Yeah, marketing should be fun. We're the fun part of business. That's why my students major in marketing, they don't want to have to do the hard work that the finance people do.

Daniel Burstein: I like that. That's why I majored in marketing. All right, thanks. Thanks so much for your time, Michael.

Dr. Michael Solomon: Thank you. It's been great.

Daniel Burstein: Thanks, everyone for listening.

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