Friday, 20 July 2007
(There follows a topline write up of Juliana Xavier's write-up of her interview with Mark Earls)
Mark Earls sees himself as someone who can help clients and its brands "to get over there". His job is to see the bigger picture from an outside perspective in order to draw a pathway. We have spoken for almost two hours, under a persistent very English rain, about business, brands, culture, psychology and even physics. In order to explain to me some of his case studies he had to talk about all other kinds of subjects, which I have realized are all source of information for his thinking. It was a different interview, because it was impossible to stick to the guidelines I’ve got so used to, but slowly Mark became more aware of his own thought process and it started to get a form.
Usually inside a company people in different departments are focused on specific things and don't see the bigger thing. Marketing is only the surface of the business, while there is much more behind it. It has a political, economical and above all it also has a social dimension. It is fundamental to put things in context, each bit of the problem, in order to get a triangulation that connects: business, people and culture.
Try to understand what is behind the business. Have in mind that there are all kinds of little things and particularities that are not evident, not even to the client and that are important in order to contextualise the problem and understand what the brief is really all about. It also helps you connect to your client – talk the same language - and get him to trust you. Mark tends to work on very simple questions, asking businessmen to explain themselves: how do they make money? Is there any pressure on that people who are running the business? What are they promising as opposed to what are their competitors promises to people.
Mark always assumes that all marketing is spam, unless it has some social value, political value. So he is always trying to do something that cannot be accused of that, by looking for things that actually make the world look more interesting rather than less interesting. For Mark, it is important to have sympathy (or find where you have sympathy) with the brand’s agenda/ point of view. He believes that we’ve slipped away from the personal in business with intellectual thinking styles and processes that give us the impression that there’s a way of reducing the odds of failure and increasing the odds of success. When the truth is that none of these things guarantee success or the avoidance of failure. In order to find what is interesting, what can change the way people feel about things, to do something that has culturally real value you have to understand how the culture works. Look at creative and cultural noise. Trying to find something to kick against, something that in itself challenges what people think, or how people assume things are.
When it comes to people Mark is actually interested in their behaviour not thoughts. Culture is the stuff in which we all swim through all our lives. With all the assumptions we carry about how the world is and how we are in the world. But each of us, individually, does what we do because of the other people around us and how we see them through the length of our culture. We are not consumers. We are people living lives. People's lives with each other and their enthusiasms are what are important.
If you have got something that is interesting enough that generates certain behaviours with consumers, then other people will copy it or react against it. So he's always looking at what is the behavioural context or prototype that he wants to generate. It is a quite difficult place to be, because actually human behaviour is complex, adaptive and therefore unpredictable. You don't know what is going to happen.
It is much more about observation. You have to ask people but bearing in mind that people are expert in research. Mark believes that people's accounts of their own lives are – however plausible - largely irrelevant to their behaviour. Our brain is designed to give us the impression to do what we do because of our own independent decision-making capabilities, whilst we do what we do through many other influences, mainly other people and how we see what other people are doing.
There are many ways Mark explores all the areas and subjects he needs to explore in order to understand each vertices of the triangle. Technology is one of the most important sources for him, because it has enabled him access to information in all of areas that he never thought possible - not just information, but also experimentation.
He has also developed a circle of experts in food, drinking, tech, culture, who can give him really useful expertise on specific fields of knowledge: cultural experts, sanitarians, anthropologists, etc. Talking is really important; it brings things to the surface that he’d never consider if he just sat and thought about it.
“And I just ‘worry’ at things until it all makes sense.”
In the end, the important thing is to come up with an idea that resonates with the business issues and the culture where it is operating at, so that people actually do things differently.