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Friday, August 10, 2018

The Myth of Smart

I've spent most of my career as a brand strategist. That means I slap CEOs into the realization that no matter how much they spend on marketing and advertising and social media and public relations, nothing is going to happen until they develop and execute a true brand strategy.  And by true brand strategy, I mean the kind of strategy that's not only clear, credible, authoritative and defensible, but also fattens up the bottom line with cold, hard cash.

As I tell anyone who will listen, the trick to succeeding in business -- or anything, really -- is simply a matter of getting into the other guys' heads.  It doesn't matter if you're negotiating a real estate deal or blasting your brand through some narcissistic phone app:  If you don't know what's going on in your target audience's heads, you're going to fail. Period.

That particular pontification carries a lot more weight than you might imagine.  In fact, it's one of the basic tenets I convey to Millennials who find themselves frustrated in their post-collegitate travails.  Why, they wonder, are they feeling so helpless in their pursuits of careers?  After all, they're smart.  They're willing.  They're capable.  Yet somehow, nothing seems to be clicking.

I offer them two pieces of wisdom:

First, they have to get into the heads of the business world, and a good place to start is with the realizations that (A) all we want to do is make money and (B) everything prior to college graduation is a lie.  It's true. Out here in real life, working to achieve approval doesn't get you squat. In the same vein, advancement isn't a matter of doing the reading and writing a term paper.

Out here, there is no formal structure or fulfillment of requirements that automatically propels you to the next level.  There's also no meritocracy.  But by far, most disappointing of all is the realization that despite all those safe spaces and navel-gazing professors, nobody really cares about how smart you are.  That's because being smart has little, if anything, to do with business success.  Being a businessman, however, has plenty to do with it -- and that's something that no school currently teaches, because it's political taboo. 

Second, they must accept the fact that contrary to what they've been taught in school, there's a lot -- and I mean millions of metric tonnes -- of non-geniuses out there.  I'm not shooting from the hip here.  I'm talking plain, basic math.  Take a look at this bell curve of IQ distribution to get an idea of what I'm talking about:


Pretty scary, eh? And it's totally legit.  If you take a close look, you'll see that George Carlin was right on the mark when he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that "the average person isn't very bright and half of them are even stupider than that." Hey, I know it's not a terribly popular, everyone-gets-a-trophy kind of sentiment.  But it's mathematically and statistically correct.

The average IQ score is 100, encompassing about 68% of the population. If you add in the population who isn't even that bright, all the way down to the bottom of the barrel, you'll find that an astonishing 84% of the population ranges from "average" to "breathing paperweight."  That leaves about 16% of people who are "above average" or "really, really smart."

But what does all of that have to do with branding?

Well, if you subscribe to the notion that success really is a function of "getting into their heads," it's probably time you got real about the kind of heads you're getting into.  Whether you're climbing the corporate ladder or pitching some sort of digital dementia, it's a good idea to abandon your idealistic image of everyone being smart and motivated and as eager to change their lives as you are. Maybe it's time you start accepting that while you may be brilliant and aspirational, perhaps the rest of the world simply isn't up to your standards.

That could explain why, despite your smarts, nobody seems to buy into your fabulous ideas. I know it's happened to me over the years. Many were the times I'd traipse out of an office, scratching my head and wondering, "How could they not get this?" That's when I realized I hadn't gotten into their heads; I was expecting them to get into mine.

Big mistake.

Since then, I've come to accept that for 84% of the world, keeping things the way they are is just fine. For them, paying the rent, being a good parent, staying out of debt and mastering Call of Duty really is a worthy enough goal.  So maybe those ads of yours shouldn't be set in that east coast upper middle class Cape Cod townhome by the bay, starring some white collar interracial couple leasing that expensive foreign coupe that neither of them can afford.

Maybe you should be getting into the heads of folks to whom being super smart, totally ripped and uber hip isn't nearly as important as being happy and loved and satisfied with what they've got.  Folks who are smart enough to know who and what they are -- and who and what they aren't.  Those are people who value wisdom over smarts, and maybe that makes them a whole lot brighter than all those self-proclaimed, agenda-driven media gurus.

After all, according to the stats, 84% of them aren't exactly geniuses.

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