OOBEs and the Art of Thinking Like They Do

Remember the last time you saw a photo of yourself? I’m betting you didn’t like it. Maybe it was a bad angle, or the light wasn’t too good. Maybe you were caught unawares. Or maybe you just don’t like being photographed (I know where you’re coming from). But another part, a big part of seeing a photo of ourselves, is that we don’t recognise ourselves. Why not? Because everything’s in reverse, the wrong way round. Except it’s not. That parting on the left-hand side is actually on the right in real life. The freckle on your nose is actually where it looks like it is. And your good side is actually your bad side. The thing that throws us is that we’re seeing ourselves as others see us. And that’s always a bit of a shock to the system.

Dog bites man

When you’re putting your message out, you need to have a little out-of-body experience now and then. In fact, the more often you do it, the better. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for a big software company. For a product launch, our ad agency – a bunch of hip dudes and dudesses with more attitude than a classful of teenagers – came up with a great series of adverts. Everybody loved them. But the one that caught my eye featured a man tussling with a woman, topped off with what (to me, at least) looked like a slightly sexist headline. It was daring, different and what would nowadays be called ‘edgy’ (back then, edgy meant irritable). I thought it wouldn’t work, and said so. All eyes in the room turned on me, like a pack of ravening hyenas. I stood my ground, repeated my opinion, and left it at that. Two weeks later, I was sitting behind a two-way mirror with my colleagues watching a focus group run through the ads. When they came to the sexist one, I held my breath. But I think I was the only one – everybody else was convinced the ad would go down a storm. It didn’t. It bombed from the very start. And oddly enough, it was the men who thought it was most unacceptable. Perhaps it was because they were in mixed company. Perhaps it was because they knew there were under observation. Or perhaps it was because it really was an awful advert. Whatever the reason, its fate was sealed there and then, and it headed for cutting-room floor. And the campaign? It was a huge success, boosting software sales and winning awards.

Step away from the campaign, sir

So what if you can’t afford a focus group? Well why not:
  • Phone a friend. Ask an acquaintance, family member or networking contact. Try not to prejudice them by over-explaining the concept (you won’t have that luxury with real prospects).
  • Walk away from it. Leave it for a day, weekend or a week. I guarantee it’ll look different after you’ve taken a break.
  • Get round the other side of your desk. No, really, I mean it. If you have space, get round there now. Be somebody else – taller, shorter, female, male, older, younger. Pretend you’re not yourself and look at it as objectively as you can. You’ll be surprised what emerges.
  • Ask your clients. After all, they’re the ones who are destined to see it. Pick a few key clients that you know and trust, and run the idea by them. They’ll be chuffed you asked, and you’ll get some great insights.
And if you’re still not sure? Do a Dr Pepper (what’s the worst that could happen?). Run it anyway, but be prepared to make changes. Measure from Day 1, and make course adjustments. Stay nimble and agile. Set yourself a cut-off date, and if it’s not working, and you’ve tried everything, jettison it and move on.

Third degree (honorary)

If you call me with a great idea for a campaign you’d like to run, don’t be surprised if I ask questions. Lots of them. It’s not that I don’t think you’ve got a great idea – it’s just that it’s the first time I’ve heard it, and I’m standing back, then getting up close, kicking the tyres and running my hand over it. It allows me to see it objectively, evaluate it, and gain some perspective. And it allows you do to the same. Wow, said a potential client recently, you’re so clever. You ask things I’d never even think of. Clever, me? Maybe. But actually I’m asking questions from a position of complete ignorance. Which is just another name for objectivity. But don’t tell anyone. Find out more:
  • Two wrongs might make a right. Yes, you can make mistakes – in fact, you should, otherwise you’re not trying. Check out Sunny Bates on Linchpins, Passion and Fear and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Feedback frenzy. Diamond Shreddies vs. Square Shreddies – can you tell the difference? They can (well they think they can, and that’s all that matters).