What's Most Important for Success: Creative Ideas or Execution? 

Eric Paley, an investor, entrepreneur and columnist for Inc. Magazine, shared a great variation of the position that great entrepreneurs are all about execution, not necessarily the "big idea" in his June 2013 piece "A Great Idea is Never Enough." (Not posted online yet).

"Great entrepreneurship is in the execution," says Paley. "Rarely does the initial idea dictate the outcome - perhaps never. Success is about the thousands of ideas and decisions that are made along the way and the speed at which those insights are implemented according to customer needs and feedback."

The notion that a breakthrough idea isn't that big a deal can drive a creative person crazy. After all, what do you execute if you don't have the idea? But Paley and others who take his position (including me) aren't saying that great ideas aren't important. We're saying that ideas alone will not drive success, and in some ways, they rank lower on the success factor ladder than persistence and a fast failure-feedback-adjustment loop.

I would apply this principle to marketing as well as entrepreneurship and overall business success. Great marketers aren't really the ones with the most creative ideas. There are many sources of ideas, some great, some terrible. We only notice the amazing viral successes because we don't have to view the many failed ideas and attempts prior to the big one that took hold. "Overnight success" companies, as well as marketing campaigns, are often the fruit of learning from many failures.

The foundational principle underlying our firm Mythology and our Ten Pillars of Meaningful Marketing System is based on the philosophy that success is about:

  • Forming a hypothesis (the idea)
  • Generating early feedback from potential customers, partners and other key players in the market
  • Applying lessons learned in the form of best practices (i.e., the failures and successes of others)
  • Refining, and possibly testing again, the idea or message
  • Launching and going "big" with the version that is most likely to succeed


Learn more about the Ten Pillars of Meaningful Marketing

The great failure of many entrepeneurs, creatives and business leaders is that we often fall in the love with our ideas and discount the need for feedback and refinement; after all, it's a great idea, obviously!The trick to generating return on investment is to a) make sure that the feedback/refinement process is followed, and b) speeding up the process.

Many resist testing, refining and laying out the execution of the idea via project management because, well, it just feels like it takes too long. And in some cases, those impatient entrepreneurs and marketers are right, it does take too long. But that's no excuse not to do it. If you don't, you're simply skipping on your merry way to likely failure.

The key is to adopt a framework for ideation, testing, learning, refinement, and application that is speedy and facillitates better execution. That's our value proposition at Mythology for CEO's and CMO's: We want to help you build a marketing system that grows brand, revenue and relationships in a speedier, less costly manner that has a higher likelihood of success.

We love creative ideas and the creative people who spawn them. But we also love ideas that work, and we have observed with our clients that the adoption of the Ten Pillars is an excellent way to solve problems and take advantage of great marketing opportunities.

Consider scheduling a summer workshop to explore these pillars and learn how they apply to your business. We're pretty sure more of your great ideas will come to fruition with this process.





You're Fired! Or, How to Prioritize Customers Without Hurting Their Feelings

I got fired three years ago.

It’s never fun to get dumped, in career or in love. For those of you who’ve been fired, it stings, doesn’t it? Yeah, we probably had it coming (at least I did). But it still hurts.

Often it’s the way we get “sacked” (as the fun-loving British like to say) that can make the difference between a truly traumatic experience and, well, just a bummer experience.

In my case, I got fired by my favorite doctor. During a particularly busy and difficult time in my life, I missed a few appointments. OK, I missed four appointments. But it was over about a 2-3 year time span, and I dutifully paid my missed appointment fee. I thought for sure my pleasant personality and the fun I brought to the office with my jokes would get me off the hook.

Then it happened: “You need to find a different doctor.”

What?? Seriously? I had all the shock of a boyfriend who gets dumped and didn’t see it coming. I loved this doctor. In fact, I had referred at least ten different people to her. I sang her praises whenever doctor-talk occurred in my life. I was truly bummed out, but I took my medicine and found another doctor.

It quickly became apparent that my new doctor didn’t cut it for me. He wasn’t nearly as thorough. I didn’t have fun with him like I did my old doctor. Yeah, I know…I had fun going to the first doctor; we had a great rapport! Which of course just added to my angst over getting fired by her.

So recently I decided to give it another shot. I called her office to try and set up an appointment. Sure enough, they had me flagged in their “patients we don’t like anymore” database, and the scheduling lady referred me to their business manager. Uh oh.

I ate my humble pie, explained my circumstances from three years ago. That I really didn’t receive great care from the new doctor, and I really wanted to come back. How I always referred new patients to them. That I would make sure to not reschedule my appointments last minute. I would be a good patient. I laid myself at the mercy of the office manager.

Did they take me back?


“Sorry, can’t take you back. There are plenty of other good doctors in the area.”


It’s certainly within the right of this doctor to have a very strict cancellation policy. And it’s certainly within her right to have no mercy on sinners like me who ran afoul of it. Clearly she prioritizes dealing with patients who don’t have busy schedules and need a little flexibility (which other doctors I see don’t seem to have a problem offering). Harrumph. How dare she?

As a marketing consultant, of course it got me thinking: How was this policy decided? What factors did this physician and her partner and office manager evaluate when creating such a strict policy? What lead them to have a “no mercy” clause? Do they realize the implications of such a harsh policy that weeded out a former raving fan like me who sent so many new patients to them?

Whatever the motivation and process in making that policy, it reinforced to me one of our Ten Pillars of Meaningful Marketing: #2 Priority. The Priority pillar helps an organization evaluate the various attributes of a customer and determine which qualities are desired, which ones are “OK” and which ones are unacceptable.

With such an intense focus in marketing these days about "customer relationship" and "customer intimacy", the issue of who to date and who to break up with is a strategic question.

By going through the Priority pillar exercise (which we do vigorously in our strategy workshops) it helps an organization avoid making arbitrary decisions on which customers to seek and nurture, and which ones to avoid. Just a few of the criteria may include:

  • Revenue history
  • Profitability
  • Predictability and ease of servicing (often tied to profitability above)
  • Reference and advocacy potential
  • Payment terms and consistency

Clearly I’m on the “avoid” list with my former doctor (can you tell I’m still stung over it?) and she valued “predictability and ease of servicing” over “reference and advocacy potential” and “brings joy to the office when he visits.” (SMH…)

I decided not to make any more stink about it, or give her a nasty rating on some physicians rating web site. No vindictiveness from this spurned patient. I’m not even naming names. But, alas, she has lost me as an advocate and referral source. Perhaps they are so busy that it doesn’t matter.

I do hope, though, that all of us in business will proactively ponder the priority (say that three times fast) customers that we want to seek or avoid, determine what criteria determines who they are and what they look like, and find gentle ways to break the news when we have to part ways or turn down the first date.

Any flexible, understanding physician out there looking for a fun-loving, loyal patient with occasional last-minute cancellation tendencies? I’m a free agent.


Motivation: The Mission of Marketing

There is a great book published in 2000 by Jeffrey Pfeffer called The Knowing-Doing Gap which highlights the major challenge of shrinking the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it.

I was thinking about the knowing-doing gap this morning and one of the primary solutions to shrinking that gap: motivation. Most individuals know why and what to do; some know how to do it. But so few actually do. The reason? A lack of internal motivation required to fight through obstacles and actually do something that is somewhat difficult.

Think of all the good things we as humans don’t do in our personal lives: exercise, eat right, spend more time with our kids, be extra patient with a spouse. At work, many struggle to adhere to that new process the boss asked us to follow, or take an extra minute to make sure the customer is completely satisfied. 

Desire. Motivation. It’s the secret sauce that turns a passive consumer into an active one and a disengaged team into a fired-up, butt-kicking ninja squad.

Much has been written about how motivation is developed and maintained. There is the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (needs being the building blocks of motivation). There is Daniel Pink’s treatment called Drive, which champions a more evolved and optimistic understanding of human motivation involving “our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and do better by ourselves and our world.” And there are those who argue over which model is most accurate.

I won’t get into the debate, but I did want to highlight that, at its core, the discipline of marketing is about sparking motivation. We can lay out the most sophisticated search engine and social media plan, but if your marketing lacks an understanding of customer motivations, you’ll fail.

Customers in consumer and B2B markets are overwhelmed, and we as marketers are asking them to change something. Change their minds, change their buying habits. And motivating change is insanely difficult. For the most part, only those customers who catch a meaningful spark of motivation will stop and consider something different, which is what your brand needs in order to grab a new customer (coincidentally, that difficulty in sparking change motivation is why it’s so much easier to grow from within existing customers vs. new ones).

Creating motivation is why the infusion of emotion is so critical in marketing. Consumer goods marketers are a bit more adept at this discipline of creating emotional motivation than their B2B counterparts, but I believe we could all understand this a little better.

Tapping the emotions of an individual – engaging their primary motivations – are key to getting them to pay attention and consider changing. Product features, case studies, testimonials are all important, but they are secondary to the primary role of marketing: to engage fundamental motivations that lead to change.

It’s why Axe tries to inflame the hormones of young men in their ads.

It’s why babies and animals are the stars of so many Super Bowl commercials.

Mythology strategy workshops help you identify the core motivations of target customers and build your marketing system around them.It’s why insurance companies use fear (sometimes softened with humor) to get you to think of what might happen.

It’s why many companies are clarifying their corporate values and aligning with causes they believe matter to their most of their customers, sometimes losing customers along the way.

It’s why tapping into the real anxieties and self-image of women has Dove delivering a viral phenomenon.

What are the primary motivators of human beings and which ones does your brand engage directly? Understanding which emotional trigger to pull is central to aligning your brand and instigating motivation within target customers.

A note on humor: Humor is a tried and true creative tactic for getting people to pay attention. It’s great for building awareness, and in the right context can grow affinity. But I’m not so convinced that humor is the most effective tool for motivating a consumer or B2B customer to change deeply ingrained habits. Most of the time that requires tapping into an emotional trigger that is more sustainable and applicable to the hard work of change.

So what’s your personal motivation as a marketing or business leader? Why are you reading this blog post? Is it an unselfish desire to bring success to your team? Is it an innate desire to be the best you can be? Are you after a promotion?

At Mythology, we really enjoy working with senior executives and marketing teams who are fired up, who have an innate ambition to grow and succeed. After all, without that motivation, why bother with the difficult task of transforming how you do marketing with a more effective marketing system?

Reading The Knowing-Doing Gap was one of the motivations for launching Mythology. Through the application of the Ten Pillars of Meaningful Marketing, we seek to help organizations apply marketing best practices more intelligently and consistently in order to reach their goals. We don’t just want to help you know better marketing; we want to help you do it. Witnessing the excitement of team members who embrace an “A ha!” moment of strategic clarity and then seeing it work in the marketplace…Well, we get excited about that!

If you’re a motivated marketer, let’s talk. I’ll bet we get even more excited discussing the possibilities.


Progressive's 'Rate Suckers' Gets Sticky Messaging Right

It's soooo difficult to nail the right level of unexpectedness and humor and combine it with a clear unique selling proposition, but it's the essence of great advertising. This new ad "Rate Suckers" from Progressive does a great job of getting the message across in a humorous way. 


Mythology supports creative agencies by infusing the right level of rapid research to inform the strategic messaging goals of the advertising. We also provide campaign measurement services to optimize and squeeze return on investment from creative campaigns. Here are examples of how we've done that with several clients. 
If you're a marketer or an agency, contact Mythology to learn how we can help generate more return on investment from your creative efforts. 

The Meaning is the Message

Marshall McLuhan may have claimed that “the medium is the message,” but in today’s highly dispersed, word-of-mouth world of media and marketing, I would argue “the meaning is the message.”

What I mean by that is, customers engage in your brand’s content in many different formats these days. No longer is it primarily a :60 second television or radio spot; research shows that shoppers engage multiple channels of communication, with their preferred platform being Internet and mobile because of their on-demand nature.

So in reality, it’s the many different touch points that must be knit together to communicate your message. And if your message doesn’t have consistent meaning to the recipient, it is quickly tuned out.

Today, more than ever, marketers must ask themselves: “What’s our message? And what is the meaning behind it?”

The answer to that question, in many ways, forms the basis for our consulting firm, Mythology. We believe that marketing is, at its core, “belief management.” That’s why we focus on “building belief in your business” through data-driven storytelling strategies and creative engagement approaches that change behavior in customers.

Here are some examples of “meaningful marketing” messages that we’ve developed with our valued clients through our Assessimize workshopsassessments and strategic planning services.

Aetna Student Health

Aetna wanted to rise up out of the crowded competitive world of commodity insurance plans for college students, so we helped them think about the issues that kept their target customers (senior higher education executives) up at night.

Through some rapid research, it turned out that these senior decision-makers were extremely worried about college dropout rates (only about half of college students graduate in six years). As it turns out, a large part of the reason college kids don’t make it through school are emotional or physical health-related.

Since Aetna’s insurance and wellness services addressed those very issues, it became clear how Aetna should position themselves: Aetna wasn’t really about selling commodity insurance plans anymore. They are now about helping colleges and universities build sustainable students who are more likely to complete their degree and go on to more productive, fruitful lives.

Boy Scouts of America

How do you convince thousands of Boy Scouts (and potential Scouts) and their parents to believe that Scouting is fun, cool and a little edgy again after years of losing brand cache’? And how do you fill the registration at Jamboree 2013 at the brand new, amazing Bechtel Summit Reserve scouting center?

You encourage Scouts to Go Big. Get Wild.

Through close partnership with the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America and their research team and the WELD digital content agency, this positioning was the clear winner among boys 13-18. Go Big. Get Wild. is a central message point for the Scout’s marketing for this $300 million scouting center and 40,000-kid summer experience.  

CSC Cloud

CSC was late to the cloud computing game, so they asked Mythology to help them a) position themselves successfully against competitors such as IBM, HP, Amazon and Google who had a jump on them, and b) launch into the world of conversational social marketing, a new concept for this traditional Fortune 500 government/corporate IT services firm.

Mythology partnered with the CSC Cloud executive team to develop a powerful, differentiated message at launch: CSC is the one organization who can help you choose the “Right Cloud, Right Way.” CSC went on to be ranked in the top “magic quadrant” of cloud services by Gartner and is now an established leader in the category.

Element Federal Credit Union

WV United Federal Credit Union was noted as one of the most innovative federal credit unions in the country after being the very first financial institution of any kind to deliver an iPhone-based deposit application, among other innovations. Yet their brand didn’t match the level of their awesomeness and lacked a connection with younger, tech-savvy consumers.

The foundation of their rebranding to become Element Federal Credit Union included messaging research and strategy that helped financial consumers understand what it’s like to truly have a financial organization be “in this together” with them, and how those consumers felt “in their element” when it comes to innovative, affordable, empowering financial services.

University of Charleston

How does a private liberal arts university justify its higher tuition and attract a healthy flow of new students in an era of online learning and escalating concerns over student loan debt? By establishing their unique and value position as the school where you don’t just train for a job, you embrace a life of opportunity that teaches core liberal learning objectives such as innovation and critical thinking.


What is your breakthrough message that is filled with meaning and consistently influences target audiences, regardless of the medium? We have a workshop that will get the ball rolling. If you’d like to learn more, please contact us