Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why Bubba, the auto mechanic who can’t seem to fix your leaky radiator, feels qualified to tell you how to beat stock market

Forgive me if I’ve gone off on the following subject before. But it’s just too important for serious marketers to ignore. It’s a ride worth taking a couple of times, until you “get” it.

Here’s the headline: The most incompetent people in your life... have no clue whatsoever they are incompetent.

Proof of this astonishing news comes to you from Cornell University, where researchers were left slack-jawed at what they discovered. Not only do incompetent people not realize their propensity to screw things up beyond hope... but they also consistently register absurdly high on the selfc-onfidence scales.

In other words... even as they botch up everything they touch... in their mind, they believe their abilities and talents are actually better than everyone else’s.

This would be amusing if the consequences weren’t so catastrophic. They are not just taken aback when you complain about the quality of their work. They simply do not believe you. You must be braindead not to realize how lucky you are to have them in your life. Regardless of facts, they wil humor your silly insistence on doing “a better job”... and simply continue with their own agenda.

In the research, the yo-yo’s who scored the worst in tests requiring logic, grammar and humor (hmmm -- this may explain those fallow years of Saturday Night Live)... were also the same folks who grossly over-estimated how well they had performed.

This explains why Bubba, the auto mechanic who can’t seem to fix your leaky radiator, feels completely qualified to tell you how to beat the stock market. Stick around long enough, and he’ll explain the mysteries of women to you, too. And then move on to solving the world’s political woes.

Meanwhile, your car has been doomed by his incompetence. (I once got half a block down the road with four guys from the auto repair joint running after me, screaming. After changing my oil, Bubba had neglected to screw in the oil pan plug, and I was lucky the engine didn’t blow. As it was, Bubba was mad at me for spilling oil all over the shop floor. In his mind -- somehow, some way -- he was absolutely not at fault. It simply wasn’t possible, since he was such a competent, highly-skilled and able dude.)

The bad news is... there are more incompetents than competents out there. They outnumber us.

And they inhabit every single strata of society and business. They’re your boss, your brother-inlaw, your partner and the guy in charge of security at the airport.

The good news is... well, heck. There really isn’t any good news to this discovery. Maybe the fact the shrinks have finally taken notice will speed along some sort of cure.

You betcha.

I used to think that civilization chugged along in spite of the human beings running the show. Somehow, perhaps with the help of angels or invisible aliens, the power stays on and trains run almost on time and the Cheerios stay stocked in the stores.

But Dan Kennedy has a better take on this. He insists that the world runs because it was designed to work with incompetent morons at the helm. It makes sense. If nuclear reactors really required Einstein at the controls instead of Homer Simpson, we’d have all been reduced to splotches of bubbling carbon long ago.

So, okay. What’s this got to do with marketing?

Plenty, of course. I see two immediate ways to make good use of this information:

1. Pay attention to the people around you.

If you’ve been scratching your head because a colleague seems to be a total screw-up, yet he’s convinced you with his polished confidence that he is actually your best asset... now you know.

Get rid of him if you can. If you cannot fire or kill him, at least insulate him from the important parts of your life and business. He and his ilk will destroy you and everything you’ve built... without even realizing what they’ve done. Or bothering to acknowledge it.

I remember a guy who owned a sound system my band occasionally borrowed for shows. We let him sit at the controls, because it was his equipment, but we never let him set the levels because he was a complete nincompoop.

Still, every single night, I would watch from the stage in horror as he fixated on some dial or switch, his mind churning like a broken garbage disposal... until he would reach out and – very confidently -- touch something and send everyone shrieking out of the room from the sudden assault of feedback.

And he would always be so astonished that the feedback had occurred, miraculously, at the same time he’d hit the switch. Certainly, it was nothing he’d done.

So get your own sound system, if you have to. Do whatever is necessary. You will pay and pay and pay for the blunders and missteps of the nitwits if you don’t get hip and do what needs to be done to free yourself.

And... when you find people who actually do what they say they’ll do, and follow through on projects with skill and conscience... hang on tight. I’ve had enough different clients over the years to populate a small city. Yet only a meager handful had the ability to follow directions, and the sense to realize when the plan I gave them was the right way to go.

And I’ve held onto those clients for years, even when there was better money to be made with new ones. Because the pain of watching your carefully written campaigns crash and burn because of gross incompetence just sucks the life from you.

Beware the over-confident moron.

2. Just get used to the fact that your customer base is heavily populated with these whack-jobs.

You can’t fire your customers willy-nilly. As long as their checks clear, you wouldn’t want to, anyway. (Though you may occasionally want to hunt them down and read them a riot act.) But knowing about the intellectual density of many people will both soothe your nerves (when you must deal with their absurd complaints and irrational requests)... and help you adjust your marketing accordingly.

Let me explain. Dan Kennedy (at his bitchin’ Copywriting Boot Camp last year) reminded everyone of a very critical copy point we all tend to forget:

“It’s Not Your Fault!”

It’s an excellent term to work into copy when you’re trying to convince the reader to change from destructive behavior (like being broke all the time, or getting bullied at the beach, or stocking up fat cells like a bear prepping for hibernation) to whatever program you have for him.

Of course, we now know that in many cases it really is his fault he’s screwed everything up so badly. Nevertheless, he may be incapable of realizing it. And he will welcome your assurances.

You can, with the right ego-less attitude, bond even with aggressively-incompetent customers. In fact, you must do this... because they may make up the majority of your list.

You can help them... but you will likely never change them.

Final note: If, horrors, you suspect you may be one of these poor guys... well, the shrinks did suggest taking a college-level course in logical reasoning might help. It’s an uphill climb, however. The over-the-top self-confidence of the incompetent is real, not faked. Yes, even though it’s misplaced confidence, it’s there like a brick wall around the person. Realistic self-assessment can’t penetrate.

You actually live in your own little world, where everyone else is in denial about your greatness.

And it was just a coincidence that 100,000 pieces of mail just went out with insufficient postage.

John Carlton, http://www.marketingrebelrant.com/

Breakthrough Advertising

The Irresistible Offer: How to Sell Your Product or Service in 3 Seconds or Less


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