"Tolerate nothing less than 'Departmental excellence and coolness.'" Tom Peters
Through her writing, speaking, and blogging, Andrea Learned has established herself as one of the world's leading authorities on marketing to women. Her accessibility, knowledge, sense of humor, and understanding of women as consumers make her a unique and popular writer and speaker. She is the coauthor of Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy—And How to Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market and the author of the widely recognized weblog Learned on Women. Andrea's articles have appeared in publications from AdMap and NZRetail to MarketingProfs.com, and her opinions have been sought by a wide variety of print publications, including the Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News & World Report, and Advertising Age. Prior to founding Learned On Women, she co-founded and served as the Creative Director for ReachWomen.
[Bio adapted from her blog, blog.learnedonwomen.com.]
tompeters.com asks ...
Andrea, theoretically, you should already have been a Cool Friend since your book, Don't Think Pink, has been featured here. But I interviewed your writing partner, Lisa Johnson. So we're making amends. You interviewed the authors of nine books for this e-book, 9 Minds on Marketing. What was the genesis of this project?
AL: Its genesis was a conversation with Todd Sattersten, at 800-CEO-READ. I was ready to shift my focus a little bit away from the subject matter of my previous book and what I write about on my blog: marketing to women.
I started with a few questions: What is traditionally thought of as marketing? What are business books? What do people look for in a business book? I had become bored in general with them. Instead of taking the usual route, I wanted to deconstruct marketing, to pull out the pieces of it, such as design or storytelling.
The e-book is being sold at 800-CEO-READ?
AL: Yes, it is.
Is this a successful venture?
AL: I'm not sure of the latest sales figures, but it's been a wonderful project to work on. There's been a great response from the people who have downloaded it.
How did you decide on these nine books?
AL: I looked at recent books as well as some that perhaps didn't get enough attention, or that people had forgotten about, like The Experience Economy.
Speaking of which, I think Joe Pine was actually our first Cool Friend.
AL: You're kidding!
There's no evidence at our site. I definitely remember featuring his and Jim Gilmore's book, but it was before we started interviewing authors. Tompeters.com was in its infancy, and Tom was quoting a lot from The Experience Economy at that time.
AL: I was fortunate enough to speak with both Joe and Jim. The conversation could have gone on for hours. We kept going off on this tangent or that tangent. They're both very smart.
What I loved about their book was that it talked about marketing in a whole different way. They said, "It used to be that we were marketing to the masses. It was a mass market, so it was 'marketing,' and now it really should be considered 'customering' because we're marketing to one customer, an individual." I loved that approach. I also loved their goal of making marketing superfluous, being replaced by experiences.
This was one of those deconstructions I mentioned; one way to look at marketing from a completely different angle. I enjoyed so much their exploration of the subject, their history, and all the things that they've studied and worked on. It was a joy to interview them.
Have they written a book since then?
AL: I'm not sure if they have, but I know they're working on another one about authenticity in business. [Ed. Note: They have an e-book titled The Experience IS the Marketing.]
The Experience Economy was a seminal book, wasn't it?
AL: It was. I knew I wanted to use it for 9 Minds. The examination of the elements of experience led me to storytelling.
Right, "Story is Business, Just Add Life."
AL: That's the essay title; the book is called The Story Factor by Annette Simmons. All the essays in 9 Minds are titled differently from the books. I hadn't heard of the book. It was one that Todd mentioned to me, and as soon as I started reading it, I thought, "Oh my gosh. This is how I live my life, and this is the way thoughts are going through my head." Being a fairly recent author myself, I've been doing more and more public speaking. I've seen the power of using these stories and getting people to think differently. I enjoyed Annette Simmons' book so much. The interview with her was tremendous.
Why did you choose to make hers the first essay?
AL: It was the first interview that I did, and it made me start to think differently. I was able to apply that new way of thinking to all the books that I then read. It was very inspiring.
I had a similar experience reading your essay about it. She has a tactic while speaking where she asks everyone in the audience to share a pet story with each other. Is that right?
All of my pet stories are tragedies, unfortunately. I had a turtle that melted in the sun.
AL: Oh, my gosh.
I'm curious to read her book because it sounds like she's dug deeper into the topic than other people may have with storytelling.
AL: She comes from a behavioral training background. She makes the whole idea of presenting information and persuading people through story extremely accessible. She points out the universality of telling stories about your dog or your kid. Within the first ten pages of reading her book, I knew I could do it. There's something really powerful about that.
You've applied that in your own speaking already?
AL: Yes. I thought I included storytelling naturally, but now I've learned how to be more strategic about where I place the stories. It's been very helpful.
So everyone ought to read that.
Should everyone read all of these books?
AL: There were things that really spoke to me in each of these books. I think that everybody probably could read them all, so I'm not going to say, "Of those nine, you should get these four." What I loved about this project was that it forced me out of my comfort zone. A few of these books, had I walked by them in a bookstore, they wouldn't have appealed to me. But sure enough, I found great things in each book.
I hope readers see that and do the same. Get out of your comfort zone and make the effort to read some stuff that might not have an immediate appeal to you, and you'll be blown away because there are a lot of great thought-leading writers out there.
This e-book is unusual. You chose nine books, interviewed the authors and picked a couple of salient points from each to share with us, your audience. But part of our experience while reading this is that it's a book review. Normally one wouldn't pay for a book review as so many are widely available. I'm intrigued. I think Todd is always up to interesting stuff at 800-CEO-READ. This e-book lives in an interesting little place. It seems to be without category. Would you do this again in this way, or would you replicate it somehow at your website?
AL: I think the form would work on my blog. I would do it again, because I enjoyed it and it was very mind expanding for me.
Perhaps you'd take little bits out of a number of books and create the top 50 marketing tips. We're living in a top-ten world. I think we can all agree that most business books are probably too long.
AL: We can agree on that. [Laughter] The publishing process is so long that by the time the book comes out, it's two and a half years after the writer had a very exciting and interesting idea. By then, the writer's on to the next thing. It's very frustrating that that process can't be faster. You really do expand your thinking to X number of pages because that's what the publisher wants. That's what they think a book is.
Although now we're seeing a lot of these 100-page books, so there is some movement towards shorter and to the point. And we do have blogs. That's a more convenient format for exploring ideas, as with your blog, which explores ideas about marketing to women.
AL: Yes. The marketing-to-women topic is my foundation. What was fun about 9 Minds on Marketing was that I could look at the bigger picture. I think most of the marketing-to-women material could be funneled down to simply good marketing; using story, design, and experience.
I can't remember in which book I read this, yours or a competitor's—the idea that women just want more and better information.
AL: Yes. The idea is that if you serve the higher standards of women, you'll serve both men and women. Men, in general, are more linear in their thinking and in their buying path. Women do more winding or curving along this path.
Turning back to blogging, are all the authors you interviewed for 9 Minds blogging?
AL: Surprisingly, not all of them are. Katya Andresen, author of Robin Hood Marketing, recently started a blog. Greg Stielstra, author of PyroMarketing, has a great blog. Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore don't. I don't think that Robyn Waters does.
What did you glean from Robyn's book?
She's a yoga practitioner and she talks about centering yourself in a Zen-like manner. If you calm yourself down, you're going to be able to connect dots more clearly. She talked about spotting not the trend, but how it's changing or the counter-trend. It's not about being a cool hunter, but being able to watch what's happening around the trend.
Is that where she pointed out that in the midst of all of this video game madness, Starbucks started selling Cranium as a retro response?
AL: Right. Take the title of her new book, The Hummer and the Mini. Here's this huge Hummer. Suddenly, people want these teeny-tiny, minuscule cars.
I was speaking with someone today about how we deal with everything speeding up and getting accustomed to massive amounts of stimuli. Some people deal by going into the fetal position, I guess. As the push forward accelerates, there's a push back. Or maybe it's just a vacuum that's created. As everything's moving so quickly forward, there's a little space behind it for the old comfort food kinds of things.
AL: Mm-hmm. Robyn and I had a fantastic conversation. We talked about how you have to see what's around you and what's going on, but you can choose how much of it you let in and where your sources are. I asked her about her key sources for spotting trends, as she obviously can't be everywhere.
She said, "I read both the New York Times and USA Today, but I don't read them everyday. Maybe I'm at the airport one day and I pick up the New York Times. The next day I'll pick up USA Today." It's a choice. You know you're going to blow your mind away if you try and keep track of all the blogs and all the newspapers. I know for myself that I have to have boundaries. The ideas that I generate are not going to come out if I overwhelm my brain.
I dropped in at a Web 2.0 design conference in Boston in November, and one of the speakers was talking about how he gathered information. It was a similar message; he reads the Economist or the Financial Times. He was advising us to try to get as much of a worldview as possible. You don't have to read everything everyday; the variety is what matters. Maybe you need to pick up Soldier of Fortune on occasion, to really jar your brain.
AL: Right, or take in an experience like my recent trip to Dubai. I encountered a whole new culture; read their magazines, saw what's important to them.
Why did you go to Dubai?
AL: The Gulf Marketing Review, a local marketing magazine there, asked me to speak at a conference. Being in Dubai is almost like being in D.C. or New York. It's a thriving business capital for the whole area.
The conference was about marketing to women. People said to me, "Marketing to women in the Middle East?" Yes, they are interested in it. There were an equal number of men and women in the audience, maybe a few more men. Here in the States, if there's a marketing-to-women event, you usually end up preaching to the choir. Men don't realize that it's worth it to attend. Maybe they think it's a girly thing? But in Dubai, it's crucial. They've reached a point where they realize they must do it. Some of the Saudi Arabian men asked me great questions.
Two women from Saudi Arabia, one with a head scarf, the other Western-dressed, approached me. One worked for a bank, and the other, for a chain hair salon. They asked, "How can we do this research? Here, you can't walk up to women and ask questions. They're in private areas, and you just can't connect with a large number of women as easily as you can in the West."
Often, one female from each extended family may push past traditions and get a Western education, then return to the Middle East. The one tip that I had for them was to focus on those women. They are the ones who will go into the more private environments where women are gathering and say, "Hey, there's this cool thing happening at this bank or salon." It's a matter of finding the influencer. These educated women know how to operate within the traditions. They can bridge the old and new. They're very wise and they're savvier consumers.
That reminds me of my interview with John Wood, the Room to Read founder. They help to educate young women, despite how much more energy and thoughtfulness it takes within a culture to get them educated. The point being that once a woman gets educated, the family gets educated. You educate a guy and you only educate the guy. But a woman then ends up educating or influencing the whole family. It sounds like what you're saying, that an educated woman will pass information along.
AL: She's like a bridge between two worlds.
It had a big impact on you?
AL: Yes. Someone here in Vermont recommended that I read Nine Parts of Desire before I went. It's the journalist Geraldine Brooks' perspective on her experiences in the Middle East in the late '90s, and it helped me prepare for the trip.
I think we make a lot of assumptions about what's happening there. We think, "Oh my gosh, these women are being forced to wear these burqas and they're forced to stay in these rooms or houses, and they can't leave or do things independently." But it's their religious traditions; it's what they're used to, and they like how that separates them from the West. These women are not saying, "Woe is me. I have to wear this burqa."
We impose our—
AL: Our Western freedoms on them. So, yes, it was a great learning experience. The cultural outreach made me think, "Wow. I don't know anything about the rest of the world."
Another thing that I noticed was that all these young women I met outside of the business conference spoke four languages, had lived in three different countries, and their passports were full of stamps. I thought, "Holy Cow!" The percentage of people in the U.S. with passports is really low. Our country is huge, so we don't explore, learn, or figure out how to adapt to other cultures.
I summarized the trip on my blog. I wanted to make the point that it's fantastic to get out of your own realm. The people in the Middle East know so much more about what's going on in the U.S. than we know about what's going on there, thanks to media or their travels. We live in this little insulated world.
So, where to next?
AL: I don't have anything international planned.
In each of the early essays you mention a brief personal detail. You say you're a very practical, mid-Western-raised girl. You're a tall, wildly gesticulating woman. You're a Subaru driver. You're a horseback rider and snowboarder. You obsess over college football. You like your handy man and your hair salon. What else do we need to know about you?
AL: There's not much. That's the way I write. I think I have become comfortable with sharing these details of my life because people identify. I end up having great relationships with people I've never met and probably never will meet, because I share these little bits and pieces of my life. It was scary at first, but this is the way I am. I'm very free with what I say and write. I'm frank and honest. It may get me into trouble at some point, but it's what comes naturally to me.
That touches on what Annette Simmons was saying in her book, right? That's your story and I'm much more connected to you by knowing those things. It makes me more curious about you. How long have you been a snowboarder?
AL: Exactly. When I first started writing I thought I had to keep many things private. Then I realized, "For crying out loud! People are either going to like me or not. They're either going to identify with the snowboarding or not."
I've found it's a wonderful way to connect with people. I highly recommend it. The word "authenticity" is so overused, but be yourself and people will respond.
I've been snowboarding since 2000. I really got into it in 2003. I took a clinic at Keystone, Colorado. Make a point of doing a clinic when you're learning to snowboard. You do it for two straight days, you fall down, and you hate it. But by the end of those two days, you pretty much have it down. It's a much easier sport to learn than skiing. I grew up skiing on those little pokey hills in Michigan, and we would occasionally go to Canada.
All my friends living in the Pacific Northwest went from alpine skiing to snowboarding; when they got bored with snowboarding, they started telemarking. I'm way behind. Snowboarding suits that sense of adventure, the need for being outside that I have.
I'm a skier, and I did snowboarding one day a few years ago. It was a living hell, and I think I ended up cracking a rib. At the end of the day, I started getting into it. If I had just had another day there, I probably would have mastered it. I keep thinking about it. I like the idea of it.
AL: You should do it two days in a row and you'll be amazed. You know how there's one in every family that kind of goes off on a tangent, not the usual path?
AL: That's me. It's another thing that comes up while I'm speaking. I share with audiences my bizarre career path, full of weird stories like how I got kicked out of prep school.
AL: I used that story in the essay that got me into the University of Michigan. I've been writing for a long time. When I write, a lot of stories come up about my dad. Part of what I would like to do is to write more about stuff that isn't directly related to marketing to women; I'd like to branch out. I'm interested in so many different things, and that was one of the reasons this project was great. I'm very interested in these lessons I've learned, stories of my childhood, or even the three-year-old twins next door that I watch out my side window every day.
I think the blog format is perfect for that.
AL: Yes, but I would like to figure out how to get paid for it. [Laughter] I could blog 'til the cows come home. I love it. I love the format. It works for me.
You could either post the stories to your blog, or collect them as if you were blogging, then see what happens. I think Annette Simmons—
AL: She would love that. I have started a handwritten journal with some of those stories. I think I connect typing with my work.
Yes, whenever I do a writing exercise, I hand write. I think there's more of a connection between your hand and your unconscious.
AL: I do too. It's definitely better at starting the flow. So I visualize my career heading a little bit out of the business realm in the long run.
We look forward to seeing where it goes. Thank you for your time, Andrea.
AL: It was fun to talk with you. Thanks.