If you had to name the people who have had the most influence on you in the world of marketing and business, who would be on your list? Jason and Jeff share the people on theirs.
About the Episode
In this episode, Jason and Jeff take turns sharing the people who have been the most influential to them in the world of marketing and business.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Marketing Myopia – Theodore Levitt
Marketing Imagination – Theodore Levitt
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind – Al Ries & Jack Trout
Marketing Warfare – Al Ries & Jack Trout
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – Al Ries & Jack Trout
Why We Buy – Paco Underhill
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini, Ph.D.
Jason Mlicki: So Jeff, today we are going to talk about all the people and all the ideas that have influenced you and influenced me through our careers, the things that have shaped our world views. We originally sort of framed this as our marketing heroes, but I think we’ve also kind of agreed that it’s probably broader than just marketing and my confession going into this is that I hated this topic, preparing for this podcast in every way. It was horrible. It was excruciating. It was like pulling my own fingernails out, but I got there. I finally got to a list of people and ideas and whatever. Why are we doing this? Why are we talking about this? Because I have no desire to talk about this and you just forced it down my throat, so why are we doing it?
Jeff McKay: Oh you just made me spit out my coffee. We should do a survey of our listeners and find out how many of our podcasts open with you saying, “I don’t want to talk about this subject,” to that subject being the best and most popular podcast. This is the divergent in Rattle and Pedal, right? What I want to talk about you don’t want to talk about and what you want to talk about I don’t want to talk about.
Jason Mlicki: So why do we talk to each other? All right so…
Jeff McKay: Maybe we need a podcast on that, the psychology of Rattle and Pedal. So here’s why I love this idea of this is most of our listeners know and my readers of my blog know I am a big book reader. I probably spend too much time in books, but I thought this would be really valuable for our listeners for several reasons. The first one, and I say this a lot. You don’t because you manage it in an agency, but marketing is so much fad, jump on the bandwagon type of thinking and we’ve covered a lot of those fads in Marketing Ruins Everything and several other podcasts, but you and I have been at this long enough that we really have seen these fads come and go and I think a lot of our listeners are up and comers, Young Turks.
A lot of our listeners are practice leaders or managing partners that may not have a formal marketing education and sometimes it’s hard what’s real and what’s not, and I think this is an opportunity for people to understand the concepts or precepts of timeless marketing knowledge. I think that’s number one. Maybe that’s arrogant, but I’m going to stand by that one.
Two, I think introducing our listeners to people that maybe were writing before some of them were even born or that they haven’t been exposed to because those thinkers may not be in the social media mainstream.
Then third, and this one is really important, as a business leader, as a marketer, you have to have some kind of framework or model or lens through which you look and dissect and discern what’s going on in the market and how you’re going to attack it. We’ve talked about our models for some time and without a model, you just have anarchy. You’re just running around chasing things. You’re more of an order taker instead of an order maker as we’ve talked about.
But these people that we’re going to talk about, and I have no idea who’s on your list, but they’re people that have influenced the models that we’ve used to do marketing, and I think our listeners could maybe be introduced to some new ones and fold them in to their own thinking. I think it’s going to be lots of fun and I’m probably going to have the most fun beating up the people that you follow compared to me.
Jason Mlicki: Well the funny thing is is for me, it was an exercise more in moments in time, moments in my life than it was people I follow. It’s rare that I’ve… there’s very few people I’ve followed for extended periods of time. There’s moments in time where I explore learning really deeply in one area and those people influence my thinking and then I move on and I may circle back around to them, so in terms of building this list, one of the things that was interesting to me was I was reflecting on 20 plus years in the marketing business and just all the things I’ve been exposed to and what do I actually remember because I read a lot as well and I consume a lot of podcasts, I consume a lot of media, and what do I actually retain and who’s actually had any impact?
It was also interesting exploring which ones where I can remember the loose ideas that they have, but that I think about whether or not we apply that thinking on a regular basis the answer sometimes is no, and to maybe go, “Well, actually I want to go back to that, because that guy was really interesting and I never went far enough with what he was having to say.” And my list will be better than yours, just because it always is, but anyway, we’ll… I’ll let you start, I think.
The way I see it, there’s a couple ways you can look at this. We can look at this through the lens of who’s had the most influence and work your way down, we could talk about again moments in time, people who had influence on you at different points, but I’ll let you decide how you want to approach it. Maybe we do an exchange, you share one person, we’ll talk about it, then I’ll share one.
Jeff McKay: I’ll share one, then you share one.
Jason Mlicki: Okay.
Jeff McKay: All right. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you have a name like this on your list as well. We’ll start out with some agreement. Without a doubt, the most influential person on my world view of business and marketing in particular is my dad. Bar none. My dad started sharing the world of business with me from the moment I could understand language, because we were in a family business. My family owned a chain of auto parts stores and everywhere we went, he was always commenting on other businesses. He was dissecting the marketing of other businesses, whether that’s driving the car and seeing billboards or sitting in a sports stadium and seeing the advertising in there or listening to the radio, going out to dinner. He was just constantly dissecting everything around him and engaging me and my brother and sister in these conversations.
It just became kind of the water we swam in and it was my dad that said get into marketing, and that’s the best business degree you could get, it’s broad based, it’s most applicable and I just trusted him and that’s how I got started in this. But without a doubt, my dad is number one.
Jason Mlicki: That’s interesting. As a father, one of the things… I do the same things your dad does with my kids. We have these conversations all the time. In fact, I’ve been, as you know, I’ve been really studying pricing heavily for the last probably year and a half and we have these conversations, my kids and I, all the time around price is the derivative of value and cost is a derivative of cost to produce and that’s there’s really ultimately no relationship between the two other than profit. So I have these dialogs with my 7- and 9-year-olds and they understand pricing theory probably better than a lot of business people at this point in time. My dad and I would have those types of conversations, although they were of course very different conversations.
Jeff McKay: I suspect the way you’re talking to your kids and as our listeners listen to your pricing theory, they’re going, “How can a 7- and 9-year-old understand that?” I am going to assume that your kids are picking up, like I did from my dad, beyond the kind of literal conversations but that world view and value system that he had as I grew up in the business focused on integrity, stewardship, client service, those things are so ingrained in me from just being around him and the way he operated business, I don’t think I could ever separate those. I suspect your kids when they come over to Rattleback are seeing how you do things and how you talk to your people and they’re just absorbing that like a sponge.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, it’s interesting. I go speak to my kids’ classes every year. One of the teachers has had me come in routinely and she always likes me to talk about some of the things that I don’t really do that much, but advertising and logos and tag lines and some things.
One of the things that I do is I actually view my role in going in there as helping the kids understand the manipulative practices that agencies and advertisers try to layer upon them. We spend a lot of time talking about that very fine line between wants and needs and how advertisers try to take things that are fundamental needs and turn them into very expensive wants unnecessarily. It’s a really interesting dynamic to watch them kind of unravel that in first grade. Yeah, he’s right. I don’t need Evian distilled French water. The water coming out of the tap is pretty darn good and it’s almost free. We have those types of conversations in the classroom and it’s pretty cool to see them kind of process that. I always kind of feel like part of my job is to debunk the garbage that’s all around them that they’re so overly exposed to and… So anyway, let’s move on.
So let’s talk about someone else who’s maybe influenced your world view that’s maybe more visible to people, because obviously I don’t know that anybody knows your dad personally.
Jeff McKay: No they don’t.
Jason Mlicki: Or my dad for that matter.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Is your dad one on your list? Did I get it right?
Jason Mlicki: He’s actually not on my list but not because he didn’t have the same type of influence but just because he’s not a visible person that others can really learn from, right. I mean I learned from him very directly one on one. I mean this is a second generation business, so a lot of the way we approach our work was ingrained by him and the culture of this firm 40 some years ago, but I didn’t really put him on the list only because it was like well he’s not someone that you can go learn from right now, because he’s off doing other things. But absolutely.
In fact, I would say my dad… I mentioned pricing theory. My dad was the greatest value pricer that ever lived before value pricing was even a thing. He knew how to value price in the ’70s and he did it all the time. Didn’t understand the theory behind it, didn’t understand any frameworks behind it, didn’t even care about any of that stuff, he just knew how to price a client very well. In hindsight, I don’t think I ever really fully was able to internalize how good he was at that and how effective he was at that well beyond most people you would ever interact with in that realm.
Jeff McKay: So you’ve just given us an anecdote that proves my point about the ability to see timeless knowledge versus fads or hype that marketing normally is and that’s one right there, value based pricing that you said your dad was doing back in the ’70s.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: Are you ready to move to the next one?
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: I offer this one because of what you just said about your talk to the kids in the school. One of my favorite writers and thinkers is a Harvard business professor who is no longer teaching, but he had this expression that consumerism is the shame of marketing, which is so perfectly illustrated by your Evian example. His name is Theodore Levitt. He has shaped my marketing thought probably like no other. He wrote a very famous piece called Marketing Myopia about how marketers and business strategy needs to be focused more broadly instead of just their tiny little market, but he has written so many HBR articles and there’s a compendium that was a must-read for everyone on my marketing team.
If you’re on my marketing team, you’re reading this book and it’s called the Marketing Imagination and it covers every topic you can imagine that is timeless in marketing, how to differentiate anything. Getting to your Evian example, how to sell intangible products versus tangible products. I stand on the shoulders of that giant. But Theodore Levitt, Marketing Imagination, phenomenal thinker and timeless knowledge.
Jason Mlicki: I have not read that book. You gave me something new to read, which is great, and I’m excited about it actually. That sounds like it’s a great read.
Jason Mlicki: This is funny because one of the people that I really do think influences… people and companies that influences my world view is someone that I don’t know that there’s necessarily anything he ever wrote, but it’s mostly about learning the history of how he approached the world and it’s Walt Disney, and one of the things that, and I’ve written about this, is this moment in time when he does something that I look back and think is maybe one of the most brilliant marketing decisions I’ve ever seen anybody make, and that is that in the ’50s when he wants to open Disneyland he’s pretty much cash-strapped. He doesn’t really have that much money.
He had just embarked on… he had to raise money from the banks to basically produce Fantasia and some of those larger production full-length feature films that nobody said would ever sell, and he had done really well on those things but he didn’t have the money and the banks wanted no part of doing a theme park. Theme parks were seen as sort of low-end entertainment and not something that anybody thought he should take his brand into. Almost kind of the same way 30 years later everyone told Steve Jobs he shouldn’t go into retail, same kind of thing.
So he goes to ABC, he goes to the networks, to get the money. Basically ABC ends up under bank rolling the building of Disneyland, so he can build this theme park that he has a vision of, and in exchange for the money, he produces television content for them so he makes TV shows, and oddly enough as you would guess, the TV shows ultimately become the experiences at the theme park. So kids get excited and watch Davy Crockett on Saturday morning and then of course there’s a whole Frontierland that shows up in L.A.
If you look at the history of Disney, they have played that blueprint ever since where they create demand for an experience by telling a story and developing characters and getting people excited about the story and the characters, and then the demand emerges for an experience to exist which happens to exist at a Disney theme park. To this day, I think you take the top 10 theme parks by attendance, they have eight of them. They’re the most successful theme park marketer.
The analogy I like to use in terms of using it is I like to tell people is he was a master at marketing one thing to sell something else. He’s marketing these characters and these stories, but he’s making most of his, a lot of his money, selling the experience that comes from that. I always say if you really want to understand demand generation, you want to understand how to really create demand that far exceeds the capacity of what you have, I can’t think of a better company in the world at that than Disney World and Disney in general. They’re unbelievable.
I’ve studied them a lot and read a lot about them, but I can’t think of… there’s probably a memoir he’s written, I’ve never read it but I tend to pick it up more off of PBS has done programs about him and his work and other folks have done biographies of him and his work and it’s just really fascinating.
Jeff McKay: He is fascinating. That is… He’s definitely a giant.
Jason Mlicki: He is and if you think about just the vision that he brought to what it is he was doing and you talked about client experience earlier, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the world better to understand customer experience from than Disney. It’s unbelievable how the type of experience that they can deliver at scale. That’s the thing that’s amazing. They push 20 million people through some of those parks.
Jeff McKay: Yeah.
Jason Mlicki: You can have an unbelievable experience despite that. It’s amazing.
Jeff McKay: Yeah, it’s so true and there’s so many attributes that you can learn from a person like that, the experience is one, but man, if you want to study an innovative company and one with an impeccable culture, you’d be hard pressed to find one better I think.
Jason Mlicki: You think about Disney the man, I mean the creative vision. There was multiple times when he completely reinvented his company and he took really unbelievable risks. I mean his brother was entirely against him producing full-length feature films. Thought that was a terrible idea. His brother was also entirely against him building a theme park, right. In both times he bet the farm on those decisions and it’s really interesting to study the history of how that all plays out. Give me another one. I’m getting into this now. I don’t hate this so much. Maybe it’s because I’m talking more now.
Jeff McKay: I think that’s a good one. I’m familiar with Disney but I haven’t gone deep on that, but you know what? I think I might because this next person that really influenced me taught me that you should pick a subject and go deep on it for three years, essentially pick a book on that topic, read it, go through the bibliography, read those books. After you finish reading those books, go through their bibliographies, and just keep reading and consuming as much as you can on a given topic for some time. You do that to some degree, probably not on a three year cycle, but the person who said that is probably outside of my dad, the number one influencer of my business thinking, and I don’t know, maybe in terms of formal thinking probably surpasses my dad and that is Peter Drucker. No other thinker in business is as insightful and deep and timeless as Peter Drucker.
The whole concept of the purpose of a business, culture, innovation, identifying, meeting, satisfying the needs of a customer is just timeless. Any book you pick up of his from his original to his last one before he died is just chock-full of knowledge, and if you’ve never read a Peter Drucker book, that’s the first book you need to read.
Jason Mlicki: Those are strong words.
Jeff McKay: Oh my gosh. I can’t say it enough. Even Jim Collins, who we know as kind of the contemporary, would tell you he doesn’t even come close to Drucker. Drucker was his idol as well.
Jason Mlicki: While you mentioned Jim Collins, one of the things I’ve always loved about Collins’ work was just the rigor and the research, just the data that he was always pulling from which there’s so many business books as you kind of said separating fads from real lasting knowledge, so many business books don’t have that underlying data set that they’re pulling from and to me that’s one of the ways I separate fad. I’m like what is this duct tape marketing or whatever, someone just throwing out a whole bunch of ideas and reframing them with different ways of looking at it, okay, but when they’re drawing from a body of research, they’re drawing from a body of knowledge, it’s just so much more powerful.
Jeff McKay: You know what today’s generation gets? Instead of Drucker, they get Gary V. Right? I mean, seriously.
Jason Mlicki: You can’t pick on Gary V.
Jeff McKay: Turn off Gary V and go read some Peter Drucker.
Jason Mlicki: I’m not going to pick on Gary V and the podcast universe.
Jeff McKay: I’m not picking on him, I’m saying you have limited time and you have to make choices. Spend your time on Peter Drucker, not Gary V.
Jason Mlicki: Well, we’re deep into this already and my hunch is we haven’t even scratched the surface of your list or my list. We probably have time for maybe one more, or two more, maybe at best. So you got one that’s burning inside your gut you want to share?
Jeff McKay: Oh my gosh. All these are burning inside my gut.
Jason Mlicki: Any of them that have the last name Mlicki? Because I’m sure they do.
Jeff McKay: Let me see. No. My next one is a dynamic duo and I started reading these two in college and I’ve actually consumed every book they’ve ever written and in terms of pure marketing and particularly branding, I don’t think anyone else has shaped my thinking as much as these two, and that’s Al Ries and Jack Trout. It all started with their book Positioning, which is still the number one resource on positioning, although for our contemporaries, it might be a little difficult to get through because the examples probably aren’t as relevant today as before.
But the theories still are and they’ve repurposed those and as a matter of fact, Al Ries has repurposed some of that content with his daughter, Laura. I don’t think it’s as hard hitting, but Positioning, Guerrilla Marketing, the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Branding, they are just phenomenal books, and if you want to understand how to position a firm, you can do no better than those two. I think most of the people that talk positioning nowadays are stealing many of their ideas, or I should say repurposing many of their ideas.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah. I can’t argue with that. That’s been a long, long time since I read their stuff. I’ll say that.
Jeff McKay: But I bet you… Jason, I’ve heard you talk. You’re still using those concepts. Again, they are timeless concepts.
Jason Mlicki: The interesting thing as we prepared this list and one of the things that I had as an epiphany and this might be a way to kind of lead us towards a close, and maybe we’ll have to do another one of these at some point, but the people that to me as I was reflecting on preparing this list, the people that influenced me most in the early stages of my career were sort of what I would call big broad thinkers, people that were describing at a high level what’s going on and what this means, and so like you said, it’s people like you just described, Al Ries and Jack Trout. I think it’s back to Why We Buy by Paco Underhill, and Cialdini, Power of Influence.
That was really, really valuable work to me and as I’ve gotten I guess further in my career and I look at the people that influence me now, more frequently they’re not big, broad thinkers, they’re more very deep, very narrow into very specific facets of marketing or just business in general and I do think that a lot of times that those specialists, those folks that pick off a very narrow sector of something and really study it in depth, whether it’s pricing or whether it’s negotiating or navigating a complex sale or whatever those things are, they draw from those bigger, broader foundational works and they sort of apply them to the audience that is consuming them.
A lot of times I think if you’re thinking about thought leadership and you’re thinking about how you take your firm from being not known to known using thought leadership, to me, one of the greatest values that you can provide is taking some of these big broad ideas like the stuff inside of Positioning books and One to One Marketing and some of those early concepts around that and making it really relevant and really accessible to whoever your audience is that you’re trying to connect with from a positioning perspective. I do think to your point you see a lot of that, you see a lot of people that are taking someone else’s concepts, bending them, twisting them, reframing them for a specific audience and creating a ton of value for that audience.
I hate to say it, but we really got to wrap.
Jeff McKay: Well we’ve only been talking for five minutes.
Jason Mlicki: I hear you. Before we go, how far through your list did you actually get?
Jeff McKay: One tenth.
Jason Mlicki: Same thing for me. I only got through one. I think only one person really and there’s probably ten after that, so I don’t know, maybe we’ll come back and do this again. We’ll do this again sometime. But until then, I’ll talk to you next week.
Jeff McKay: Okay buddy. See you.