The #1 Reason Why Not ENOUGH People Are Buying Your Stuff (Theory Of Mind)


Hello and welcome to this incredibly special episode of the Marketing Show. I really believe that this is the most important episode of the marketing show to date, so I highly encourage you to watch this one to the end. The ROI on the time that you are going to take to watch this video is really going to be astronomical. So I encourage you to really, really follow along and pay attention.

So what we’re talking about today is the number one marketing skill in the world, period. And the number one marketing skill in the world, period, is…

Something called “Theory of mind.” Theory of mind is your ability to guess what someone else is going to think in a particular situation. So let me give you an example. I’ll actually do a psychological experiment on you on theory of mind.

So to help us illustrate this experiment, to help me illustrate it to you, I brought in a special guest. This is my girlfriend’s penguin. His name is Pemberton. He’s a little nervous today. I had to do his hair to get his hair out of his eyes because we wanted to showcase his best feature which is his eyes. So Pemberton is here to help demonstrate the theory of mind.

So I’m going to do the experiment on you. This is an official psychological experiment. Well, not official, but it’s one that’s been done a lot and it’s the standard experiment for testing theory of mind. So here’s how it works. You’re in the room and you’re watching this happen. You see that Pemberton sees that this Hershey’s Kiss is going in my pocket. Now, Pemberton has a vested interest in knowing where this chocolate is because if you knew Pemberton, you’d know that he really, really likes chocolate.

So Pemberton sees this happen. So let me just ask you, because I’m doing the experiment on you, where Pemberton believes the chocolate is. Well, if you’re like most people, you would tell me that Pemberton believes it’s in my pocket because he saw the chocolate go into my pocket. But let’s spice things up a little bit, okay? Let’s turn Pemberton around and put his head down. He can’t see what we’re doing here and he also can’t hear us, right? And we take this chocolate and I remove it from my pocket and I put it in my hand.

Now, Pemberton turns around and if I were to ask you where Pemberton thought the chocolate is and you have theory of mind abilities, you would tell me that Pemberton still believes it’s in this pocket because he didn’t see me put it in this hand. So that’s what people with theory of mind would do.

Now, if you had autism or if you are a young child, you would not have theory of mind abilities and you would tell me that Pemberton believes it’s in this hand because you would be projecting your own beliefs on Pemberton. If you do not have theory of mind, i.e. if you’re a young child or you have autism, then you project your own beliefs on other things because you’re not able to take another point of view into consideration. So that’s theory of mind.

And I have news for you. When it comes to marketing, most marketers suck with theory of mind about their customer, okay? So let’s talk about why most marketers don’t have theory of mind about their customers and fail. The first reason is that they don’t have a specific point of view to consider.

So let’s say I’m making a restaurant, right? If I know that Pemberton is my target demographic, I’m going to put lots of little fish on the menu because he likes fish. I’m also going to put lots of Hershey’s Kisses on the dessert menu and I’m going to have that restaurant be fairly cold because he’s a penguin and he requires a certain temperature, right? But if I we’re going to make that restaurant for a dog or a cat or, you know, any number of animals, things would be quite different, right? A restaurant for a dog would have different food; it would have a different temperature, altogether.

But what most people do, because they don’t have a specific point of view to consider, they don’t know who their customer is, in the absence of that point of view to consider, they end up creating a restaurant for them. They end up creating a product for them and it completely bombs and it completely fails because their marketing is absolutely self-centered. I don’t mean self-centered in a selfish way, but I mean, their marketing is centered around themselves, not the beliefs of their customer.

The second reason why most people…

…completely lack theory of mind when it comes to their customer is because they make marketing that appeals to multiple point of views. You hear people say a lot that they don’t want to create marketing that’s very specific because they want their marketing, or they want their product to be available to everyone in the world, everyone under the sun. And so they create marketing for multiple point of views and they end up making a product that is supposed to appeal to everyone, but in fact appeals to no one at all whatsoever.

So I really, really, really believe this whole theory of mind is so important and I want to leave you with just two bits of information. The first one, you can’t see these. They’re below here on the board. But the first thing I want to let you know is that I do all my marketing – all my marketing – to one person, right? His name is Jeff Campbell; here’s his profile, right? I look at this and I consider this every single time I create marketing. In the marketing program we have a step-by-step system for doing this right. Almost everyone does this wrong and they end up having theory of mind problems all over again.

The second thing is that when you do marketing for one specific person, a lot of people believe that they are going to lose customers because all of a sudden their marketing isn’t going to appeal to everyone in the world. But, in fact, the opposite happens. When you make marketing for someone in particular, for one person, you end up having an incredibly laser-focused marketing campaign and, you know, list of campaigns and you have a bunch of very focused marketing materials. And even if there are very few people that match the demographic that you’re marketing, you will have more sales than if you do your marketing for everyone.

And just to illustrate that, let me just give you an example from my own neighborhood. There are very few hardcore bikers in Minnesota. I live in Minneapolis. There are very few hardcore bikers here. But there’s a biker bar down the street that is absolutely packed. All the marketing for that bar is to bikers. It’s a grizzly, you know, hardcore biker bar. Yet, that bar is always packed and it’s packed with people who are not necessarily bikers; but it’s packed with people who want to go to a hardcore biker bar.

So the marketing works because it’s focused. And even if your marketing appeals to very few people, you will still have more customers than if you do not have a focused marketing message, because you will attract people who identify with who you’re marketing to or who want to be associated with it.

Anyway, that wraps up the marketing show. In the comments, please thank Pemberton for being so nice and appearing. He’s a little shaky and nervous but I think he did a great job. Anyway, thanks for joining me today and I’ll talk to you soon. Take care.

  • Wow, it’s like a flashback to studying cognitive development and language acquisition as an undergrad!

    I think one reason that many marketers don’t develop this “marketing theory of mind” is that so many learn marketing from the point of view of this involuted marketing-to-marketers niche. It’s easy to get marketing myopia when you only study marketing products that are marketed to other marketers.

    The avatar mission from the Marketing Program has been well worth the cost of entry to my business. Being able to zero in on who we’re making our products for has resulted in better products and happier clients, which means more growth. And just as in your MN biker bar (I wonder if Prince ever shows up on his bike from Purple Rain..), narrowing our focus has actually expanded our client base.

    Very cool application of T.O.M. and yet another kick ass show, Clay.

    • Exactly. If you marketed your fitness business products to marketers you’d be in trouble.

  • This was killer and I wonder how a “cult of personality” comes into play against this. And also let’s not confuse these ideas with “asking people what they want.” If you give people what they say they want, you get a Microsoft Zune. If you give them what they REALLY want, you don’t ask them shit, but you give them the iPhone.

    Big difference.

    • Michael,

      Exactly! It’s like Ford said (and as many have repeated): ““If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

      Great video today, Clay. At the top of your game.

      • Unfortunately, Ford didn’t ask a large sampling of people what they wanted. It’s possible people might have given an outcome-based answer, like “I want to get to my destination faster,” in which case his solution was exactly what they were asking for.

    • A cult of personality appeals to people who want that, and not to people who don’t.

      Often people will in fact tell you exactly what they want, but not directly in response to questions like “what feature do you most want in a smart phone?”

    • The disparity between what people say they want vs. what they buy varies from market to market. And in a lot of cases, knowing what people say they want is useful for offer creation, but not as useful from a product creation point of view. No good marketer should be ignorant of what people say they want, even if they purposefully and strategically decide to ignore this information.

      In a lot of cult of personality situations that I know of, the personality is purposefully crafted (with certain personality aspects exaggerated) to appeal to the avatar or target market.

      Super glad that you liked this episode.

      • It is useful to know what people say they want, yes. I know you get the
        distinction of strategically ignoring customers for their own good, that was
        just me bloviating into this conversation like I had something to say. 🙂

        Thanks for sharing that about cult of personality. It confirms what I was
        thinking, glad to get your take on it.

        • I, for one, think you do have something to say. That headway themes survey you created to solidify your positioning strategy is one of the best surveys I’ve seen. There are only three surveys in my swipe file. And that’s one of them.

          • OK, well now you made me blush. Thanks, though, I had no idea and that makes
            my day. 🙂

    • Thanks a lot, Michael. It’s great to have you here. You always have great thoughts to contribute. Thank you for that.

  • Thank you Pemberton and Clay too.
    Yet another great insight that is soooo obvious that we all miss it. Or was that only me. I agree with what Andy Fosset says too about “marketing to marketers”.
    Looking forward to your next show Clay. Have a great Easter break.

    • Thanks for the kind words. And I agree with what you said about Andy. He’s one smart guy.

  • Okay, this was just great. We have that same penguin, and I’m tempted to name it Pemberton. I’ll keep it around to remind me of Theory of Mind.

  • Thanks Clay and Pemberton! Excellent lesson and one well worth repeating and remembering. (We don’t have many hard core bikers in Des Moines, Iowa either. ;))

  • Serafima

    Excellent! thank you sooo much!!! Love Clay and the Penguine!

  • One hypothesis about why marketing to a specific person works so well is that the rest of us use theory of mind to appreciate the authenticity of the communication between the marketer and that specific person (real or imaginary). Thank you for an engaging video. I suspect that you were talking to a specific person in your mind when you shot the video!

  • Meredith

    Clay – thanks for this. Lots to think about. Especially that you have a printed profile for your target market. A guy with young kids to support. So, let me get this right. Using this TOM, you chose Pimberton to help focus this guy’s attention throughout your talk, and for a quirky closing. That’s brilliant.

    (Pimberton, you did just great!!)

  • tomshark

    Great stuff. Fresh way of looking at persona development. Mind if I share this video?

  • Maybe a slightly complicated way to explain what is essentially the concept of “Positioning”, or seeing your product through the prospect’s eyes, but a very good explanation nevertheless. Especially liked the example of the Biker Bar at the end.

    • Thanks Kenneth. “Positioning,” however, is not a synonym for “seeing your product through the prospect’s eyes.”

  • So… if my thought was that Pemberton isn’t stupid, he’ll probably guess that you moved the chocolate but he won’t know where… does that mean I need to stop thinking about it so much? 😀

  • Rob

    Smart video, particularly applicable to me because information technology is approached, talked about, and seen as something very different from someone who knows about it and needs to use it, and someone who doesn’t know about it and needs to use it. (my target market)

    Through experience and trial and error, I’ve been taught how to interact and interpret a “my e-mail doesn’t work” problem from various positions depending on the target. I’ve always approached it from a support angle, but as I build my business am starting to see how important this is from a marketing angle, and why I’ve always fallen into freelance vs being a business man in the past.

    I can’t market that your IMAP server info is incorrect, I can market, I’ll fix your e-mail. Keep it coming.

  • Hi Pemberton,

    Great performance!

    I found a great tool to look through the eyes of a specific customer that I wanted to share with you. It’s called the Empathy Map, created by XPLANE. It’s described in this post: A template can also be downloaded there.