Marketers: Become Happy Losers


Please join the debate and comment here on my latest MediaPost OnlineSpin column, where I recommend marketing organizations to adopt a culture of Happy Losers (inspired by G. Clotaire Rapaille):

Marketer’s Confession: I’m A Happy Loser
by Max Kalehoff

Marketing and media models are broken. Well, at least they’re not working the way they used to. We’re leaving the broadcast age and entering the age of niches and conversations. McKinsey’s recent prediction lingers in my mind: that by 2010, traditional TV advertising will be one-third as effective as it was in 1990. And there’s a good possibility that prediction may someday reflect overall advertising effectiveness.

The sky is not falling, but a pretty serious earthquake is looming. For those of us not in denial, nor sleeping under a rock, this is not news. But this does mean that a lot of old fogies in lethargic organizations face a tough road ahead. They’ll have to figure out how to sustain and milk legacy models while preparing and investing for the new landscape quickly emerging under their feet. The advertising industry is in a quagmire, to be sure. This is true for client-side marketers as well as their agencies, and especially those submersed in the old bathwater of predictable conservatism.

What should these organizations do? As much as new marketing strategies are critical, it is perhaps the organizational psyche that most needs change, particularly among the largest organizations, and especially at the top of the management pyramid. There is no magic cure, but I think there’s a lot marketing organizations can learn from the mindset of the salesperson. Yes, those street-smart hustlers usually accountable for bringing in the revenues. Marketing organizations should not only study salespeople, but consider reshaping company cultures to reflect the sales psyche.

Consider the insight of psychologist, anthropologist, and marketing guru G. Clotaire Rapaille, famous for introducing cultural archetypes to marketing. In a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review, he eloquently explained the universal archetype of the salesperson: “Salespeople are Happy Losers. Whether they know it or not, they are like addicted gamblers; they are after the thrill. On some level, addicted gamblers know that they are going to lose most of the time, but they are excited by the outside chance of winning. Salespeople share that temperament. They are pros at losing. They are rejected at least 90% of the time, I’d say. Why would anyone choose that job? For the chase. I assure you, salespeople are never going to be an endangered species. There will always be people who enjoy and want this job, just as there will always be addicted gamblers.”

From a marketing standpoint, winning increasingly requires experimentation, risk-taking, and frequent failure. Rigid organizations that don’t build higher levels of unpredictability and periodic loss into their models will lose in the long run. They simply will fail to adapt and build new competencies necessary to stay competitive.

Underscoring Rapaille’s description of the salesperson, the marketing organizations poised to survive and leverage chaos are precisely those that remain happy when they lose. I’m not implying reckless experimentation with seven-, eight- or nine-figure marketing budgets, but I am suggesting a massive cultural change that rewards breaking the norm, not succeeding the first time, every time. Through the years, those risks and losses will pay off.

But how can marketing organizations possibly adopt the Happy Loser mindset? Again, I turn to Rapaille, in his recommendation to Harvard Business Review on how to motivate sales reps to succeed: “Show them that you understand how hard it is to lose. You want them to be happy–otherwise, they’d be Unhappy Losers, and that’s the last thing you need. Obviously, money is not an unimportant factor in managing a sales force. In the right industry, salespeople can make a million dollars in a single year. But my research shows that money is not what really drives them to get back in there and keep trying. It’s the value they place on the struggle.”

Of course, celebrating struggle is not a substitute for achieving results. But if you can celebrate struggle, along with the quest to experiment and find new solutions, then the marketing and advertising industry is one heck of a fun place to be. And it’s only going to get better and better… and better.

In fact, Rapaille has helped me figure myself out: I’m basking not only in the current battles, but in the growing struggle I’ll likely face over the rest of my career. The thought excites me. It motivates me. It’s causing my blood pressure to rise, my creative juices to stir. Despite inevitable failures along the way, the possible rewards of navigating this impending disruption make me salivate.

I concede: I’m a Happy Loser. Are you?

What do you think? Again, join the debate on the MediaPost blog here.


Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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