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Marketing Inspiration: 12 Brilliant TEDTalks You Can’t Miss

In November 2016, Google announced its first dedicated initiative focused on mobile-first indexing, revealing a major shift in SEO as we see it. Marketing is an area where shifts like that occur often, and staying updated and prepared becomes essential.

The catch is that sometimes we have the updates, but can’t act on them right or fast enough to see any real business impact.

In my experience, I have noticed that the success we see people enjoy is superficial. There usually is a black box associated with it that we don’t have access to. Some people call it experience and hard work, others call it insight or luck.

Either way, it pays to keep your idea tank filled and ready to draw from when needed.

One of the best ways to do that is by listening to experts share their experience and insights. Some of these talks may be old, but each of them is inspiring, and has invaluable ideas and examples that apply to date.

12 awesome TEDTalks for marketers (which ones haven’t you watched yet?)

1. Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce by Malcolm Gladwell

Take-home quotes: Inspired by Howard Moskowitz and expressed by Malcolm Gladwell – “To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”

“In embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.”

As journalist at The New Yorker who has critiqued administrative and managerial methods, Gladwell isn’t exactly a marketing insider, but that seems to have provided him a unique vantage point in uncovering what others have missed.

In his talk, Gladwell speaks of Howard Moskowitz, another marketing outsider (a psycho-physicist consultant), who transformed the way companies related their products to their brand back in the 70’s.

Gladwell uses the example to beautifully illustrate how to build buyer personas out of data-points and use them to serve consumers better. In the 70’s, most companies used generic focus groups to build one ideal product (the awesomest Pepsi).

Moskowitz’ recommendation was to diversify value and create multiple ideal Pepsis instead, to focus on and uncover multiple markets that weren’t necessarily alike.

Gladwell uses technical strategy to narrate a story that shows you how to use data and still humanize your marketing – a prime necessity in 2017.

2. The Tribes We Lead by Seth Godin

Take-home quotes: “I don’t want email, I want me-mail” – Seth Godin explaining today’s consumer mind-set.

“No matter what we do for a living, we are now in the fashion industry” – Seth Godin referring to the attention span of the current market and how ideas that spread are usually new or remarkable.

In his talk, Seth Godin talks about the shift from mass-marketing to focused marketing, and the importance of tribes as they exist today. He uses TOMS as an example, pointing out how founder Blake Mycoskie built a brand that spoke to socially aware millennials who didn’t know how to give back (for each pair of TOMS purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need).

Godin criticizes the TV-industrial complex (mass-marketing) and shows how many brands that are successful now focus on micro-markets or people on the edge (early adopters and inventors) instead of focusing on early and late majority (the mass-market that is great at ignoring you).

3. 404 – the Story of A Page Not Found by Renny Gleeson

Take-home quotes: “Little things, done right, matter” and “Well designed moments can build brands”

Renny Gleeson humorously takes on the infamous 404 page in his talk, to demonstrate how the little things can powerfully impact business-consumer relationships. He compares the disappointment that a website visitor feels on hitting a 404 error to a broken relationship that is falling apart.

As just about any website, large or small, can suffer the 404, it is a global epidemic that we have all experienced that most people choose to ignore.

Gleeson talks about instances where these 404s were used as opportunity to build and strengthen relationships, with great content – like when a services company that served athletes, Athletepath, decided to use an entertaining video on their 404.

He points out that the content on a 404 page makes a statement that usually appears to be an accusation (oops! Did you make a mistake?) when you can use it to sympathize with that person and make the experience less negative.

How you maneuver the small things matters. You can ignore them, or use them to show consumers you care and change the way they perceive you.

4. 3 Ways To (Usefully) Lose Control Of Your Brand by Tim Leberecht

Take-home quote: “Companies are losing control. What happens on Wall Street no longer stays on Wall Street. What happens in Vegas ends up on YouTube.” – Tim Leberecht on control in today’s scenario.

Leberecht talks about the existing hyper-connectivity and transparency, and addresses the concern that most brands now have – how reputation can be controlled and trust be built in such an environment.

While brands have no control over what is being said about them, they can always steer their audience any which way with the right message and consumer experience.

Leberecht keenly observes how apparel retailer Patagonia made a statement against consumerism and won their audience over with a campaign that antithetically said: “Don’t buy this jacket”.

With this and other great examples, Leberecht explains how companies can design control while giving it away.

5. The Clues to A Great Story by Andrew Stanton

Take-home quote: Andrew Stanton on creating a great story – “Use what you know and draw from it. It doesn’t always have to mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience and expressing values that you personally feel deep down in your core.”

What better way to learn storytelling than from the man who wrote Toy Story?

Storytelling has become critical to marketing, considering dropping attention spans and the need to entertain audiences.

Andrew Stanton points out why stories are powerful communicators – they satisfy an innate and deep human need, the need for meaning and the affirmation that it exists.

Notice how villains in movies grow likeable once you have heard their story? Stanton observes that the only necessity for affability is making the audience care using emotion, intellect or aesthetics.

To build a powerful story, you need a theme, constructed anticipation and elements, that you help your audience add up, one by one.

6. How to Make Choosing Easier by Sheena Iyengar

Take-home quote: “If your employees can’t tell them apart, neither can your consumers,” Sheena Iyengar on companies who struggle with cutting redundant choices they offer to consumers.

In contrast to Gladwell’s proposed ideas, Sheena Iyengar believes that providing people with more choice results in decreased engagement, indecision and reduced satisfaction.

Ms. Iyengar conducted studies to test her theory and found that when she offered store visitors 24 types of jam to taste, barely anyone bought a jar, and when she cut that number down to 6 types, she saw a 6X increase in sales.

Gladwell’s suggestion is supported by the benefit of tapping new markets by offering more options, but just how many options can you afford to provide and at what point does your audience experience choice-overload?

Ms. Iyengar’s suggests a four step process to making choosing easier – reducing redundant options, providing more information about the options (making them concrete), categorization and a gradual increase in complexity.

There obviously exists middle-ground where both strategies can be leveraged. You simply need to understand your audience and create a strategy that fits your product best.

7. Life Lessons from An Ad Man by Rory Sutherland

Take-home quote: Rory Sutherland on the potential of creative solutions to hard business and marketing problems – “All value is actually relative. All value is perceived value.” 

Rory Sutherland’s take on the power of perception is inspiring. So many business problems can be better addressed by a shift in perception than traditional, scientifically-backed solutions.

Sutherland uses a question posed to engineers as an example. If the train ride between London and Paris had to be made a better experience, how would they do it? The engineers suggested building new tracks through a better route as a solution at the cost of 6,000,000,000 pounds.

Sutherland’s points out in humor that it would cost half that amount to hire all the male and female supermodels in world to walk up and down that route handing out free Chateau Petrus.

With so many businesses flooding social networks, connecting with an audience and establishing a unique value perception can be hard, but you can find solutions working the perceived value angle and thinking laterally.

8. Why Videos Go Viral by Kevin Allocca

Take-home quote: Kevin Allocca on creating viral videos – “Tastemakers, creative participating communities and complete unexpectedness are characteristics of a new kind of media and culture, where anyone has access and the audience defines the popularity.”

According to YouTube Trends Manager Kevin Allocca, videos that go viral have three elements in common – tastemakers (influencers), creative communities that participate and something unexpected.

Bear Vasquez’s double rainbow video posted in 2010 only went viral after Jimmy Kimmel tweeted it. So Jimmy Kimmel is the tastemaker here.

Tastemakers can also be groups of people or a creative community. Rebecca Black’s: ♫ It’s Friday, Friday became popular Tosh.0’s remix version triggered more parodies from people.

Nyat Cat is a video of an animated cat on an endlessly streaming rainbow with looped music playing in the background. Even the 3 hour version of the video has over 4 million views which is unexplainable.

When creating viral content, you could target tastemakers and creative communities to improve your chances.

9. Weird, or Just Different? By Derek Sivers

Take-home quote: “Whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true”

In this short video, Derek Sivers makes an important point on why you shouldn’t look at any idea with tunnel vision.

Talking about how the American and Japanese postal address systems are polar opposites, Sivers explains why two different concepts can not only be true, but also function perfectly well in different environments.

You can apply that to marketing when targeting diverse audience groups or operating in culturally different places.

10. Try Something New for 30 Days by Matt Cutts

Take-home quote: “I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick”.

It is hard to build ideas out of repetitive exercises and experiences, but most of us are limited to them because of our routines.

As an experiment, Matt Cutts tried to inculcate a new habit (or get rid of an old one) over a 30 day period, inspired by Morgan Spurlock, the American philosopher.

At the end of 30 days Cutts realized that everything he did was more memorable and his self-confidence got a boost.

11. Design and Discovery by David Carson

Take-home quotes: “I’m a big believer in the emotion of design, the message that gets sent before someone begins to read.”

Design could play the differentiating  in your social media marketing. With more posts are reduced organic reach, marketers need great design to captivate their audience and get their ideas to spread.

In his talk, David Carson illustrates what works in design. If there were two garage doors painted exactly the same reading “No parking”, but one looks like it has been written in anger and the other one seems stoic, which would you park in front of?

Carson believes that typography can communicate emotion, and that the emotion communicated is as important as what the words say.

Legibility isn’t the only gate pass for good communication. There is a whole lot more that you can do with color and typography.

12. Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics by Sebastian Wernicke

Take-home quote: “If you took 1.3 million words of TED transcripts and millions of viewer ratings and put it through statistical analysis, could you reverse engineer a TEDTalk?”

Sebastian Wernicke’s fascinating theory explores an application of data and statistics. Is data all you need to create the ultimate TEDtalk, and the worst one?

Wernicke uses recorded transcripts and ratings to isolate consistent elements that correlate with the success of TEDtalks. Some of them are surprising and almost outrageous.

It turns out that having slightly longer hair, or wearing an exact shade of blue could make your TEDtalk better liked.

Other findings are more rational and plausible, like the connect between themes that people can relate to on a deep level – happiness, health and emotions – and success of a talk.

As a marketer, you have to work with data all the time – analytics of social media and blog posts, audience insights, website traffic data and audience interaction data. The conclusions that you draw from that data (and you can draw many) and which ones you decide to act on, will determine the success of your efforts.