Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Hope You'll Indulge Me

I believe you'll enjoy this excursion into the past, leading to the future of marketing!
I've been reading quite a few marketing and advertising articles recently which use boxing as a metaphor for our work. One such exhorts us to take the advice of (the mythical!) Rocky Balboa's (also mythical!) trainer – played by the delightfully loopy Burgess Meredith, whom I loved as the Penguin on the Batman television program, but I digress – when the told Rocky to learn to “eat lightning and crap thunder,” if you'll pardon the imagery.

Another posited the wisdom of Angelo Dundee, who adapted his training to the style of his charge, Muhammed Ali (perhaps you remember him as Cassius Clay?), saying “when you get a short guy, make him shorter. When you get a tall guy, make him taller.” Words to live by, I believe, unless your name is Procrustes, and you're a bed salesman – but again I digress.

Although a life-long athlete myself, I've only once been even tangentially involved in boxing, or the “sweet science” as it is sometimes named (that's pugilism to us here at Jay Standish, Inc. LLC!).

I hope you'll all indulge me as I fade once more back to my prep school days. My bi-athlon team held practices out in the woods behind the athletic building, where stray shots and scattered casings were less likely to cause any trouble for our athletic brethren (and our sistern, as St. George's had gone "co-ed" some time before). Our return path to “the showers” took us past the gymnasium where the boxers plied their trade, and just short of the meeting room of the chess team.

Oddly (at least it seemed so to us at the time), both of these groups looked down on the various prowesses of those of us on the bi-athlon team. The boxers looked at us as wimps and “poseurs” (although I don't think a single one of them could have pronounced that word properly, let alone spelled it!), while the chess team thought of us as “jocks” or worse (whatever that might have been).

One of my team-mates, Al Bester (you may have heard of his Canadian cousin, Myriam B├ędard who actually won Olympic bi-athlon medals!), came up with a spectacular thought – viz. we would challenge the combined chess and boxing teams to a chess-boxing match. Naturally, chess-boxing is a relatively unknown sport, as it has only been mounted the one time (to our knowledge!), and the expected winners are none too eager to repeat the drubbing they took at our hands (and minds!). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I was recounting, Al Bester conceived of the chess-boxing match, and even created the rules. This was much like the Wizard ChessTM many of you are likely to have seen in the fairly popular line of films about a wizard named Harry Potter®. The main differences were that rather than using magic to move large pieces around, students stood on the “board” and punched one another silly to gain access to the desired square, and that we split the boxing team between the chess team and ourselves (we being the bi-athlon team, just trying to keep things clear!) to be the pieces for the two sides.

The chess-ters and their coach, Mr. Rybak, thought themselves possessed of a great advantage, conceiving themselves to be masters of the tessellated square, while Mr. Giordano, the boxing coach, looked on the match as a spectacular opportunity to find out which of his pugilists were “sand-baggin” as he called it. We looked at it as our chance to put all of them in their respective places.

Being skilled marksmen and skiers, we bi-athletes were naturally also interested in matters military, so the study of strategy and tactics (especially Greek!) was a bit of a hobby for many of us. We expected that these studies would translate themselves quite well into the world of chess-boxing – nor were we to be disappointed!

The day of the match arrived, cool and clear, with a hint of juniper and lilac on the breeze. As we set our “pieces” in place, a bit of a tussle broke out among the chess-ters' boxers, as they argued about who would be king and who the queen. We had no such troubles with our “men,” having chosen wisely with just this potentiality in mind. Our own bi-athlon coach, Mr. Gunderson, wished us well, and repaired to the stands to watch the expected carnage. It was only the briefest of intervals, a few moves on each side, before the fists were flying, and we had quickly relieved the chess-ters of the majority of their pawns.

In short order, our king's bishop and queen's knight were threatening the opposing king – who escaped by means of a queen-side castling manoeuvre (precisely the move for which we had hoped!). In a trice, our king's knight had crashed over the last pawns and cold-cocked the opposing king. Victory was ours, and none had ever tasted sweeter.

“Well and good, but so what?” I hear you cry, and I can but agree. It was well done and a good lesson to us all; but what can we take from this to apply to our marketing lives?

Simply this – while our marketing opponents (c.f. our competitors and their products) may have mastery of particular fields or skills which seem to give them the advantage over us with the customer, there will always be a combination of skills which we can bring to bear which said competitors not only cannot match, but perforce cannot withstand.

The sight of the opposing “king” lying on his back, bloody-nosed and glassy-eyed should be an inspiration to all and sundry. I know that it is to those of us here at Jay Standish, Inc. LLC, and we stand ready and able to help each of our friends and clients discover and develop those "combinations" which will lead to your very own marketing triumphs!

Last time, Jay wrote about "offensive" marketing:
Marian Kirby responded:
"Jay, I think you hit the nail right on the head with your column about bad taste. I can't tell you how often I'm embarrassed to watch TV with my son - all because of commercials for various hygiene and health products. "Mom, what's feminine itching?" or "Mom, what's erectile dysfunction?" I don't know what they're teaching nowadays, but he sure isn't learning this stuff at the junior college...."

Marian -
Thanks for the kind words. Perhaps it's time for your "tyke" to be out on his own? I believe I learned most of these things on the street corner, and look where it's gotten me!


-- Jay


Charlie van Becelaere said...

Jay, you made me laugh out loud. Not only did I love the Procrustes reference, but that line about punching one another silly was great.

It reminds me of the Punch-O-Meter we had back in an earlier, more enlightened time in my career.


Jay Standish said...

Thanks for your kind remarks. One of the hallmarks of educational quality is the exposure to the great ideas of past civilizations, don't you think?
Procrustes, somewhat obscure though he may be these days, is a signal metaphor for the converse of one-size-fits-all marketing: make all fit one size! Hardly the way to do business in the era of mass customization - hardly indeed!

The Punch-O-Meter sounds interesting; would you care to elaborate?


Randy Cobb said...

I don't know why you guys think this is funny - probably you've never been punched in the face enough is what I think.

But, I wish we had a chess boxing team at Temple when I was there. I could have been the captain I'll bet. Then everyone would talk about me as the big jock from Temple with some brains instead of that pudding guy.

I'll bet he wasn't magna cum laude like me, and I'll bet I could punch the living tar out of him any time and any place.

Jay, you seem to be a brilliant man and a great marketer, but you shouldn't tell people to punch each other unless they're getting paid for it.

That's my opinion. And I know something about getting punched you can believe me.

Jay Standish said...

Randall "Tex" Cobb? I must say, it is an honor to have you reading my "blog" here on the internet, sir.

You provided one of my favorite sports quotes of all time. After a particularly hard-hitting bout, I recall that you were asked whether you desired a rematch. You replied in the negative, averring that you didn't think your opponent's hands could take another beating like the one your face had just dished out - or words to that effect.

At any rate, I understand your advice regarding my apparent endorsement of fellows punching one another. Still, that really wasn't the thrust of my posting, as you no doubt understand, but rather an object lesson (if you will!) regarding the marshaling of skills in surprising (yet powerful) combinations to overwhelm one's marketing opponents.

Feel free to stop by this "blog" anytime, sir.