Our overloaded brains want memes
"Everything starts out looking like a toy", #88
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Hi, I’m Greg 👋! I publish this newsletter on finding data products and interesting data observations with the goal of finding patterns and future product insights. (Also, it’s fun.) If you need a background on how we got here, check out What is Data Operations?
This week’s toy: a drone QR code to make a Rick Roll. Even if you don’t know who Rick Astley is, this is cool. Edition 88 of this newsletter is here - it’s April 11, 2022.
The Big Idea
A short long-form essay about data things
⚙️ Our overloaded brains want memes
B2B marketers and product folks have a challenge. Explaining things without context is hard. When the product you sell solves a complex problem, the prospect has to be in the frame of mind to consider your solution before you can start informing, much less selling. Except that buyer is very busy. The average person holds three to seven things in their short-term memory right now, and several of them are already in use.
This situation presents particular issues to the B2B software seller or marketer. If you are talking to customers or prospects today, you are in #sales, whether you like it or not. One of the key skills to build is the ability to relate what you do or what problem you solve to the prospect in a buying cycle.
Consider this graph from the folks at Rescuetime demonstrating the rough order scale of time available when people are working on more than one thing at a time. Your prospects are probably not working on one thing at a time, especially when they are talking to you about a speculative project they haven’t started yet.
Enter the meme. I’m not going to argue about why we should or should not be paying attention to these things in formal research. The point is that we’re seeing them everywhere, and I’m curious why the meme has become such a popular way to engage in 2022. My hypothesis? People have spent a lot more time online in the last two years than ever before, and they use this form to break through the noise and grab attention from overworked and stressed prospects who are already distracted. A meme is a way to command attention in an attention-starved world, and marketers are no exception to the trend in noticing this fact.
What’s a Meme and Why is it Popular?
Unless you’ve been under a rock or off the Internet for the last several years, you’ve seen memes (however, the same images have also made their way to print advertising and some videos.)
meme: an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media
Like the “grumpy cat” meme that became popular in the early 2010s, the whole point of memes (and meme culture) is to make you laugh by pointing out something and pairing it with a humorous image. (The satire provided by a subgenre of memes entitled “dank memes” is a whole other topic. Don’t google it unless you want to use eye bleach afterward.)
Memes are easy to reference. By pairing the picture with an idea, you not only have a shorthand for letting the viewer understand what kind of comparison you are making but also get to trade on other versions of the same meme.
The best memes are also quite funny without being offensive. They use a way of poking fun at a topic and diffusing the tension by using a humorous picture. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be quite pointed, but rather that on the surface, it’s easy for them to appear neutral. Your brain recognizes the picture and then processes the meaning of the words.
Why Use Memes in Marketing?
Memes are a shortcut for our brains allowing us to pattern match instead of having to think so much to get to a result. They use Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 from Thinking Fast and Slow to get you to react (maybe, even before you have time to think!) Memes provide scaffolding for a more complicated idea without having to be complicated.
Does it make sense to sell B2B software with memes? Heck yeah. Millenials and Gen Z are used to communicating this way. They are familiar with the idea and will give you a friendly head nod for attempting to connect this way. In addition, if you buy the idea that almost all software is becoming like consumer software, you want to use all of the tools at your disposal. Meme culture is everywhere, so why not try to use it to get attention?
But beware. It’s easy to seem like Steve Buscemi and overstay your welcome. (Also, by even using this meme to describe memes I am outing myself as an old.) Some people will not like the approach of gaining attention by using memes. I think it’s a great way to frame the outcomes you’re trying to achieve or the problems you are trying to highlight. Memes give you a way to remix core content into new themes.
What makes a good B2B Meme?
Let’s take a look at a recent example of a meme used to raise attention in the data automation market. It uses a still frame from the Simpsons to show a common problem.
What makes this meme good?
It’s topical, but not too topical. The Simpsons has been a popular show for over 30 years, so the likelihood of the viewer anywhere knowing who these characters are (Moe, a bartender, and Barney, a patron who often causes problems) is high.
It points out one thing: dealing with duplicate records without a repeatable process is likely to fail. Whether or not you know why Barney reappears, he appears to be a duplicate that you need to deal with again. (A familiar story to data folks.)
The observation is simple. Looking at the image explains the problem visually.
Note that the meme doesn’t talk about the operational process required to resolve duplicates. It doesn’t detail automation, enrichment, or the system that manages and governs the data. That’s because the goal of the meme is to raise awareness of the problem, not necessarily to diagram a solution. By seeing how people respond, you’ll have a better idea of where to target the market.
How does meme testing benefit your approach?
Should you test memes to learn more about your market? Yep, why not? They are a quick way to test concepts. Memes help you to get information on your target market. They generate feedback you can use to test ads. They might help you and your prospects have a bit of fun. They will also improve your writing, specifically around prospect-driven outcomes.
What it’s not: meme testing will not give you a way to sell new features. It’s not a solution to the deeper information many prospects require to discuss a concept or learn more about a problem set. Memes share ideas, feelings, and emotions. They’re not great at suggesting solutions.
What’s the takeaway? Memes don’t replace product marketing, and they are an interesting channel to test messaging on the typical problems buyers face. If you need to build awareness around a familiar problem, memes are a fun way to command attention. A note of caution: this also might not work, so treat it as an experiment.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my 👀
1/ Start by starting - When you get stuck, do you think about the current situation, or do you try to change the frame to get unstuck? This First Round interview with Howard Morgan makes the compelling case that relaxing constraints is a key to unlocking your thinking. You might be ahead of the problem. You might be solving the wrong problem. And you might be almost there but needing a change of perspective.
2/ Should every content business sell ads? Ben Thompson raises the question of whether Netflix should sell ads. The basic argument? There are only so many people that will subscribe to your product, and there are other ways to demonstrate attention. As a consumer, it means that everything is trending towards micropayments, subscriptions, or ads. Since most people seem to hate micropayments, the default’s going to be ads.
3/ Building the Minimum Lovable Product - What if “Minimum Viable Product” needs to be replaced by something different? One vision is the Minimum Lovable Product, where you focus on making individual features that people love, instead of building wide and shallow features. One thing this idea doesn't cover: how to handle features that some love and others just like. If it’s a day ending in y, people will tell you their ideas about how to make a product better. A lot of these suggestions are excellent, and some take longer to actualize than others.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
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The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon