I’m going to tell you how great marketing can change the world by talking about cholera, plumbing, and London in 1854.
First: A disclaimer. This isn't some kind of a marketing midlife crisis. I'm not trying to make what I do - what we all do, whether we're marketers or not - into more than it is. Instead, I want to explain to you how marketing is a little piece of a very big puzzle, and the way you move that piece around can, in fact, lead to world-changing events. I am very, very passionate about this. I start yelling. I jump up and down. I may turn purple. Don't worry. Unless I fall down. Then worry.I want to tell you about how marketing can change the world. But I lied. Marketing doesn’t change the world.
I realized that I lied. Marketing can't change the world.I should have titled this:How *great* marketing can change the world.With the subtitle:How *small* marketing can really screw things up.
I majored in History in College. I learned 2 things: I can’t get a job with a history major. And that history isa long series of decision points: Times when one person does one thing, and that decision sends ripples through history, affecting everything after.And the TONE in the world – the type and tenor of communications between people, countries and the like – profoundly impacts those decisions. That tone is set a little bit at a time. It’s not one earth-shattering event (usually) that does it. It adds up to times when people do great or terrible things.This is the story of the Broad Street Pump. It’s a great demonstration of great AND small marketing, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and how and why you can do great marketing, all the time.
First, you have to know a bit about how this all fits together. Communications drives us. It can start wars or end them. It can educate people or drive them into ignorance. Communications as a whole form this huge conversation that’s always going on. In London, in 1854, people are steeped in it.
And marketing is the gateway drug to all communications. It's what everyone experiences, all the time. It primes us for decision making. Every little chunk of marketing stuff contributes to a sort of ambience - a tone – in the big communications conversation. One ad at a time, one product at a time, one message at a time.So: Marketing. Change. World. The quality of that marketing matters, a lot. That’s why GREAT marketing is so important.And marketing isn’t “selling stuff”. It wasn’t in London in 1854. It isn’t now.
"Marketing" is not "Selling stuff". "Marketing" is communications created to deliver and promote concepts and offerings that have value.True then. True now.
We are all marketers. Maybe we're convincing our kids to eat broccoli. Or we're trying to convince someone to go out on a date. Or we're trying to sell something on Craigslist.
Or, in London, 1854, you’re trying to sell your wacky cure to people. Marketing.
Like any great story, this one has good guys and bad guys. The story of the Broad Street Pump is no different: We’ve got great marketing and small marketing, duking it out.All marketing lives on a continuum from great to small.
Great marketing helps others make good decisions with powerful, durable messages.*Good decisions* mean decisions that are in their best interest. That's not always a clear thing. The happiness you get from buying an iPod may count as in your best interest. A simpler way to put it: Good decisions are those that you won't regret in the near future..*Powerful messages* drive the point home simply and effectively.*Durable messages* can withstand examination by smart people. That means true, thoughtful messages. Not just drivel designed to fool/abuse/bully/beat people into buying.
Do marketing that includes those three ingredients, and I don't care what you're selling - you're changing the world, one tiny bit at a time. You're improving the tone of the conversation.
Getting 4,000 people to fill out an insurance inquiry form with ridiculous promises or a 'fitness test' is small marketing.Fast-talking, don't-mind-the-dents used car sales is small marketing.Propaganda is small marketing.Small marketing becomes part of that big conversation, too. It hurts the quality of the conversation, a bit at a time. It makes people make bad decisions. It makes people ignore messages. It spreads, lightning fast. And, it creates so much noise that no one can hear the great marketing.
This tension between great and small marketing has been around for centuries.In 1854 London is big - 2.5 million or so people. All jammed into a city that lacked any semblance of modern plumbing, sanitation or anything else. The city's at a tipping point - if it can't find a solution to keeping millions of people healthy, it'll go the way of Rome and others: It'll collapse in on itself. If London DOES collapse, then the world we live in today would shape up completely different: Few big cities, which means slower industrialization and more towns, lower population. And that may translate to a different outcome of everything from the Civil War to WWI.Everything hangs in the balance.What happened there, in 1854, changed the entire world. Literally.And it changed because of marketing. I’m going to tell you how it happened at the Broad Street Water Pump.
Pretend for a second you're living in London, UK in 1854. You know how folks always want to experience “The good old days”? Well, Victorian London was not an example of the good old days.What's the scariest thing in the city?The criminals? Nope.The food? Maybe, but not quite.The really scary thing was the water.
The problem, if I may be indelicate, is poop.CLICKPeople put their poop in these huge cesspools out front or in the cellar of their homes. It did not smell good. This isn't just an observation - it's important to the entire story.You want the good old days? You’re in luck. If you want to experience the good old days of Victorian London, all you have to do is visit the wrong end of a sewage treatment plant.
They also put cows in their attics. CLICK That's just an observation, and doesn't matter, except I have to wonder how they got the cows UP there. CLICKANYWAY, poop got into everything. The air. The food. Ech. But the water supply was the real danger.
The killer isn't the water itself. It's a disease in the water: Cholera. In 1848-49 Cholera killed 50,000 Londoners. In 2012 NYC, that'd convert to 500,000 deaths, in case you're wondering. People were terrified of it. This is a newspaper graphic from later on in the 19th century. It’s a caricature of cholera.Cholera *is* the conversation.
A lot of great people tried to solve the problem and get rid of Cholera. The theory of most of these people - like Sir Edwin Chadwick - was that miasma - literally, the stink of all that poop - was what caused Cholera. So, get rid of the smell, get rid of Cholera.Miasma dominates the conversation. It was driven by *small marketing* on two fronts:# It catered to prejudice. The idea that cholera is a disease of a dirty underclass.# Many used cholera to make a fast buck.Chadwick's solution was to pump all of this raw human sewage into the Thames. Which was also where everyone got their water.Yep. One of the 19th Century's great reformers poisoned London's water supply. It's easy to criticize him, but he was one of many, many others, including scientists, who believed stinky poop caused cholera.
One really important point here: Small marketing isn't evil. It may *drive* evil, but it's not evil in itself. Edwin Chadwick seems like he was a stand up guy. He wanted to help people. So did a lot of the miasmists. Miasmisarians. Miasminarians. I dunno.They’re stuck in this huge conversation that goes far beyond cholera and miasma, where folks are latching onto new ideas of science and abusing them to make a fast buck – small marketing.So don't think the Chadwicks of 1854 intentionally set out to kill people. But they, plus some really unscrupulous snake oil salesmen, did it anyway.No matter what their intent, they're part of a larger conversation that's badly misleading people in every possible way. And understand,any small marketing made this worse. It didn’t matter if you were selling a cholera remedy. It all lends itself to a conversation of generally low value.
The *really* insidious part of small marketing is that, if it gets picked up by influencers, it can spread like cholera. That's because it's usually driven by a strong call to action, and appeal to fear or other strong emotions.People driven by great marketing don't burn adolescent girls as witches. They don't send their neighbors to death camps. And they don't picket funerals.But people driven by small marketing do.
Lots of little messages, turning into one huge one.There's another subtler effect: All of these stupid messages drown out the correct answers. As early as the 1830s a doctor suggested hydration as a cure for cholera. No one heard.So, up to 1854, marketing is helping *prevent* change in the world. It's all small marketing. But every now and then, history throws us a tipping point where great marketing can get a foothold. That happened in August, 1854.
At the end of the summer in 1854, Cholera killed 500 people. Doesn't seem that remarkable, given the poop-sea-ridden state of the city. But in this case, all 500 lived within a few blocks of each other, and they all died within 72 hours.Everyone's ready to tsk tsk at the deaths and point to all those dirty poor people, and leave it at that.Into this steps a guy named John Snow. Snow's been arguing, for years, that cholera is caused by bugs in the water. No one listened. Clearly he was a crank.Why not? His explanation was plausible. Not much downside for the city council. Nothing anyone would really regret later. The problem: His message had zero power. Like, none. Zilch. He's just one more voice (not really - he's already a well-known medical smartypants, or he wouldn't even get to TALK to anyone).
And, the small marketing is deafening. People are hysterical. Understand, these aren't primitive screwheads. But this disease swoops in and kills you in 24 hours or less. I'll spare the images and descriptions, but cholera is not a nice way to go. It's beyond horrifying.
AND you’ve got the snake oil salesmen, thousands of them, selling their junk remedies. All that small marketing, just drowning out anyone with any sense.
It could've ended there, right? Snow walks away, frustrated.
But for Snow, something clicks. He's a damned savvy marketer, in addition to being a really great doctor.When the epidemic started, Snow headed for the Broad Street neighborhood. He started interviewing the sick, and the healthy. He quickly figured out that the Broad Street water pump was the source. Remove the pump handle, he said, and the epidemic will stop.And, he created a map – this map. Each line on the map is a death..
*That* is power. It's impossible to ignore the fact that the Broad Street Pump is somehow involved. Stop people from gathering there, from getting water there, and you at least remove the epicenter of the epidemic.So, the council does it. They remove the pump handle. And the epidemic comes to an end.A powerful message that helped people make a good decision. Happy ending, right?Nope. Folks still don't believe Snow. They don't accept that germs in water cause cholera.
Oh, man. The end. We all go back to drinking poop-infested water and dying of cholera.But that's not what happened.Remember when I said small is virulent? It is, but great marketing lasts a hell of a lot longer. It's the Galapagos Tortoise to small marketing's weasel. CLICKGreat marketing has the power to simply outlast the small stuff. It's the Obi-Wan to small marketing's Darth Maul.Sorry, going nerd again. Back to the story.
One guy, Henry Whitehead (an Anglican priest) is determined to prove Snow wrong. He knew everyone in and around Broad Street. (Whitehead and Snow, by the way, were classic good guys, as near as I can tell. Good guys do great marketing.)It's his turf - you could almost say he has a great social network there. (see how I did that?) Whitehead interviews people. He researches. And you know what he finds? That Snow is right.So he goes back to his superiors and gets *them* to issue a statement saying it was the water. That's the very first time any official *anything* says that water carries cholera.What happened? Snow's message was durable. It could withstand a closer inquiry. It could handle examination by thinking people. So Whitehead changes his mind, and Snow gets and powerful influencer with a strong network on his side.(see how I did that?)Happy ending, right?Nope.CLICKPeople *still* don't buy it. Remember, the noise is enormous. These are two small voices.
But over the next few decades, germ theory – the idea that Snow is trying to promote - gains strength as an idea. More and more people recognize that it's the truth. The next cholera outbreak, in 1866, is far smaller, because London has started taking steps consistent with water-borne illness. After that, there are no further outbreaks.Durable. The message just lasted.There was one critical tipping point. It could have just passed by. It almost did, because crappy marketing was dominant. But one guy did great marketing. That one act sent the conversation in a different direction, and, by the way, arguably changed western civilization. There are some great lessons here:
Marketing drives conversation, one little bit at a time. That makes it very powerful, in scary and good ways.
Great marketing requires you to be brave. Snow was a successful doctor. Whitehead already had his assumptions. Neither had to risk their lives and reputations. But they did. Great marketing isn't always the easy way. It *is* always the better way, from a business standpoint, but that may not be evident to your boss, or your client.
Small marketing burns itself out. It's like a bad virus that kills the host so fast it can't spread. Small marketing leaves pissed off customers, costs trust, and doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
Great marketing, on the other hand, can grow and grow. It persists. It sticks around.
And, great marketing works best! This is important, so I’m not just a squishy goodie-two-shoes liberal up here telling us all to be nice. Great marketing is the way to go.
It’s happened in this century, too, lots of times.In 1982, a lunatic poisoned Tylenol bottles. The company *could* have gone on the defensive. They *could* have fought to keep their product on the shelves, dragged things out. That certainly would've been financially OK in the short run. Ford did, right?But Johnson and Johnsonpracticed great marketing. They pulled their product from the shelves. They revamped production and put practices in place that made the product safer. They took a huge risk.The result wasn't just that J&J ended up saving lives - they also forced other companies to adopt better practices. And, consumers came to expect that kind of response.One change altered the conversation, not just for J&J, but for everyone. J&J helped people make a good decision based on a powerful message that easily withstood the test of time.And, by the way, helped J&J strengthen trust in their brand.
Now, the internet lets it happen even faster, and even smaller bits of great marketing can have huge results. The Arab spring is a huge change in the conversation that started really small, years and years ago, and slowly caught on. But it exploded because with the internet, great marketing can spread almost as fast as small marketing.The message of arab spring is one that supports good, if dangerous, decisions. It has power, and it’s sure as hell durable.Great marketing worked where small marketing never could have.
So great marketing MUST happen. Otherwise we just erode the conversation, and the effectiveness of all communications, until we end up with… well, you get the picture.Angry tone leads to angry decisions. Cheap marketing leads to cheap thinking. Small marketing leads to small thinking.
That's why I don't care what you're selling. If you practice great marketing, you're saving the world, because you're influencing this huge conversation that's always going on. Especially on the internet, where everyone's talking, all the time.
We, though, can consciously practice it, whether we’re professional marketers or folks who’re just doing marketing in our every day lives. We can, and we must. We can influence the tone of conversations. Our messages spread like crazy. All we have to do is practice great marketing in tiny little bits. So please, go do it.