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Mind Hacks for Better Marketing Results – @sirjohnhargrave
The Agents of Change


Loss of focus is a huge problem, not just with marketers but with people in general.

Part of what we need to learn to do is to develop the habit or the discipline of purposely simplifying our lives so that we can focus our attention on the things that are most essential and important.

When we realize that behaviors such as “multitasking” are actually doing more harm than good for our productivity and performance, we can begin to retrain our minds with more positive habits that we can use not only at work but in our everyday lives.

Sir John Hargrave is the author of Mind Hacking, a book dedicated to teaching you how to reprogram your mind in order to change your life for the better.

Rich: Sir John Hargrave is the CEO of Media Shower, the world’s premier content marketing company. His new book, Mind Hacking, about how to reprogram your mind and change your life, is available from Simon and Schuster’s Gallery Books coming in January 2016 or at www.mindhacki.ng.

Sir John – if that’s the right way to say, “hello” – welcome to the show.

John: Thank you, and that is the right way. If you say “Sir Hargrave,” it just shows your inexperience with royalty. So “sir” and then the first name. If you ever meet Sir Paul McCartney, it’s “Sir Paul,” not “Sir McCartney.” Nice job.

Rich: I am so glad that I avoided that faux paux. So I guess my first question is, are you a knight for real?”

John: Well kind of. So a few years ago I decided to try to get knighted by the Queen of England and I wrote Her Majesty a letter and I said, “I would like to be known as ‘Sir John,’ will you knight me?” Because I thought “Sir John Hargrave” just sounded so much classier.

Rich: Absolutely.

John: So it turns out you have to do something honorable, but that was too much work. So instead I went to my local county courthouse where, for a small fee, you can legally apply to have your name changed. So I did that and now I am known as “Sir John Hargrave”. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it, Rich?

Rich: It absolutely does. And you have totally hacked the system of royalty, so that’s just awesome right out of the gate.

John: That’s right, nice segue.

Rich: I found your article recently online called, “Improve Your Marketing Focus In 10 Minutes.” Loved it. What for you was the compelling reason behind writing it?

John: I think that as marketers – I run the content marketing company, Media Shower – and as marketers I have noticed that we have a lack of focus. When I asked very simple questions of our clients like, “Who is your target customer?,” I found that they usually don’t know the answer. Or they do know it but it’s in a very abstract kind of way. They’ve never actually written down, “here’s who we’re marketing to” or “here’s what my product is.” They’ve never really thought through the value that they’re bringing to the customer.

They really wrestle with these questions, they seem obvious and simple on the surface, but actually getting them into words is surprisingly difficult. And these are marketers from huge Fortune 500 companies in many cases. So helping marketers improve that focus through improving their own minds has been really one of my passions.

Rich: Well that’s good to hear. And it does remind me of the time I asked a restaurant owner who was his ideal customer, and he said, “People that need to eat to survive.”

John: So starving people in the Sahara.

Rich: Right. They’ll be excellent for his Taco Bell-style restaurant around here in Portland, Maine. They are no longer in business. But I do hear what you’re saying is that many of us have these vague concepts of who people are that we should be selling to, but we really haven’t narrowed that down.

I actually had a question for later on, but let’s just hit it right now. We all know that we should know our customer, but you say in your article that a good customer description trumps a persona. And I’ve heard from so many people that you need to have personas. You don’t seem to be a big fan of this. What’s the difference and why is a description better than a persona?

John: Here’s my problem with personas, Rich, personas to me are a means of losing focus. When I talk with clients and they say we’ve got 3 target personas, invariably the first one is the one that drives 80% of their business.The 2nd one might drive 15% and the 3rd one drives 5%, if at all.

Sometimes these personas don’t even exist, they’re like customers they want to go after. And so it’s another way of losing focus. As marketers we are often afraid. We’re afraid because we feel like there’s missing business out there and we have to cover all the bases. Part of my message is to simplify. Simplify your approach. Find out your one target customer and laser focus on that customer. Who is your bread and butter? Who’s the person who is paying the bill, who is bringing in the business currently?

From there you can experiment with other subgroups, but until you really know and understand your target customer and their needs, you don’t really have a marketing program. So that’s what we try to help people do.

Rich: I hear you because I talk to people all the time, and just yesterday a business consultant came in and they were talking about, “Well, I work with medium and high level people in small to medium to large sized corporations.” And I’m like, that’s most of the population in the U.S.

The thing I found is more people are afraid of getting too narrow. But just because you are focused on one personality type or one character, doesn’t mean that you’re not going to also generate business from other people who may be attracted to your message.

John: That’s right. I like that story, that customer. It’s like, well thank you for that target customer of everyone.

Rich: Exactly.

John: Everyone in the world.

Rich: Right. I should introduce you to a restaurant owner I know. An ex-restaurant owner.

John: But only if you’re starving. In the wilderness.

Rich: I read your article right after reading that book, Essentialism, and it was so in line with the 2 thoughts. It was just a perfect time for me to pick this up. One thing we all hear from people – especially during job interviews – is that they are fantastic multitaskers. What is your take on multitasking, Sir John?

John: Multitasking is a myth. In my book, Mind Hacking, I site extensive research that shows that multitasking is an impossibility. Every study shows that every cognitive task you add to your already fractured attention means that you do every one of those tasks worse.

Now all of us know this intuitively, we all know that multi tasking means doing several things badly at once. But we all seem to think that we are the exception to that rule. Like, I’m the one that’s able to text while I drive. Or I’m the one that’s able to answer email while I’m in this meeting. It doesn’t apply to me, but it does. And this fragmentation of our attention – which I see as one of the great challenges of our time – I say this as a lover of technology, as a geek to my bones, but technology is one of the greatest fragmentors of our attention there is. Think of all the text messages and instant messages and emails and softwares updates and Google alerts that you get everyday and how each one of those take you from the task at hand.

So part of what we need to learn to do is to develop the habit or the system or the discipline of purposely simplifying our lives so that we can focus our attention on the things that are most essential and important.

Rich: Well that makes a lot of sense. But of course, so many of us – especially people listening to this podcast – are digital marketers. Very often we have to work in or talk about things like Facebook or YouTube. Have you had any experience in your own life, how do you get stuff done when you’re talking about digital marketing and meanwhile you have to go to Facebook for a screen capture and then all of a sudden you see an update from your college sweetheart and then it’s 2 hours later? Are there things that you do that can help us? I know from Mind Hacking there must be some techniques you use.

John: There are many tips and tools and techniques in Mind Hacking. In fact, the whole book is really about hacking your mind. Hacking in the classic sense, meaning a useful tip or technique to solve some problem.

One I can share with you that anybody can take away is called ”3 MIT,” or, 3 Most Important Things. And I try to practice this everyday in the morning. As soon as you get into work, before you answer any email or do anything else, you look at your “to do” list and think through what’s on your plate. And you say, “What are the 3 most important things that I have to do today?” What are the 2 things that are really going to move the ball forward? And you almost always know intuitively what those 3 things are, they’re usually the difficult things, the things you don’t want to do.

The temptation for all of us is to do the easier work first. We go in and answer email and stay busy, but not to do the 3 big things. So if you say 3 MIT’s first thing and I’ll knock at least one of them off the list, and then I’m going to allow myself the easier work as a reward. You flip the model on it’s head. So instead of staying busy and then trying to work in the difficult, important stuff, you do the difficult, important stuff first and then you use the easier work as a reward.

And it sounds simple, but it is incredibly difficult to practice that as a discipline, but it will transform your life, it really will make such a difference.

Rich: Oh absolutely, Especially if you’ve got some giant proposal or work agreement you’ve got to get out and you’re like, “Oh my god, let me just get a couple small wins first.” But it reminds me of what Brian Tracy – the sales and life coach – talks about when he says, “Eat the frog first.” Which actually I believe is a Mark Twain saying where after you eat the frog, everything else tastes delicious.

John: Yeah, that’s great. And another book I’ve read recently is a classic called, The Effective Executive, by the brilliant management writer, Peter Drucker. This was one of Jeff Bezos’s 3 most important books when he started Amazon.com. There were 3 books that he wanted all of his executives to read, he started a book group to read them, and this is one of them.

I’ve tried to read all 3 and this is so great because he talks about how do you become more effective. And part of it is that our kind of work – knowledge work, digital work – is not defined by the quantity, it is defined by the result. And in order to get results, we’ve got to go do those big, hard, difficult things first while we’re fresh. and then worry about all the small wins that aren’t really important later. 

Rich: Alright, so I’m going to accept all my friend requests on Facebook at the end of the day, after I’ve done some actual work at the beginning of the day.

John: That’s right, batch them.

Rich: So along this whole line of streamlining and getting rid of distractions. Sometimes we feel like we’re being pulled in a lot of different directions, and we want to be all things to all people. But you suggest that we “stick to our knitting” and invoke the “hedgehog principle” from Good To Great by Jim Collins. Can you talk a little bit more about what the “hedgehog principle” is and how as digital marketers we can put it to use for us?

John: Good To Great, one of my all time favorite business books, one of my big 5. And Jim Collins looked at all of the companies that have made the biggest gains in the stock market over a long period of time. And he tried to get principles that held those companies together. In other words, why are some companies good and other companies great.

And one of the principles in this book is called “the hedgehog concept.” The hedgehog is an animal that has one defense mechanism, when it is threatened it rolls up into a little ball with its spikes pointing outward. Many other animals have all kinds of defense mechanisms like colors and evasive maneuvers, but a hedgehog has one move. One.

Rich: That’s like me on the dancefloor. I got one move.

John: Right, exactly. It should have been called “the Rich Brooks dance move.”

Rich: Right.

John: But, it’s “the hedgehog concept.” What he says is, “When you do something well – as a marketer or as a company – figure out what it is and stick to that one thing.” Do that one thing really, really well. And he has criteria that he uses for figuring out what this one thing is, but that’s the basic idea.

When I was in school my marketing professor – brilliant guy – left me with one thing at the end of his class. He said, “I just want you guys to remember as marketers, stick to your niche, stick to the thing that you do really well.” And as marketers there is an enormous temptation to go after every, new marketing fad. And for those of us who have been doing this for awhile, we’ve seen so many of these trends come and go, and yet there’s a few things that we know still drive 80% of our results. So just as we want to focus on that target customer, we want to focus on the target thing that we do as marketers – or channel, or program – that really drives the most results. And like a hedgehog, stick to that move. Like Roch Brooks on the dancefloor.

Rich: Exactly. And that is a nice segue into what I planning on talking about, which is a lot of us have this fear – a lot of digital marketers, specifically – that we need to stay on top of every latest trend. I remember I was out at Social Media Marketing World this year and people wondered if there was going to be a Meerkat session, which had been out for like 6 minutes at that point. And somebody else said that Meerkat was already dead it’s all about Periscope. And there’s this feeling of angst in my stomach and a churning of juices where I felt I was so behind the times.

But in your article you seem to say, “Rich, just chill because you’ve got longer than you think when it comes to using these different marketing tools.” Can you talk about that?

John: I think that as marketers we are driven by a fear. We are driven by fear. This anxiety about needing to keep up with the latest and greatest is driven in part by that fear. Everyone else is doing something and I’m not on the bandwagon and I’m going to miss out.

But those of us that have seen these marketing and technology lifecycles have seen that there is an early adopter audience that goes and grabs these tools first and tests them out and works with them and tries and fails a lot of the time. And then they get some early success and there’s what we call an “early majority”. [inaudible]

It’s much more efficient to be early majority. It’s much more efficient to wait and let everyone else sacrifice their professional careers and reputations on trying all these crazy things. And once they get a handle on it and you can start to see from their mistakes and failures. Also you will see the tools evolve.

So if you take something like short form social media video. When that first came out it was very difficult to do. The infrastructure wasn’t there, and now everybody is doing it. And if you decide to jump on that bandwagon, there’s just better tools in place and you’re much more likely to succeed by waiting a while, watching how other people use it, and then making a careful, strategic entry when the time is right.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure you just put a lot of digital marketers minds at rest right now. Now you’ve got a new book that’s coming out, we kind of briefly talked about it, it’s called Mind Hacking. How did the principles in that book line up with everything we’ve been talking about today?

John: So Mind Hacking is a book about reprogramming your mind and looking at the mind as a kind of computer. We basically say, “What is the negative programming that’s embedded in my wet wear? What’s the kind of habitual, negative thought loops that are holding me back that are causing me pain in my life?” And then how can I reprogram those just like a developer goes in and learns a new programming language and reprograms a computer.

And there’s lots of useful tips and tricks on how you can reprogram your own mind.

As marketers, I think that this book is super helpful because we just talked about staying focused. And not only staying focused on an everyday task-oriented basis but staying focused on a larger strategy and on a larger customer. We talked about how to discern who that customer is and how we think about that customer and how we think about our work. And that’s what Mind Hacking is all about.

Our minds ultimately are the platform that runs our whole life. They’re the operating system that is us. And when we learn to take control of them and reprogram them for more positive outcomes, we literally change the direction of our life.

Rich: So that really can be put to use whether we’re digital marketers or moms or dads or whatever we’re doing in life. It sounds like we can improve some of what we’re doing and get better results by taking advantage of some of these hacks that you’ve laid out in your book.

John: That’s right, it is applicable to all of us because we all have minds and we all have ways in which they can be improved. I like to call the book a self help book for geeks because it is a book that really takes a very scientific, research based approach to looking at our own mind. But it’s also a deeply personal book, meaning the only way you can try this program out is by trying it on your own mind. I like to say you are the experiment and your life is the result. And that’s the fun of learning mind hacking.

Rich: That’s awesome, and it’s coming out in January. I got an early copy, I started it, I just want to let everybody who’s listening in right now know that it is very well written. I have not finished the book but I have started it and very much enjoying it and had it up on my laptop last night and I’m already taking notes from it because I think that’s one of the first exercises you have us do.

John: Thanks, Rich, I appreciate that.

Rich: No problem. So where can we learn more about you and some of the stuff that you’re doing through the book, at Media Shower and everywhere else?

John: You can actually read a preview copy of Mind Hacking for free, before it hits the bookshelves, in its entirety at MindHacki.ng. And our content marketing company, Media Shower, is always available at mediashower.com where I blog regularly.

Rich: And really good stuff. I mean, I will say that Sir John is an excellent writer and worth checking out. We’ll have links to his blog, the book and everything else. John, I just want to thank you very much for making time for us today.

John: Many thanks.

Show notes:

  • Want to know more about John’s content marketing company? Check out their website!
  • Curious about how you can retrain your mind to be more efficient? Read John’s amazing, new book for free!
  • Follow John on Twitter.
  • Check out the article of John’s that Rich read that served as the inspiration to get Sir John on the show.
  • Other books that were referenced in this show that are definitely worth checking out:
  • Have you gotten your tickets yet for the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference? What are you waiting for? There’s still time to get your tickets now!AOCP-Tim-Hayden-FacebookAOCP-John-Hargrave-Facebook