Marketers Can Learn from Scott Bakula

I was recently asked to speak to a marketing class here in Phoenix about Consumer Behavior. Admittedly a very broad topic, I talked with them about classic definitions, research methods, measurement and monitoring techniques. I also provided them with the story below to help them grasp the concept further as well as other aspects of the marketing profession.

Quantum LeapA popular television series ran from the late 80s to the early 90s called Quantum Leap. The show’s lead character was played by the immensely talented Scott Bakula, probably one of the most underrated actors of our generation. Quantum Leap was a comedy-drama-science fiction hybrid, but it was altogether amazing. The show’s premise was based on a time travel experiment gone awry in which Mr. Bakula’s character, Sam, randomly “leaps” into the body of another person in history. Throughout the series, Sam would move from person to person with each show providing a new setting and experience. While Sam would normally not take the place of any important individual in history, he would often influence them by coming into contact with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Buddy Holly and an adolescent Donald Trump.

Here are a few ways in which I think marketers can learn from Scott Bakula’s character in Quantum Leap.

Get in Character
To avoid upsetting the historical apple cart, Sam would have to take on the persona of his new host after each leap. If he leaped to a baseball player, he’d have to play baseball. If he leaped to a pilot, he’d have to fly a plane. If he leaped to a woman, he’d have to behave, dress and act like a lady. By making an honest attempt to take on the persona of each individual to which he would leap, he got to know them and their surroundings intimately.

Scott Bakula

As a marketer you must also strive to understand your audience. My skin crawls every time I hear a marketer start a sentence with, “Well when I search, I…” or “when I visit a website, I…” or “when I receive an email, I…”. Shut up. Stop thinking about how you would behave in a particular situation. It is paramount that you begin to feel, act and react like your customer. Become a secret shopper. Try your best to imagine what the customer’s feelings, motivations, potential influences and past experiences regarding your product might be. Sometimes this might require research, observation, or god forbid, actually talking to a customer.

Allow Science to Point the Way
Well, the “science” part of the show was shaky at best. However, Sam was placed into a random host in each episode and each leap was totally out of his control. So in a way, he relied on science, although incongruous and completely screwed up, to provide him with direction.

Quantum Leap Science

Just like Sam, marketers must submit willingly to science. If calculated and collected appropriately, numbers don’t lie. Rely on research to educate you about the best methods and messages to incorporate into campaigns. Conduct surveys and personal interviews with the audience that will shed light on the best ways to reach them in a compelling manner. Observe them constantly.

In the interactive marketing profession, we utilize processes like user testing, eye tracking studies, search taxonomy analyses and social media monitoring to learn more about consumers. Above all, always be testing. The testing process will help you solve big problems like what campaign strategy to employ with a multi-million dollar ad buy. It can also answer less important questions like what color the “add to cart” button should be.

Adapt Quickly
At some point in each Quantum Leap episode, Sam would suddenly leap into a new, unfamiliar situation. Like clockwork, his reaction in every instance would be a perplexed, “Oh boy.” However, just as any classic protagonist, Sam would figure it all out – a process that embodied the show’s charismatic charm.

When it comes to planning marketing activities and designing marketing programs based on learned consumer behavior, understand that each situation is completely different from the next. Marketing plan templates are commonplace within marketing departments and agencies. I use them myself. Regardless, marketing plans must be as unique as the client or campaign they are designed to support and the customers they are intended to reach. One size does not fit all. Marketers should treat every campaign differently . Carefully consider how to communicate to disparate audiences with methods that are equal parts creative, effective and measurable.

Put Right What Once Went Wrong
put right what once went wrongThroughout the Quantum Leap series, Sam is continuously placed in sticky situations. On many occasions his influence helped change the course of history for good. For example, he performed the Heimlich maneuver on Dr. Heimlich, Sam prevented the shooting of Jackie Kennedy and he taught a young Michael Jackson how to moonwalk.

Let’s face it. The marketing/advertising profession has not always had the best reputation. Any time the task is defined as influencing another human being’s behavior, some will ultimately question your motivations. You as a marketer ultimately have a choice about how to use your talents. You can choose to educate and enlighten the masses about products, services, people and ideas that can help them, or you can choose to sell only for the purpose of helping yourself. Never take a job just for the money. Focus your energy on doing great work to support organizations that can improve the human condition. Do that with humility, and the rewards will follow. I promise. And don’t waste your time with miscreant clients. You are better than that.

3 thoughts on “Marketers Can Learn from Scott Bakula

  1. Amazing analogy to a very underrated TV show. Love the stuff about focusing on what the customer wants. Although everyone claims to be and strives to be customer centric, almost every sentence that comes out begins with the word “I”.

    Great stuff.

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