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5 TED Talks That All Marketers Need to See

For the uninitiated, TED Talks are non-profit expos where big thinkers discuss even bigger ideas. The concept has developed since TED’s inception in 1984, growing exponentially after 2006 thanks to the proliferation of online video. Thanks to its presence online, the TED Talk brand has spread across borders and language barriers. The best way to…

An illustration of a speaker on stage in front of an audience, both are in silhouette.For the uninitiated, TED Talks are non-profit expos where big thinkers discuss even bigger ideas. The concept has developed since TED’s inception in 1984, growing exponentially after 2006 thanks to the proliferation of online video. Thanks to its presence online, the TED Talk brand has spread across borders and language barriers.

The best way to foster creativity is to surround yourself with new, fresh ideas. So here, I’ve selected 5 TED Talks that I feel all marketers need to see. Though not all of these talks have direct practical applications, they provide a wealth of insight into marketing as a whole, and offer up fresh ways of potentially solving marketing problems.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action from Simon Sinek

This is probably the best known TED Talk on this list. Though the title refers to leadership, Sinek’s talk largely deals with communication. Both leaders and marketers need to be apt communicators – in a way marketers are also leaders because they inspire people to take action.

Here, author and thought leader Sinek discusses his “golden circle” concept. Every business on the planet knows what they do, so it stands to reason that the what is just scratching the surface. In marketing and communications, the best way to appeal to your readers’ hearts and minds is to start with the reason why you do what you do.

This is essential viewing for everyone who creates marketing materials or any kind of business communications. It discusses the psychology of communication, and how to hone in on the messages that resound with readers and encourage them to act.

Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce from Malcolm Gladwell

This talk tells the story of market research legend Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz is a psychophysicist who uses his data-driven, scientific nous to carry out market research for consumer brands. After working with the likes of Pepsi and Nescafe, he had an epiphany – consumer tastes are incredibly variable – often in ways that both the supplier and the consumer may find surprising.

Gladwell highlights that there isn’t necessarily value in trying to distil your offering into a single, homogenised product or service. There is never an outright winner in terms of what consumers actually want. Instead, you should look for trends in your data which indicate different solutions which suit different tastes. Producing one universal option will make everyone moderately happy, but niching down into multiple different tailored options will satisfy the same customers to a much higher degree.

So don’t water down your offering to try to appeal to everyone; research, segment, and target until you have a few core options that provide real value.

We’re Building a Dystopia Just to Make People Click on Ads from Zeynep Tufekci

This one’s for digital marketers in particular but well worth a watch for everyone who does business online. Though it doesn’t give us any marketing advice to go away and apply, it’s an essential reality check into the ethics of digital marketing algorithms.

Tufecki starts her talk with a very familiar premise – digital advertising. She gives the example of looking at a product online, only to have that product “follow you” around the web via ads.

The algorithms that serve up ads, search results, and social media content receive a vast amount of behavioural data about us. Through machine learning, this data can (rather worryingly) be used to extrapolate surprisingly personal things about us, like sexual orientation, political views, and mental health status. Algorithms can even correctly identify people with their faces covered. This kind of technology is already being used elsewhere in the world to surveil the public.

This talk provides a fascinating glimpse at the scary world that online algorithms are creating, just to get us to click on ads. Though it’s quite a worrying outlook, Tufekci presents the problem in an entertaining and eloquent way and offers a hopeful outlook for the future.

What Physics Taught Me About Marketing from Dan Cobley

If (like me) you’re a massive marketing and science nerd, this talk is essential viewing. In this highly entertaining presentation, Google Marketing Director Dan Cobley discusses a few interesting ways in which marketing and physics overlap.

To start, he discusses Newton’s Law: Force = Mass x Acceleration. On the surface, it may appear to have little to do with marketing; but Cobley explains what this fundamental law has to do with rebranding and why large companies like Unilever split their various products into smaller household names.

Next up, there’s Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This states that it’s impossible to observe the exact state of a subatomic particle – the act of looking at it, changes it. This is similar to market research. As mentioned in Gladwell’s talk, what customers want and what customers say they want when asked can paint two very different pictures.

Rather than giving away everything away – or delving into Cobley’s marketing application of the Scientific Method and the Second Law of Thermodynamics – I highly suggest you check it out.

The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold from Morgan Spurlock

In this talk, filmmaker and documentarian Spurlock (of “Super Size Me” fame) shares his experience of working with large corporations and marketing agencies for his film “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”. The concept of the film was to explore the world of corporate sponsorship and product placement; but at the same time, the aim was to get the film totally funded by corporate sponsors.

Though he presented ad firms with a novel offering, few took him up on the offer. The problem was that the brands he approached wanted to tell their story rather than present a transparent look at the industry. He hypothesises that this is because transparency is scary and unpredictable; which brings us to the matter of risk.

Spurlock finishes on the importance of taking risks and how playing things too safe closes the door on opportunity. He also explores his own personal brand and how discovering it helped him identify brands who were a better fit for his project.

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We hope you’ve found these talks inspiring. Are you a TED Talk aficionado? Do you have a favourite talk – from TED or from elsewhere? Please link to it down in the comments – we’d love to check it out!

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