One doesn't have to be a superhero to unlock the secrets of time and perception to improve their marketing mastery.
In anticipation of Avengers: Infinity Wars (which many of my colleagues will tell you I am super excited for, as with most Marvel movies) I decided to take a different and less-traveled approach to marketing principles. Upon a much needed re-watch of Marvel's Doctor Strange, and after an interesting teaching moment with one of the project managers I collaborate with, a few simplified truths revealed themselves. Even as a seasoned professional, sometimes the best approach is to forget everything you think you know.
Doctor Steven Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon at the peak of his career who has perfected and created groundbreaking techniques in medicine. After a near-fatal car crash, his hands, the tools of his trade, are broken and destroyed and he can never work in surgery again. After depleting his resources, he comes across a miraculous medical case that leads him to Kamartaj, a sanctuary and school in Nepal led by the Ancient One, a master of sorcery and a mystical being. He pleads with her to teach him a way to cure his broken hands, but what he really learns is a new world that heals him in so many other ways.
Doctor Strange becomes part of this order of sorcerers that must defend the world from a zealot called Kaecilius who seeks a spell that will unlock an evil dimension, and a powerful spiritual god that will grant him eternal life. Though Kaecilius makes in interesting case about trust and power, Doctor Strange chooses to defend Earth, even if that means bending a few rules along the way. Doctor Strange advances in the metaphysical art of sorcery, wields the power to master time and from the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York, defends Earth against threats from alternate dimensions.
Time. Every marketer lives by it. Every project runs by it. Deadlines govern our schedules, our careers, even our lives. So how does one control time? Sorry to break it to you, even a Sorcerer Supreme wielding the Eye of Agamotto can never truly control time. However, you can learn to work within it and around it. Time is a major overarching theme in Doctor Strange's world. Until the end of the film, he wears the watch that was damaged in his near-fatal car crash, though it is broken and stopped, he still keeps it as a reminder of the things he cannot fix. In the climax of the film (which I generally don't like to reveal in too much detail) Doctor Strange uses a time loop to his advantage in defeating the inter-dimensional villain. In so many ways, the film reveals that our true enemy is time. Even Kaecilius' efforts to gain eternal life and time everlasting proves to be his ruin.
As the Ancient One explains in one of Strange's training exercises "the only way to control it is to surrender to it". Counter-intuitive as it may be, think of time as existing on the principle of The Serenity Prayer - "accept the things you cannot change, have courage to change the things you can and seek the wisdom to know the difference." It helps to accept that you cannot change time, which in this industry means that your deadline isn't going anywhere (unless by some miracle you are granted an extension) but even with your extension granted, that deadline isn't going anywhere either.
I have heard "We could have done better if we had more time." in too many proposal production crunches. Most veteran or expert marketers will tell you that you don't have the time, you make the time. This comes down to time management, including "padded" scheduling, which is to situate your schedule with days in between milestones for late items, emergencies, extra editing, and any other unplanned or unexpected occurrences. Delegating, prioritizing and simplifying are other tools that you can use to make the most of your time in proposal planning and production. Control what you can within the realm of your time frame because you cannot control time itself.
Perception. Possibly the core element of marketing itself, I think especially in the A/E/C world we tend to forget it is a main principle that we deal with every day. But, perception is still another thing that exists beyond our control. If the goal of marketing is to teach buyers and clients why they should choose your business or services, then controlling their perception of your business or services is necessary to success. However, just as you can never truly control a person or their actions, you can also never truly control their perception of you. Human minds will always remain sentient in thought; it's in our DNA. If the gift of all sentient beings is choice, then anyone can choose to think anything they wish. All we can do as professional services marketers is to help them see things our way.
I have met many technical professionals, engineers, scientists, and yes, even some marketers, that are as arrogant and egotistical as Doctor Strange was before his accident. Many professionals like this, including Dr. Stephen Strange, exist in what is referred to sometimes as "silos". These experts are brilliant at what they do, but are not "big picture" people as is so often expressed. As marketers, and masters of perception, we are tasked with helping not only our clients to see the bigger picture, but sometimes our internal clients, teammates and co-workers as well. In the case of Doctor Strange, his view of the world and its possibilities was extremely limited; especially for a man of science. It took a life changing accident for him to open his mind to other possibilities and alter his perception of reality. By the time he is ready to accept the Ancient One's beliefs and her teachings, he is eager to learn other techniques and skills useful to his goal of healing. He appears reborn as a student again in Kamartaj, learning, training and practicing the mystic arts, by his own words applying "study and practice".
In a recent proposal effort, our team and our marketing efforts did all of the wrong things in terms of time management. It cost us a major on-call contract and risked losing a key client. In our debriefing session, the project manager and I discussed what went wrong, and of course, the go-to excuse was "We didn't have enough time". After a month of frustration, I was having the last of this excuse, and taught him a thing or two about time. Seeing a teaching moment and in my attempt to change his perception, I asked him what plans, processes, quality control and scheduling existed in his project development plan. Specifically, I asked him what he does when things go wrong. When he finished his explanation, I rebutted with a point for point of everything that he just said, re-described as part of the proposal production process. I explained to him that his project process is our proposal process, that their skeleton is one and the same. The only difference is that their time frame was two years, where as mine was two weeks. In the following weeks, he asked me to pull as many resources on marketing planning and strategy as I could get him, and within two months he had decided to sign up as an SMPS member to learn as much as he could about marketing.
As a visual designer, I understand that perception is relative to the eyes, and the visual element is only one part of the total concept of perception. As a coordinator (and in some cases a project manager) I know that time can be both a threat and an asset. As a marketer, I have learned that it takes both to successfully procure clients, sell services and perpetuate a brand. When you have truly understood time and perception, as Doctor Strange has done on his journey to higher power and knowledge, you can bend both to your purpose; if you have the determination to do so. Think of marketing as a sling ring, the sorcerer's relic of inter-dimensional travel. Mordo explains in the film that "Mastery of the sling ring allows you to travel throughout the multiverse. All you need to do is focus, visualize, and see the destination in your mind. Look beyond the world in front of you. Imagine every detail. The clearer the picture, the quicker and easier the gateway will come."
And for the trippiest explanation of time and perception, and one of the coolest movie sequences of the decade, please join the good Doctor on this strange and mind-bending visual journey: