I found this on Mike Wagner’s blog Friday, and I like it a lot. First though, a little vocab recap so you’ll know what Mike is talking about when he mentions “thin slicing.”

Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. The goal of this meme is to get all of us to slow down this process to actually see some of the patterns we recognize long before we consciously know we see them. Caution: Remember the Warren Harding Error – some of what we think we see isn’t really there!

Here are examples of 5 thin-slicing observations from Mike – the first time he visits your business:

1. Does anyone care about this place? The moment I walk into an office, a retail store or a manufacturing plant I’m looking for evidence that people there “give a damn”. For me that means the place is clean, in good repair, and is presentable. “Presentable” probably comes from my formative years when I was often asked just before leaving the house, “Do you think you look presentable?”

2. Are there thinkers here? I value thinkers, readers and articulate people. Are there books and magazines around? Do they looked used or are they just for show? I seldom see any books in client offices so I’ve come to grips with the fact that reading is not considered work. However, I still look for some tiny evidence that people read and think.

3. Is this a place where creative ideas are welcome? There’s just “something” about a place that tells me new ideas and creative thinkers are welcome. Sometimes it’s suggested by the décor of the business. But even with plenty of “fun” in the decoration, at times, I still “feel” they are just a bunch of “stiffs”. I’m always thin-slicing for a left-brain dominated work space.

4. Are these people paying attention to me? This one doesn’t take a lot of slowing down for me to recognize – I am acutely tuned into it. Reception areas, phone calls, greetings, and eye contact all get factored in a nanosecond.

5. Are these “owners”? I always look for an ownership attitude. Do they act like owners or simply hired hands? Owners want me to take the tour of their plant, see their new offices, admire their latest project. I can smell ownership a mile a way.

Bingo. Most stores don’t exhibit these five traits. Some do… and that’s where I don’t only like to shop, but hang out… and send my friends. I’ve found a couple in my zipcode, and I have spent a whole lot of time in the last year cracking their code. (It wasn’t that hard.) 😉

I will be writing about it in February, so stay tuned. Great piece, Mike, as usual.

Francois, over at Emergence Marketing continues the discussion with his list of five – Thin-slicing a Marketing Plan:

1) Do you really need a marketing “plan”?
Very often people just need to get out and engage with customers, prospects, influencers and connectors. There is no need for a marketing plan to do that. Often times marketing plans are just produced by marketing luddites as a CYA document. Granted, for some very large projects that involve large teams of people a plan can be useful – but more as a check-list than as a marketing roadmap.

2) Does the marketing plan show the addressable market being in the billions of dollars?
Any VC will scoff at these numbers – yet they won’t invest if it is not true. Don’t talk about the total addressable market, tell me how you will get your next 10 or 100 customers. Who are they, what do they do, where do they live, how will you reach them? Give me real life scenarios of potential customers and how you will help them solve their problem. Don’t give aggregate figures that have zero meaning.

3) Are you pretending or intending on being a leader in a category that nobody ever heard of?
Most companies I have worked with consider themselves the category leader in a category with one player – themselves. A category is recognized by others as a category and has other players in it. You can “create” a category, but you need help to create a new one – including help from competitors. Show me how you will create a new category, and who you will enlist to help with the creation? Show me how you will change the rules of the game in that category, how you will change the players or change their respective value as you enter the category – now that’s interesting!

4) Does your competitive review result in your company or product being in the upper right hand corner of some diagram?
Do I need to elaborate? You and everybody else lives there…it must be pretty tough to compete there. Show me where you are on the BS curve compared to others – that would be much more interesting…

5) What part of the plan deals with how you will deal with change?
The biggest danger with plans is that they become “bibles” – and once they are approved nobody can deviate from the chosen path. Yet most successful marketing programs are emergent in nature, they are like a jamming sessions…and so back to point 1) do you really need a marketing plan?

And then you have this, from Stephen Denny’s Note To CMO blog:

Thin slicing hot (and not very hot) brands? There are a lot of thin slices you can take on a brand – how you react to a brand presentation at a boardroom level, how you react as a consumer, etc. So here’s a very thin slice – your potential customer’s first second of recognition when exposed to your new brand, hot or not:

Hot brands evoke one of two visceral reactions. First is The Eyebrow Arch, accompanied by the ‘ooh’. This is the “that’s very cool” reaction you want with anything you just launched at the show in Vegas. The second is The Buddha Nod and the “aah”. This is the “I’m so glad you came along and fixed this mess” reaction you want with the service you just launched.

The “not very hot” brands also prompt visceral reactions. Just different ones. You remember Nipper, the RCA dog who cocks his head to one side, hearing his master’s voice – or, perhaps he’s saying, “You do – what – exactly? And why do I want this?” The other is The Hanging “And”, so identified by the listener’s continuing rapt attention to a statement that has long since finished, whose unfulfilled expectation is that an “and” would come along to make it all finally makes sense. This is the proverbial “6 Minute Abs” video.

People can’t help being interested when they are and can’t fake it very well when they’re not.

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You know, my comment above may sound a bit flip, but it’s not meant to be. I try to bring a bit of levity to the subjects I cover because that’s how I communicate serious stuff. But the underlying truth here is that the observational, behavioral side of customer insight is more powerful than a handfull of questionnaires filled out by bored shoppers. You have to get this feedback when people are willing to be engaged in the experience you’re selling, which is why intrusive advertising (let alone research) is so appallingly bad. But watch people and they’ll tell you what you need to know. That’s my point.

This thin-slicing thing is only getting started, so if it strikes your curiosity, head on over to Mike and Francois’ blogs and follow the threads. Weeks of fun ahead to be sure. 🙂

And for a little word of caution, check out this little bit on Roger Von Oech’s Creative Think blog.