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Terry O'Reilly's musings on marketing offer valuable life lessons

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/3/2017 (1246 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Fans of Terry O’Reilly’s The Age of Persuasion, a weekly CBC radio program about the world of advertising, were delighted in 2009 to see much of the material relaunched in print form. The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, co-authored by Mike Tennant, was both fun and informative, and gave us what we needed to know about the world of brands and advertising.

The Sudbury-born O’Reilly has since created a new weekly CBC Radio program titled Under the Influence, which is also available in podcast. This new show is similar to its predecessor, and continues to amuse audiences with informative stories, sound bites, and insights about advertising and marketing.

Sidney O’Reilly photo</p><p>Author Terry O’Reilly.</p>

Sidney O’Reilly photo

Author Terry O’Reilly.

As with his earlier book, This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence is based on O’Reilly’s radio work, yet it has a different feel from The Age of Persuasion. Here the emphasis is on life lessons he has drawn during his 30 years in the advertising industry and as co-founder of Toronto-based Pirate Radio & Television. The author wants readers to "know" what he has learned so they can better design their own marketing strategies.

The biggest takeaway here is that to be effective in marketing, managers need to hold onto the spark that originally ignited their business in the first place. This spark needs to be felt continually throughout the company’s culture, both inside and outside. Examples where this occurs include Apple and Virgin Airlines, who seek to cultivate high-quality employees while addressing their customer needs with distinctive service and products.

Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways; one example involves the high-end Morton’s steakhouse chain. At the end of a long work day with a two-hour flight to Newark, N.J. about to commence, a hungry and tired businessman tweeted Morton’s on a lark, suggesting they deliver a porterhouse steak for his arrival. O’Reilly writes that at the Newark airport, the worn-out traveller encountered "a tuxedoed gentleman standing there, holding a sign with his name on it in one hand and a bag with a 24-ounce Morton’s porterhouse steak, shrimp, potatoes, bread, napkins and silverware in the other." Just so that readers don’t think this an urban myth, O’Reilly’s book includes the photograph of the astonished traveller.

O’Reilly shares the Morton’s story, among many others, to demonstrate that to have effective advertising, brand management and marketing strategies, businesses should never separate these from their products and services. In short, excellent products and customer service are the components of good marketing, and no advertising campaign can compensate for poor service or bad products.

Other examples from This I Know include how Apple distinguishes itself from IBM, and how Wired magazine separates itself from other publications by becoming the "magazine mailed back from the future."

There is also the target marketing story originally told by New York Times writer Charles Duhigg about the angry father who stormed into a Minneapolis Target store after discovering the retailer was sending pregnancy-related coupons to his teenage daughter. It turned out the daughter was pregnant and Target discerned this even before the girl’s father could; they did so by using "prediction score" algorithms based on purchasing behaviours, such as when women buy unscented lotions, dietary supplements, cotton balls and washcloths.

O’Reilly includes a worthwhile chapter with practical insights for those who make presentations to prospective clients. This includes the "cardinal rule" to know your audience, and the "million ways you can die in a presentation."

Near the end of This I Know, O’Reilly includes lessons on "personal branding" and managing one’s own career. While we all know the pitfalls of how one’s online behaviours can derail a job application, O’Reilly makes a good point for business owners and consultants on why they need to separate their personal lives from their business.

What makes This I Know engaging — like O’Reilly’s work in radio and the earlier Age of Persuasion book — is the author’s obvious love of his craft. He clearly also admires the work of retailers, marketers, brand managers and advertisers when they market to us, the customers, with intelligence and foresight.

Christopher Adams is a social scientist based at St. Paul’s College who worked for 20 years in the marketing research industry.

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