What the West Coast can teach the East Coast; and What the East can teach the West.

The paradigm for the Tech Giants of the West is:  Data first!  This appears to lead to the creative destruction of the old paradigm of the East: Insight first!  What if they’re both necessary?

In the established TV ad empires of the East—such as the WPP, Publicis, or Omnicom agency networks—the creative pecking order in an ad agency is: writers first, artists second, with the data researcher at the bottom of the hierarchy. 

The reason for this is that the writers—the word smiths—are the best at selling their concepts, while the artists frequently sit mute in meetings (they speak with their hands), and the researchers are incomprehensible, speaking math to English majors.

Writers are used to thinking inside their characters’ heads. So, the Don Draper message in any business meeting is, “Trust me! I know what the consumer really wants.”

Meanwhile, the tech titans of the West—Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix—are companies founded by math geeks and software programmers. They are decision makers with a data-first mentality and represent an inversion of the old order. 

The viewpoint of the tech Wizard is the opposite of that of the Writer. The focus of the Wizard is on behavior, not motivation; on value, not desire; on transactions, not loyalty.

West coast wizards are behaviorists, like the Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner in the ’50s who believed in operant conditioning. The idea that human behavior is only determined by rewards and punishments, with little concern for what goes on inside the little black box of the human brain.

As an example, consider the use of attribution models.  These are mathematical models used for assigning credit for sales and conversions based on tracking digital footprints across media.  This is pure behaviorism.  Based on these models, money is allocated across different media platforms based on opportunities-to-see, rather than on any evidence that the creative content of the advertising was actually seen and processed into memory.

Think about the real value of that opportunity-to-see the next time you turn your smart phone away when an ad starts to play. Or the next time you focus your attention on final seconds counting down in the lower right part of the screen, while you wait to skip the ad…

Behaviorists live in a world of correlation, not causality.  It is enough to know that those who visited website X had a higher probability of buying the product than those who visited website Y. It is not necessary to know the reason why they bought the product.

The goal of a west coast entrepreneur is to build a unicorn—a company with a billion-dollar valuation. The purpose of all that data is to build a successful business model.

It seems to work.

The view of the customer from the West is objective, from the outside looking in; while the view of the East is subjective, from the inside looking out.

The viewpoint of the East is that of companies that are already big and are looking to build the next billion-dollar brand. Rather than creatively disrupt an industry, the Easterner wants to disrupt a mind. Their focus is on motivations, uncovering the hidden desires that determine our actions.  The East coast viewpoint is based on causality, not correlation.

Here is a brief comparison of the two paradigms. I’m sure you can add a few to the list.

West Coast Paradigm  East Coast Paradigm
Build Companies Build Brands
Behavior First Motivation First
Data First Insight First
Transaction Focused Loyalty Focused
Micro Targeting Macro Targeting
Social Media TV
AI–Big Data Causal Models
Outside-In View Inside-Out View

Paradigms appear to be complete in the world-views that they create, but they each can lead to different interpretations and conclusions about how what is really going on.  Paradigms are a lot like points-of-view in that respect.

Here’s an example of what can happen when paradigms shift:


Points of View advertisement by The Guardian

Sometimes more than one viewpoint is needed to get the whole picture.

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