I love Fall.
I love the weather. I love the flavors.
I even love the smells!
Fall has my favorite holidays – Thanksgiving and Halloween. Halloween’s a fun time to be creative, and Thanksgiving is our chance to reflect on what matters to us. I especially love Thanksgiving because you don’t need a particular belief or religion, and (as long as everyone behaves) you can enjoy with people very different from yourself.
Well, I just found out that Fall has another fantastic holiday. Pit Bull Awareness Day. Pit bulls have a marketing problem.
They’re the perfect example of one of my marketing maxims – if you’re not telling your story, someone else is.
Naturally, pit bulls can’t tell their stories, at least not in the mediums where people are getting their stories these days – social media, etc. So pit bulls’ stories are told by others, often misinformed others, or others with an agenda.
For decades, Pit Bulls were the quintessential American Breed. They were America’s favorite dogs. They were frequently used as mascots, such as the famous Spuds McKenzie or The Little Rascals’ Petey, and they were the most common dog in households.
Google “Nanny Dog.” There’s some argument about whether Pitbulls were contemporaneously called “nanny dogs,” but what’s not arguable is that they are excellent with children. You’ll find many black-and-white pictures from the early 1900s of pits with their beloved child companions.
Unfortunately, some pit bulls were also trained to be aggressive. I’m not going to gloss over this, but I will also not give it a lot of space. You can train or abuse a dog to be aggressive, but it’s not easy. And big strong dogs are naturally attractive to people who want to use them as a weapon.
Violence begets violence. That’s true of any animals, including people. And fear can do the same.
The vast majority of dog attacks are a result of fear. Most animals avoid conflict. They will fight when given no other choice if they think it’s the only way to stay safe.
Unfortunately, human behavior can lead to misunderstanding. Obviously, dogs and humans don’t speak the same language and some of the things we naturally do when we see a cute doggie can make a dog feel threatened or cornered.
Lies, Damn Lies, & Statistics
The funny thing is Pitbull is a pretty loose term. It refers more to a shape than a breed. Breeds that fall under the label include American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, and any mix that consists of a bit of any of those breeds.
And that’s part of the problem.
Because of a few bad actors (the aforementioned humans who chose to use their dogs as weapons), people began to associate pit bulls with dangerous dogs at some point in the modern day.
And we see what we expect to see. We also seek out evidence to support our beliefs and downplay proof that doesn’t.
One of the biggest problems we as humans face is our desire for things to be a certain way. So if you read something that makes you feel good – double-check it! Critical thinking is all about checking your sources.
I digress, but this is relevant to your business as well. For example, if your marketing problem is that you’re not telling your story, and someone else is, you now have to counteract that story to those who already believe it.
Back to pit bulls’ marketing problem.
Once pit bulls got associated with violence, stories of their attacks were more likely to be published. And since pit bull is a vague definition, any mixed breed dog with a vaguely large head began to be labeled as pit bull if it attacked a person but as mutt in a feel-good story.
The myth was perpetuated.
The Problem with Personal Accounts
In my previous life, I was a dog trainer. I worked with many dogs of many breeds. On my first day of a dog-related job, they sent me to work with a known aggressive dog who bit me badly. (This was years before being a trainer or even being trained for the job at hand).
That dog wasn’t a pit bull. But what if it was?
I’ve worked with nearly every dog breed and had a good and bad experiences with all of them. Even if I’d had primarily bad, guess what? It doesn’t matter.
Personal experience is irrelevant to objective truth.
We want to believe that if something feels true, it is. This is a problem.
Yeah, But My Grandma…
One of the places I see this the most commonly is health. We’ve all heard some variation of the “My grandma smoked two packs a day, drank a 12-pack of beer, then immediately jumped into the boxing ring where she was punched in the head repeatedly every day! And she lived to be one hundred eleven years old and was still sharp as a tack and could benchpress 825lbs until the day she died.”
So is this story true? Let’s assume it is. Does it matter? No!
Given it matters to your grandma and her family who got to experience the lovely & lively lady, but where it doesn’t matter is in making your own life decisions, which typically is what people use those stories to justify.
The choices she made of experiencing head trauma, drinking, and smoking are objectively unhealthy. The fact that she was ok doesn’t change that. That’s why it’s a compelling story.
I have a great pit bull named Om. He is the most loving creature I have ever met, and he brightens my every day.
However, the worst dog attack I have ever personally witnessed was from a golden retriever. That person was hospitalized.
Neither is relevant.
What is relevant is the overall trend.
The American Temperament Test Society rate Golden Retrievers and Pitbulls as the two most tolerant dog breeds. Behaviorists agree.
The Other Side of the Coin
The opposite is also true. Statistics are irrelevant to the individual.
The fact that you have a lower than 1 in a million chance of being struck by lightning doesn’t matter to the guy who just got hit!
Dogs are individuals. Their personalities are a combination of nature and nurture. But outside of a disease that damages the brain, nurture is generally the most crucial factor.
Pit Bulls’ Marketing Problem
Over the last few years, pit bulls’ narratives have been changing. More dog lovers have been sharing the stories of their loving companions. That has helped the unfortunate creatures who had been unfairly maligned.
In fact, it helped more than the objective truth that pit bulls have calm temperaments.
I said that personal experience isn’t relevant to truth, and that’s true. But it is very relevant to perception.
And unfortunately, most people don’t seek out the truth, so the stories are what matter. And many people continue to hold on to the stories they heard first or the ones they want to believe, so there’s still a long road ahead for what was once America’s Favorite Breed.
Your Company’s Marketing Problem
So what is your company’s marketing problem? Is it that it doesn’t have marketing? Is someone else telling your story, or is there no story?
Whatever it is, get ahead of it. Tell Your Story. Better yet, hire a professional. But don’t let someone else do it who doesn’t care about your success, and don’t let people make up their own.
If you wait and your story gets told before you can get to it, you’ll have an old story to displace. And that is a big marketing problem.