In his newest book, Frenemies: The Epic Destruction Of The Ad Business (And Everything Else) , Ken Auletta explores the morphing of expertise from “Mad Men” to “Math Men”.
The gist of his argument (Chapter 16) is that the ad industry has moved from glorifying impactful creativity (Mad Men) to pushing scale and savings (Media Men) to leveraging data and technology (Math Men).
Now, forget the advertising business for a moment and look at your vertical and specialty instead. Think of those three labels as data points on a scale to position yourself in your market.
There is no value judgment here—one is not intrinsically better than any other. That’s because in consulting you can make an excellent living at any point on the scale, provided you’ve aligned your business with your expertise.
The Mad Men (and just for the record, every time you see “men” here, I absolutely mean all genders) are the innovators and the creative geniuses. If you’re a Mad Man, you consistently push the envelope for the newest, perhaps most resonating or outrageous “thing” in your field.
You’re creating one-of-a-kind experiences with and for your clients. You’ll be high-touch, expensive and while you may have a core service that you replicate every time (say your strategy process), chances are you have plenty of one-off add-ons.
The Media Men are going to be more about scale than Mad Men.
You won’t have a handful of significant clients in a year—you might have a couple dozen or a hundred or more depending on how big you’ve grown your business.
You’re probably delivering something that has a repeatable process—your claim to fame will be around consistent execution even though your clients still have a diverse set of issues and circumstances.
The Math Men (I keep picturing Taylor from “Billions” here) take scale to a whole new level using data and technology. You’ll have the most discrete services and products and rely on data you can touch: clicks, opens, purchases, add-ons.
You’ll have the most clients/customers and scale up using technology. You’ll say no to the one-offs unless you can demonstrate there is a paying market you can grow swiftly. Your best clients want products and services that are field-tested and delivered at an economical price.
Picture these three points on a spectrum—Mad Men, Media Men and Math Men—where do you fit?
How might you use your position on that spectrum as yet another differentiator in your space?
Let’s say you’re in the technology consulting arena.
The Mad Men would have a high-touch, high-end boutique consulting firm forging new breakthroughs in technology development or application in their vertical.
The Media Men might build an implementation firm helping companies in their vertical apply proven technologies to various company processes.
And the Math Men would sell scalable technology—perhaps as SaaS—making it available at a price point accessible to a broader field than those who can afford the Media Men.
The challenge here—as in all positioning—is to align all the facets of your business with your market promise.
If you’re a Mad Man, you darned well better price yourself far higher than the Media Man and treat your clients more intimately than the Math Man.
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