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Transcript of Interview with Martin Lindstrom


Dan: Welcome to another episode of Shoulders of Titans.  This is Dan Lok, and today, I have the privilege of bringing you a world-renowned branding expert, professional speaker, New York Times best-selling author, an amazing business thinker, and a visionary who sees opportunities that others miss.  Martin, welcome to the show!

Martin: Thank you, Dan.  It’s a great pleasure to be on your show.


Dan: I have so many questions for you on branding and marketing.  I love your new book Small Data.  Take us back to the beginning.  Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into what you do today.

Martin: My background is crazy.  When I was a kid, I loved Legos.  I was not just a fan; I was crazy in my mind, because I decided to build my own Legoland in the back yard of my mom and dad’s garden.  I was serious.  I managed to get a sponsorship from Sony.  They flew me free of charge to Japan from Denmark, where I learned bonsai tree cutting techniques.  Can you believe it?

Then, I went back to my little back yard.  I built up my little Legoland.  And I’ll never forget this, Dan: The first day I opened my Legoland, two people showed up–my mom and my dad, each paying $1.  It really was the low point of my career.  I went into panic.  I went to the local print office.  I had them sponsor me.  We took an ad out in the paper, and I had 131 visitors visiting my Legoland two days later.

The only problem was that visitor #130 and visitor #131 were the lawyers from Lego suing me.  That’s a true story.  They said to me, “It’s our brand.”  I said, “What is a brand?”  They said, “That’s the logo we have on there.”  I said, “Oh, no, it’s mine.  I bought the boxes.”

So I had a bit of an argument with them.  Again, this is a true story: They actually offered me a job at Lego.  So I started to work at Lego, and within about a year–I was 12 years old then–I persuaded them to become a client.  Then, I started up my own advertising agency which I later on sold when I was 18, to BBDO.  So that was my first step into the world of creativity and Lego and branding.

Dan: That’s amazing.  So from a simple hobby as a little kid–which, by the way, I loved Legos when I was a kid.  I would buy them.  Maybe not in the back yard, maybe not as big, but I would buy them.  You have the pirates, you have the soldiers.  It was a lot of fun.


Dan: So Martin, I know that you’ve been doing branding for many years, now.  You’re one of the top, top, top branding experts in the world.  From your perspective, what exactly is a brand?

Martin: A brand is an emotional construct.  It helps you to project an image to the world which you’d like to own.  That’s the clinical term.  But what branding really is–brands don’t exist.  Products are produced in the factory; brands are produced in our minds.  It is emotions.  The better we are constructing the right format of emotions, the better we are at attaching value to a product and service, and, most importantly, making this product or service become differentiated.

You have to remember you can’t copy emotions.  You can copy products and services.  That’s the reason why it’s so valuable to work with brands.  But you also have to remember that–and this is coming back, of course, to my book Small Data–that one of the things I’m discovering in my recent work is that life is all about imbalance.  Whole countries can be out of balance.  A culture can be out of balance.  People are out of balance.

If you take Syria, it’s completely out of balance, and people are escaping.  If you take America, it’s out of balance in terms of fear.  People are incredibly politically, and therefore, they’re fearful of offending other people.  But if I go down to an individual level, we also have imbalances.  Some people are embarrassed about being too overweight.  Some people feel they haven’t achieved what they wanted to do when they turned 40.  Other people feel they have no friends or they don’t have a girlfriend or partner.  All these out-of-balances in our lives, whether they’re small or big, represent an opportunity for a brand.

The goal at the end of the day as a marketer is to understand where we’re out of balance and fill that with a solution, which is a brand.  On one hand, you have our out-of-balances, and on the other hand, you have that emotional construct.  And when you combine these two things, you actually have a brand.

Dan: Some entrepreneurs might think we’re talking about just a logo.  We’re not just talking about logos.  What makes a great brand?

Martin: A lot of things.  First of all, let’s talk about the logo for a second.  Remember that the logo is really the dot on top of the i.  It’s an encapsulation of an emotion.  It’s a little bit like an emoji.  An emoji is representing a lot of emotions.  But an emoji is not representing.  You could say it’s the end part of a long road of work you’ve done to get to that point.

To create a powerful brand, you really need to work on–let’s take 5 different constructs.  I can give you 50, but I’ll do a summary with 5.  The first thing you need to do is to have an incredible, powerful, brand vision.  And the brand vision–and this is really important, Dan–a brand vision is not to say my company wants to earn $10 billion by the end of the year, because that’s not going to create an army of believers.  What a brand vision is, is a high construct.  It’s really something a little bit above what we’re doing today.  It certainly never talks about money and products.  It always talks about how you can help humankind.

If you take some of the most powerful visions in the world, you’ll notice all of those brand visions have one thing in common: they have actually managed, in one way or another, to gather crowds.  If you take Martin Luther King as an example, you’ll notice that this guy, he created such a strong gathering of people that at the end of the day, he could create whole chains of revolution in our world.  You had JFK.  He created a brand vision which is, “I want to put man on the moon.”

This is interesting stuff, because as he said it, he also lived it.  There’s a supposedly true story where he went to the development area where they were developing the rocket which was going to space, and he stopped by a person cleaning the floor.  And he said to the cleaner, ‘What’s your role?”  The cleaner turned around and said, “My role is to put a man on the moon.”

In many ways, this shows that a brand vision can really capture the souls and the minds of a lot of people.  If you’re really, really good at that, then certainly, guess what happens in our lives?  Certainly, we are on the right track to actually create a powerful brand.  So this wold be #1.

Number two would really be to own one word.  Let’s just try a game.  If I take a car and I say the word “safety,” what car would you think of?

Dan: Volvo, of course.

Martin: Absolutely.  Now how did they get to that point?  In 1956, they already employed an engineer, a technician, from the Swedish Air Force.  This guy was actually the one developing the safety program at the Swedish Air Force.  He took on board the three-point seat belt.  He invented that for the car.  So Volvo was the first car in the world to have the three-point seat belt, which we all have today around the world.

Not only that, they were also the first to have the seat belt alarm.  (I still hate him for that one.)  They were the first to have the air bags in the side of the car, the first to have 24/7 light on it.  By the way, they just announced recently, I believe, that within the next couple years, ten years from now, they’re going to release the first crash-free car in the world.  That’s a powerful vision.

They’re not just owning a word.  They’re owning a word because there consistently has been incredible focus.  I think my question to everyone, including you, is, “What is your one word?”  The one word cannot be “quality” or “service” or “international,” it has to be absolutely unique, and you build on it.  You continue to build on it.

If you take Richard Branson, the word is “rebellious.”  If you take Oprah Winfrey, it would be “compassionate.”  If you take Princess Diana, it would be “peace.”  They all own one word.  This is really the second thing.  What is your one word?

Dan: Does it always have to be a descriptive word?

Martin: You can invent your own word.  As you know from one of my past books, Buyology, I invented my own word.  For awhile, I became sort of Mr. Neuro-marketing in the world.  I’m slightly different because I tend to reinvent myself every third or fourth year.

Dan: We all need to do that from time to time.

Martin: We do, in the Madonna way, you could say.  So that’s the second thing.  Third thing is really to own a symbolic language around yourself.  I call it the “smash your brand” language.  It comes back to 1915 when the Coca-Cola bottle was invented.  It actually gave a briefing to its external bottle manufacturer, and the briefing was to develop a bottle so smart that if you drop it on the floor and you pick up one piece of glass, you can still recognize the brand.  That’s what I call a “smashable.”  That can be a sound, it can be a touch, it can be a taste, it can be a pattern.  It can be a shape.  It can really be anything.  But if you’re really good at it, you’ll notice you’re starting to actually own more than just that logo.

The Tiffany box, that color, the blue ribbon color, is a smashable.  You’ll notice that the Beetle is a smashable in its shape, or Chanel No. 5 bottle is a smashable.  The Toblerone shape is a smashable.  That’s not the logo.  It’s basically a vocabulary of visuals which both is smell and sound and touch and taste and sight.  But it can be across all the 5 senses we have.  That’s important for you to own, because the more you own of that, the less you have to show the logo.  But also, the more you can actually plaster the air with signals which are indirectly telling about who you are.  So that’s the third one.

The fourth is really then to start communicating things.  That’s where you need to have a platform.  I think in the old days, I would have said, “Buy TV commercials.”  But today, I think it’s fair to say that’s probably not a way to do it.  That means a brand really needs to gather fans and believers.  You can do that by giving free content, which you’re really good at.  But really, the more you give free content experiences, learnings, insights, all that stuff, the closer i feel to the brand, that vision I just heard about, or the more I’m engaged with the brand.  So that would be to build up your platform and spread the word of mouth.

Then, of course, #5 is to wrap the whole product and service in storytelling and to create amazing stories around it, all of them true, of course, which are then enabling you to make sure that you tell a story.  This is important.  The better I am at telling a story, the more value I am prepared to assign to that brand or product.

We did some experiments some years ago for one of my books where we had this fake family placed in Los Angeles, and they were asked to talk to all the friends and family members and bring them into the home, and then they would spread the word of mouth, rumors about brands, without anyone knowing it.  We asked them to talk very positively about a bottle of wine.  Now in the cases where people had never heard about the wine, by nature, they liked the wine in 31% of the cases.  If they’ve heard about the wine, typically, it would be 51%.  But if the family began to talk about this amazing bottle of wine, and we would then later interview them–not at the dinner table, but later on–two weeks later–in 91% of the cases, they actually liked the taste of the wine.

So even rumors and word of mouth and storytelling can actually transform our mindset.  We’d done so many of these type of experiments where we actually look into the brain, and time after time, I’m able to realize that just by telling stories, you actually transform your impression of a brand name.

So these are the 5 components in basically developing a powerful brand.

Dan: Very powerful.  I asked you what makes a great brand, and you gave me a 5-step blueprint.  That’s awesome.


Dan: Let’s say for small business owners, they kind of already have a brand, or they might not have a brand.  How would someone know if their branding is working or not?

Martin: I think it’s very simple, actually, because if you, as a small business owner–let’s say you’re selling plumbing services–if you sell plumbing services, and your price point, for some reason, is substantially higher than everyone else, and people actually are willing to pay for it, then it’s very simple: your brand is powerful.  In fact, your brand’s value is that difference between the generic price out there for generic offerings and the premium price people are paying for your brand.  So that difference, you can actually use as the foundation to assess what the value of your company is.

But if it happens to be that you actually can’t charge more, and as soon as you charge more, people say, “I’m going to go to someone else,” your brand is just not strong enough.  That is where you have to ask yourself why it’s not strong enough.  At the end of the day, it comes back to the fact that you haven’t managed to wrap your brand around this emotional construct we talk about.

You have to remember, at the end of the day, we do not fall in love with products, we fall in love with people.  Because people is an emotion.  Whether you’re saying to me, “Well, I fall in love with my iPad, for example,” well, that may be true.  But you just might have fallen in love with the idea of being cool, the idea of being in the forefront, the idea of a lot of other things, which I actually mostly construct.  So the more you can take that emotion which is represented by a person and plaster that onto a product, the better you are at basically building your brand and charging a premium price.

So, long story short, if you cannot charge a premium price, you have a problem.  Of course around that comes to build awareness, drive traffic, and all that stuff.  And of course, that has to do with the brand as well.  But it’s really not the essence of branding.  What traffic generation is all about is really to create the awareness around the brand.

There are a lot of people who have an enormous high awareness.  I’ll give you one example, which would be Hitler.  Adolf Hitler.  He has a really, really high awareness.  I’m sure that no one would want to buy his perfume.  So awareness doesn’t mean you necessarily have a positive, powerful brand.


Dan: What’s your take on personal branding?  Is there any difference between a corporate brand and a personal brand when we go about building one?

Martin: First of all, and I’ve had a lot of discussions with a lot of people about that, I have a range of different celebrity banks.  One of them is Tyra Banks, who invented the America’s Next Top Model show.  So building those brands, I’ve learned that there’s actually not a lot of difference between a regular brand and a celebrity brand or a personal brand.

First of all, I want to say one thing: We all have brands.  But it may be that the awareness is not high, or it may be that we’re not very succinct in the message we’re sending out.  Therefore, we’re not really aware if we are brands.  But there’s no difference in the way, as I said previously with Richard Branson, he would own one word, which is “rebellious.”  So the first thing that you need to do for yourself is to ask yourself what your one word is.

Second, you have to say to yourself, “What is the construct which is making you different?”  Here’s a good trick you may find useful: I tend to say that you should combine two ordinary things in a new way.  By doing that, you actually have a new platform.  So for my platform, very simple, the first book I published was in 1994.  That was the year the worldwide web was invented, by the way, and my book was called Brand Building on the Internet.  I took branding, I took technology, or, in this case, the internet, and combined it in a new way.  Then, suddenly, it became the new philosophy of how we today are building brands on the internet.

Later on, in 1999, I created something called clicks and mortar.  I basically took online and off and combined it in a new way.  It became the term “clicks and mortar.”  Or you take the senses and brands, it became Brand Sense–how to build brands using the 5 sentence.  Really, what I’m talking about is to take two ordinary objects and combine it in a new way.  I’ve learned that that is probably the most powerful way to build brands, at least personal brands.

I’ll tell you why: The issue today is that everything is taken already.  Everyone has done it already.  It’s not like you can be Mr. Service #1 in the world.  I can mention ten other people who own that space.  Yes, you can fight for it, and maybe you’re lucky to get to that #1 position, but the problem is, you only have 70-80 years in which to do it, and then you’re sort of fading out from planet Earth.  So if you want to do it faster, you need to find the short course, and that’s definitely one short course.


Dan: So basically, taking two existing concepts, you combine them into one, and we basically become the creator or founder of this particular concept.  We are the first, so people recognize, if they want this particular new concept, we are the only source, not just a commodity.

Martin: Absolutely.  And that’s where you can be pretty clever.  The big thing from years ago was SEO.  If you’re clever, you’re saying, “What about social media?”  A lot of people are spreading a lot of words about social media out there, and rumors, and that will affect the search engines.  Why don’t we create social and SEO, and that becomes “social SEO,” and then we suddenly have a whole new term.  We have a lot of experts taking on board that mindset.

Of course, for my book, Small Data, I’m doing the same thing in many ways.  I’m taking data, and I’m taking small, and I’m creating “small data,” which really is a term that didn’t exist until last week.  But it’s a term where I’m trying to create a counterpart to big data.  And I think with good reason, because it’s very clear for me that the world has become so obsessed with big data that we’ve become blinded by the human side of what really makes a heartbeat tick.  That is what I define as “small data.”  I’m taking my own medicine here.

Dan: That’s very smart, because when people think of data, it’s always huge amounts of data, a lot of codes.  They will associate the word with big data.  You almost have two concepts that contradict each other.  When you put it together, it makes people pay attention.  Huh?  What?  What do you mean by that?  And we’ve got them hooked.  We have their attention.

Martin: Another methodology I have in mind, which I’m writing a lot about in one of my books, I think the book you read in the past, called Buyology, because in Buyology, I’m introducing a term called a “somatic marker.”  A somatic marker was developed by Antonio Damasio.  He moved to the U.S. later on.  He developed the idea of creating an emotional bookmark in our brains.  It’s actually such a dramatic bookmark that you’ll never forget it.

As a child, for example, if you burn your fingers on the stove, you’ll have a negative somatic marker.  You’ll never touch that again.  If you start to drown, you’ll never go near water again.  That’s a negative somatic marker.  That’s a negative bookmark in our brain.  We can actually also create positive bookmarks in the brain, positive somatic markers.  You actually can do that at different degrees.  There can be really small somatic markers, and there can be huge ones which you’ll never, ever forget.

One of the brand-wise somatic markers, positive ones, were, for example, when Red Bull had Felix being the highest-jumping person on planet Earth.  It took five minutes, and immediately, people are associating Red Bull and Felix together, and it just fit very well.  That’s a positive somatic marker.

Or you could do it in a small format, which really is what I’m doing, to some degree, with Small Data.  Because it is a conflict in our brain.  If you’ve learned about and heard about big data for 5 years now, and suddenly you hear the term “small data,” it’s kind of like, “What?”  It makes you sort of wake up for a moment.  You say, “Hmm.  That’s interesting.”

Imagine taking brand equity from big data and taking on board to small data in order to build a whole new term.  You have to remember, that’s my life, to build new terms and phrases which are encapsulating new philosophies, new directions, new trends.


Dan: Beautiful.  Talk to us a little bit about the book Small Data.  What inspired you to write the seventh book?

Martin: A lot.  I have to say this book, more than any other book–and this is not me trying to be Mr. Advertising here–but this is the book which is closest to my heart of everything.  If you want to understand who I am, you read that book, because it creates a counterbalance to big data.  Big data is all about numbers, as you said.  And it’s great.  Fantastic.  You can learn a lot from numbers.  But the issue is that numbers are not telling the entire truth.  So if you take, for example–are you married?

Dan: Yes, I am.

Martin: Why do you love your wife?

Dan: Let’s see if she’s listening to this.  We are very compatible.  She understands me.  We understand each other.  She feels like she’s my soulmate.

Martin: Let’s pause here for a second.  That was a really, really tricky question, right?  And it’s like, “Well, what?  What do I have to answer?”  Now, if I would have asked you what is 2 + 2, you would have said 4.  But because I’m asking you an emotional question, you can’t answer it.  You have to think.  You have to go into a completely different compartment in your brain and express emotions.

If I asked you to basically tell the love affair you have with your wife, why you love her so much, with numbers, I’m pretty sure you would agree with me, you wouldn’t say, “I love her because she’s 6;7″ tall,” or “Because her hair color is Pattern Color #5529, and it turns me on,” or “I love the four digits of her cell phone number.”  You’re going to say some emotional stuff.

And this is the issue.  We just talked about the power of brands.  Numbers is not going to make me fall in love with her.  It’s that emotional construct we’re talking about.  When companies today are building brands based on big data, the issue is that they stop short of–well, just talking about numbers and the construct they get out of these numbers, and forget about the most important asset is, that is not going to create that love affair.  More than anything, perhaps it’s going to create some sort of loyalty, because the loyal program, let’s say.  But it’s never going to make you say, “I like these guys.  There’s something unique about them.  I’ll never change brands.”

That is the issue we have on planet Earth right now in the business world.  I think in many ways, business people have become so addicted to numbers.  And as you know, you get all of these numbers and say, “I want to get more!  Can that number be backed up by another number?”  And certainly, we sit behind our screen sort of feeling we can control our consumers by remote control.  And if you really can’t do it, we change the batteries in the remote control instead of placing the remote control on the table and get into the real world, where we talk to people.

Small data is the opposite.  Small data is what I call seemingly insignificant observations, which are basically constructing what we are all about.  It can be everything from a toothbrush we’re placing in a cup in a certain way.  It can be how we place our shoes or how the painting is hanging in your home.  All of that is leaving what I call “emotional DNA” behind ourself, revealing pretty remarkable insights about how you are behaving as a human being, why you’re doing that, what your self labels are.  And all of that, in return, will tell you about that emotional gap we just talked about.

That means that I actually am discovering the causation to the reason why i’m behaving that way.  That’s leading pluck and play into the correlation, which is big data.  So this is really how the yin and the yang are working.  You could say that these two things cannot be removed from each other.  It’s like two partners in a dance.  The problem today is there’s only one person dancing, and that person is called Big Data.

Dan: One of the things I love about your book is how you simplify a lot of different concepts.  I want our listeners to understand.  They think of data, “Oh, my God, Martin, the books is going to be all numbers and equations.”  Actually, no!  It’s more like a novel.  It’s stories.  Very fascinating, very interesting page-turner.  You read one story, and it leads to the next.  In fact, share with us just a couple stories from the book just to give our listeners a glimpse of what the book is about.


Martin: First of all, I think probably the most stunning story actually began in 2002.  It was actually created by Lego.  As you know, I worked for Lego for many years, more than 30 years.  Back in 2002, the company was close to bankruptcy.  They spent a tremendous amount of time analyzing big data and concluded that the “instant gratification” generation meant that Lego had to change its entire platform, because no kid would spend time playing with Lego bricks, taking days and days combining those small bricks.

So what they did was to change the size of the Lego bricks.  They changed it from those tiny bricks to gigantic building blocks.  And as a consequence, in Christmas 2003, sales went down 30%.  In those days, Lego really had a serious problem.  That was the year where management said, “We’re doing something wrong.  We’re listening to the wrong source.”   So they went into the homes of consumers across Europe.

And this is a true story.  They actually went into the home of an 11-year-old boy, a German boy.  And as they were sitting in the living  room, they asked him, “What are you most proud of?”  The kid turned around, and he pointed at a shelf.  On the shelf was a worn-down sneaker.  He took it down, and it was smelly.  And they said, “Why?”  He said, “Well, I’m the number one skater in town.  You can see that here.  This is my evidence.  Because if you slide down, you skateboard at exactly this angle, which is what you have to do if you’re number one.  It gives this wear and tear on my shoe.   And this is my trophy.”

That actually made Lego sort of wake up and realize, “Hey, this is the inside we’ve been completely overlooking with big data.”  Because they learned one simple thing, which was that timing is not an essence if you put the kid in the driver’s seat.  That’s what they’d forgotten.  And that was the first time they discovered the concept and the power of small data.  And as a consequence of that, they actually changed the size of the Lego bricks back to tiny bricks, added even more Lego bricks to it of small size.  Later on, they also developed the Lego movie, which, last year, here in the United States, became the second-highest grossing selling movie of all time.  The rest is history.  Today, Lego is number one.

That gives you a story about how small data is revealing an insight about brands which you just can’t do using big data.


Dan: What if our listeners are thinking, “I’m not Lego.  I don’t run a major corporation.  My company may be doing half a million, couple million bucks a year.  How does this apply to me?”  As you know, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t even have the data in any kind of order or any organized fashion.  What would you say to them?

Martin: This is the good news, because more than anything, small data actually comes to its true power when it comes to small businesses, whereas I would claim big data only belongs to the big companies because it’s so expensive to run.  Small data also belongs to the small companies.  And it does, because it only requires you to go into consumers’ homes and spend time with them.

Over the last ten years, I’ve spent time in more than 2,000 consumers’ homes living with them or just cooking or shopping or whatever with them.  That’s across 77 different companies.  What I’ve learned time after time is that I only need 20 or 30 people, and then actually have the entire concept.  Lego was only one person.

The story is very simple.  You need to first of all become presence.  You need to wake up for a second.  The problem we have today is that if you meet up with someone in a bar, and the person hasn’t shown up yet, the first thing you do is to grab your smart phone and do something, anything, with it, just to look like you’re not a loser.

Dan: We’ve never done that, right?  Nobody listening right now has ever done that.

Martin: That’s the reality.  The reality is that as we do that, something dramatic is happening, which is not very positive.  You first of all cut yourself away from the world.  No one will contact you.  But the second thing is, you don’t see anything.  You don’t observe anything.  But the third thing is even worse.  You’re not creative.  Because creativity is created in that split second where you’re bored.  You don’t generate ideas when you’re not bored.  Boredom forces your brain to take other avenues, again, to combine two ordinary things in a new way.

That means that you’re not observing the most important asset you have in your company, which is the consumer.  So that mindset has to be deduced.  And what you do then, is of course to observe your consumers hands-on.  This is important stuff.  People are always saying to me, “How can you travel to Tokyo, live in Japanese people’s homes, and understand their culture better than they do?”

The answer’s very simple.  First of all, if you want to study animals, don’t go to the zoo.  Go to the jungle.  But the second thing is even more simple.  It’s actually something a good friend of mine, Paco Underhill, he’s the author of Why We Buy, he said to me, when we were walking around in the streets in Denmark where we are originally from, he said, “People are walking in Denmark so unstructured.”  I said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “You see that all over the place.”  I said, “No they don’t.”  He said, “Yes they do.”  And I realized he was right.  The problem was that I was so close to the forest, I really couldn’t see the trees.

That is the issue here.  Sometimes we are too close to the forest to see the trees, i.e., the opportunities and the faults, and the out-of-balances.  So what is important to understand here is, that we really have to take a distance to things before we jump into this.  And how do you do that?  You have a haircut.  You go to the hairdresser in the local community you want to go to.  Then you ask that person, as a stranger, “What are your observations about this culture?  What makes this culture tick?  What are the problems you see people having?  What is the fear here?  What are the hopes here?”

You go to the local photographer, you go to the local sports coach, the church leader, the community center leader, all those different people.  And they will one by one reveal an insight about the community which you’ll never have heard of before.  And then you go into the consumer’s home.  You start out to pick up the small data.  And one by one, you start to be able to connect those thoughts.  And it doesn’t take a lot.  But of course it takes some training.  It takes some tools.  That’s exactly what I’m trying to explain in Small Data.

Dan: I want our listeners to get this, because what you just said is very, very profound.  I think they need to listen to it again, because you’re talking about having a the curiosity.  It also makes me feel a little bit better, because I thought I was the only weird person who would sit in a mall and just watch people.  I would observe and see how people behave, versus just, like you said, we’re so addicted to technologies now.  It’s always, let’s check Facebook, let’s see what’s happening on Instagram.  We are not in tune with what’s happening.

Tell me if you ever felt this way before, because when I actually get this, just being a little bit more curious, a little bit more aware, and kind of having our radar senses going on.  It’s a feeling almost like going back to the movie The Matrix.  The Matrix 1, where you have all the green code, when Neo was thinking of looking at the world differently.  Do you get that kind of feeling–“Wow, I’m looking at something, looking at a trend, I’m looking at consumers.  I’m picking up signs and signals that other people are totally unaware of.”  Have you ever experienced that?

Martin: Absolutely.  I’m at the stage now when you spend so much time in consumer homes.  You are building up an instinct.  An instinct, for me, is an accumulation of experiences gathered through our life, which you may not be able to articulate verbally, but which you feel.  I think what’s very important is that instinct is not something you receive in a gift box.  It’s something you earn over time.  It’s like a model you have to train.  I think the same is the case with observing consumers.  So definitely, I do feel that.

But more than that, I think probably I’ve been inspired by a lot of the mentors and people I’ve surrounded myself with throughout life.  I was so fortunate to meet the second generation of the Lego owner, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen is his name, or was his name.  Or Ingvar Kamprad, which is the founder and owner of IKEA.  Or some of those people.

And I’ll tell you a couple of stories around that topic, because it’ll put this into perspective.  I was meeting up with Ingvar in Stockholm in IKEA many years ago, and I went into IKEA–I’ll never forget this–and I said to the staff, “Where is Ingvar?” because I thought I would meet him in his office.  They said, “Well, he’s at the usual spot.”  I said, “Where is that?”  “It’s the checkout,” she said, “of course.”

So I went down to the checkouts, the cash registers, and guess what?  Here he was.  He was sitting there behind the counter, and he was checking all of his customers out.  I said, “Why are you doing it?”  He said, “Well, because it’s free-of-charge research.  I want to talk to every customer and ask them why they bought that, what they like about it, and why they didn’t buy more?”

That’s one aspect of how a good leader is living the mindset of consumers and constantly forcing himself to do it.  The same with Lego.  When I met the second generation founder of Lego, at least the guy was going to introduce the plastic bricks we use today.  I met him in the theme park when I was 11, and I remember I was standing looking at a train.  In those days, what was for me an “older man” came up to me, and I said to him, “Are you from Lego?”  He said, “Yeah, I know a little bit about Lego.”  I said, “That train–why does it stop when it’s raining?  I don’t understand that.”  He said, “That’s a very clever question.  I’ll show you how it works.

He took me behind the scenes and showed me.  I started to talk to him, and I said, “Why are you always in the park when I’m here?”  He said, “This is where I learn.  This is my research and laboratory.  That’s where I observe consumers.”

Or Story 3.  The guy who invented Ski Dubai–have you heard about the snow in Dubai?

Dan: Of course.

Martin: He’s a good friend of mine.  His name is Majid al Futtaim.  He later on invited me to go to Dubai and basically reinvent the concept of malls in the Middle East.  We were working on new malls.  I always met with him, and he’s still around.  He’s an old man now, but he’s still very fresh in his mind, and he still walks around almost every day in his malls, in particular in Mall of Emirates.  You’ll find him standing there and just observing people for two hours.  Then he’ll come back to the senior management, and he’ll give them 700 different instructions to what they’re doing wrong.

I can go on and on and on with all these people I met, and they all have exactly the same DNA, and that is, they all were born and raised by the foundational belief that the consumer is the boss.  They’re really good at picking up small data.  That has made them become who they are today.  I think that’s the advice to everyone listening.  That is what will make you become who you want to be.

Dan: Very powerful.  I think a lot of CEO’s, when the become more successful, senior management, they are sitting in the office, and very often, they lose touch of what’s happening in the marketplace.  People, their needs, their ideas and everything–it shifts and changes.


Dan: Speaking of trends, where do you see some of the biggest trends that are happening in the next few years?

Martin: There’s a lot of fascinating trends going on.  I think one of the most scary trends, in my mind, is probably the lack of transition in our life.  Let me just explain, first of all, how I define transition.  Did you see The Matrix in the cinema?

Dan: Yes.  1, 2, and 3.

Martin: I would come with a claim, which I may be right about.  I would claim that when you went in and saw The Matrix the first time–number one–when you left the cinema, it was almost like you were so captivated by that movie.  It was almost like you had a wake-up call when you left the cinema–“Woo!  I’m back in the real world.”  And you started almost to see the world differently, is that fair to say?

Dan: Yes.  I was debating with my friends for hours, like, “What did I just watch?”  At the time, it was so revolutionary, the first one.

Martin: Absolutely.  That is called a transition moment.  We don’t experience that anymore.  Remember the first thing you do, and I’m going to ask you a question again here.  What’s the first thing you touch when you wake up in the morning?

Dan: My clock?

Martin: Is it a phone, or is it a clock?

Dan: The clock.

Martin: And then the second thing is the phone?

Dan: The second thing is my iPad, I think.

Martin: You get what I mean.  The first thing we do is, after one minute, we go to work in our bed.  In the old days, we were having the thought of, this is where you rewind your brain.  That’s a wake-up state.  Then you’ll go to the bathroom, and you’ll have another transition moment.  Then you’ll have breakfast, and there’ll be a third one.  You’ll sit in your car, fourth one, and so forth.

We don’t have that anymore.  We have no transition at all, whatsoever.  Our brain really never goes through a transition or winds up and winds down.  The best way for me to illustrate that, metaphorically speaking, is really the fact that we never shut down our computer.  We never really reboot our computer anymore.  It just goes on and on and on.  That’s because we mirror our brain’s behavior into the screen, which is very sad, because it also indicates that if we don’t shut down our computer now and then, you know what’s happening.  it starts to be slow.  It never defragments its data.  It never stores its data in a different way.

This is going to be both the biggest opportunity and also the biggest threat to a lot of things in our life and how we behave as human beings.  The threat is really that it dilutes creativity, because we start to be tired.  I noticed that one of the favorite things I love here in New York City is to observe as they walk or run, rather, into the elevator.  Two-thirds of them will do this sigh.  You can see this is a transition moment from one job, one role, to another one.  That thirty seconds when they still have no cell phone connection, they’re trying to wait in case it would work, but it doesn’t.  That’s where they’re sort of trying to collect their thoughts.

The #1 best-selling coffee in New York City now is a coffee where it takes around 8 minutes to prepare it.  People have to wait.  They think it tastes better.  It doesn’t; it’s just a cup of coffee that has a story to it.  But the reason why it’s popular is it gives people a transition moment.  That is the first thing that you’ll see happening in our society, that we now need transitions.  And a huge opportunity for brands which can infuse transitions into the way we behave.

It also, of course, will reflect a lot of things.  One of the things will be the fact that slowness will be the next fast thing.  Slow food will be the next thing.  Slow beverages.  All that stuff really reflects things.  So it’s a good indication that the future is going to be about transitions.  I think a lot of other things and trends will happen in society.  I think it’s fair to say that we also see that we as individuals, as humans, will start to change a lot.  Of course, we will not only become brands, we’ll also become more than that.  I think that we will broadcast ourselves to the extreme degree, and we’ll start to have our own marketing plan and our own brand platform.

Now that, for you, is not unusual.  But it is for Mrs. Smith down the road.  And it’s already happening.  This is one of the short-term predictions.  Last year, Facebook did an experiment where it actually allowed you, as a user, to place ads for yourself on your friends’ Facebook feed so that you will get higher in the feed ranking and therefore look more popular.  It was incredibly popular, actually.

It shows you how we now start to treat ourselves as brands.  There’s a new software come out now where you can check how people are talking about you, but also how your words are coming across.  Even how your brand is coming across, based on the words and the vocabulary you’re using when you are in the social space.  So suddenly, you actually are analyzing yourself as a brand.

That means that every one of us who actually learns products and services in the future, we will treat ourselves as mini-companies.  And I don’t need to tell you, that means in the future the corporations and such will change their format because, would you really employ brands?  Well, you would, but that will create a very strange dependency.  You are dependent on a lot of sub-brands in your big brand company.  So therefore, we’ll see that the big corporations, as the one we know today, will change a lot.

We won’t see the McDonald’s with 2.7 million staff, or Nestle with 375,000 staff, because the good people are sort of are saying, “In the future, we’ll not be able to stay there.”  They will basically want to build their own brand, because they’ll create their own platform, their own independence, and actually make sure to have a safety net under them.  Because, and this is so ironic, in the old days in Japan, you would say you get a lifetime job when you were working in a big corporation.  And if you wanted to be insecure, you’d be by yourself.  In the future, it will be exactly the opposite.

Dan: That’s so profound.  So basically, you’re saying that big corporations in the future will be a lot of sub-brands, and for individuals, it doesn’t matter what we sell–products or services–regardless of what industry we’re in, we might as well embrace the fact that we are personal brands.  Regardless of whether we like it or not, we might as well just be ahead of the curve and start promoting, because people buy people.

Now I want to make sure I understand you correctly.  Because we’re so plugged into our technology, our iPhone, our iPad, smartphone, TV, it’s funny.  Sometimes, I look at my wife, and she’ll be watching TV and be playing on two iPads and reading a magazine at the same time.  Things like that didn’t even happen a few years ago.

Martin: No, they didn’t, and that’s a very good point you’re raising there.  I did a study the other day where I tried to analyze how we read books, because I wanted to understand if people still read books.  If they read a Kindle, do they really read that Kindle?  What we realized is, when people read a Kindle, or they read stuff on a digital screen, they actually observe data, they store data 30% less than if they read it on paper.


Martin: Which is interesting, because our brain has changed a lot.  Today, we don’t store memories the same way.  We store a particular sort of memory on an external hard drive.  Again, we did a study using FMRI, which is a new, science-based research technique.  What we learned from it was that when we give people a task to remember a phone number, for example–how many phone numbers do you remember?

Dan: My own.  Sometimes I don’t even remember my own.

Martin: You aren’t the only one.  I’m the same, and I think most people are the same.  But what we realized was exactly that: when people had to remember a phone number–or when you’re sitting at a dinner party, and you’re like, “What was the name of that guy who went to the moon?  I can’t remember.  Oh, I’ll google it.”

What happens is, we immediately stop.  We pause for a second, and instead of trying, we redirect to our external hard drive called Google.  And that was what we realized in this study.  People no longer store things.  They go straight to, “I’ll google it.”  Literally, we can see that in brain scans.

This is an amazing insight, because that is the same thing happening in our lives in terms of emotions and in terms of how we observe data.  Because if I observe data when I read something–like your wife, she’s using two iPads and watching the television and a magazine at the same time–first of all, the way she stores data is very different.  She is doing what we call the “candid moment.”  The candid moment is a little bit the same as (without any sense here), some girls, they’re depressed, their boyfriend broke up with them.  The first thing they’ll do–you’ll ask any one of them–will take a selfie of themself, upload it, and people will say, “Oh, yeah, ‘like.’  You’re so cool.  ‘Like,’ ‘like,’ ‘like.'”  The reason why they do it is to get a self-confidence boost.

That’s the same in many ways as your wife may be doing.  It gives her a feeling of stimuli.  Not self-confidence-wise, but it gives that feeling of, “I have more fans following me, I have more people saying, ‘You’re good.'”  That’s the same type of feeling.  And as we multitask more and more, remember we cannot multitask.  It’s impossible for us to multitask.  If I was to scan our brains–I could interrogate her on every channel, and she would fail, most likely.

But the issue we have here is that we then become more and more superficial.  That means we have no attention span.  That means we constantly know when you and I are talking, or to surf on the net at the same time and check our email at the same time, to be stimulated.  That means we’re not present.  And that leads me straight back to what we began talking about an hour ago, and that is the fact that we then are not observing the world anymore.  And that’s where we’re not human anymore.  That’s where we’ve become big data.


Dan: For an entrepreneur, what’s the best way as a business to break that pattern?  We want to be the transition.  People are going so fast.  People are distracted.  How do we cut through the clutter, if you could give us one piece of advice?

Martin: I’ll give you one piece of advice, which is true, but I don’t think you can do it, to be honest.  And that is to skip your phone.  I have decided on purpose not to have a smart phone anymore.  And it’s really nice, I have to say.  Now, I’m lucky I have a team of assistants around me who can shout at me when I’m doing things wrong.  But it does mean that I’m very present.  And it does mean that I’m here.  So that’s one piece of advice.

The second advice is really to follow one of the things I’m talking about in the book, which I call the “water moment.”  We all have an oasis where we recharge our batteries, where we make our thoughts flow somehow.  It’s where we can somehow see things in a different perspective.  For me, it’s when I’m swimming.  And as I swim–actually, the book Small Data was written in the swimming pool, literally.  I had a pen and a pad at each of the ends of the pool.  I would do notes and go on with these very wet notes and start to craft the book around those insights, because it helped me to put things into another perspective, and, in fact, come to the conclusions I’m giving you right now.  All of these thoughts I’m giving you right now were created in water.

So I call that the “water moment,” because a lot of people, particularly creative people, are stimulated by standing in the shower or being in contact with water.  Some people, when they’re running.  If I were you, I would always look for what that oasis of free-floating thoughts is.  It may be in whatever environment, and I’ll make it a holy grave.  I’ll make it the space to preserve and go back to.  And you’re not compromising it because you’re busy and you have a meeting and an important email to answer.  You’re actually keeping that sacred, because if you do that, you will also keep your roots intact into the soils which are giving you the creativity and stimuli and the passion you need to be a very good, very driven entrepreneur.

Dan: That’s a great point.  For myself, I can see that space is when I’m driving.  So when I want to think, I drive.  I don’t turn on the radio.  I don’t turn on any music.  When I’m driving, very often, that’s when I come up with this out-of-the-box, great ideas.  I find that that’s my space, and that’s with no passengers.  If I have someone next to me, or my wife–

Martin: Completely different.

Dan: –or friends–sometimes I tell my wife, “Hey, you know what?  I need to go out and just have a drive for 30 minutes and just think.”  That’s what works for me.

Martin: Yeah, and you’re aware of it, and that’s what’s so beautiful about it, because as soon as you’re aware of it, you also preserve that space.  Then it’s a matter of you actually doing appointments with yourself and scheduling this on a regular basis.  Because you probably also will notice when you are super busy, you have a tendency to compromise on that, because, “You know, it’s just half an hour.”  But that’s where you need to keep that sacred, because if you do that, you will have that secret source intact, and it will continue pumping up that energy you need.  Because at the end of the day, both you and I have one thing in common.  You have the flame, an inner flame burning.

I’ll give you an example about what I mean.  If you’re sick, either you’re hung over, you have the flu, or whatever, and it’s really bad, that flame becomes very small.  It’s like, “Oh, yeah, I don’t care.”  You get that feeling of, “Whatever,” right?  And that’s what’s your biggest enemy,really, because once you get to that level, that’s the level where a lot of people are, and where they don’t understand why you are where you are.  So that flame for you will be bigger the more you drive in the car.  It will be bigger for me the more I swim, and it will be bigger the more people run, or whatever sacred moment they have in their life making them who they are.

Dan: So from now on, I have to sleep in my car.  I need more creative moments.  We get it that we have more clarity in our thinking and think independently.


Dan: But what about for consumers?  They are distracted.  They’re not focused.  They’re not paying attention to, as a marketer, our message.  What do we need to do?  Give us one piece of advice to cut through that and get their attention.

Martin: It comes back to the theory of somatic markering.  It’s to create the wake-up call.  And somatic marking can be very small.  If you’re an owner of a supermarket or store, and people are running around with a shopping trolley or shopping cart, and then you put bombs on the floor, and then the whole trolley will vibrate, and guess what?  People will wake up that second.  And then, they’ll start to see what’s around them.  And in fact, that will increase sales by 17% in that little spot.

Or, you’ll be creative in the facade.  You’re creating the front elevation of your store.  One of my favorite toy stores in the world is called Imaginarium.  They have a big door for the big people and a small door for the small people.  And the whole store is painted in light blue.  And it’s clever, not just because it stands out, but also because it subconsciously is sending a message.  It basically says, “We care about the little ones.”  It’s never saying that, but you feel it as you go in.

So the idea is very simple.  Use the somatic marker theory.  Wake people up for a second, because we’re so much in the sumpy state.  A little back to your Matrix, right?  Which means that at the end of the day, we’re very difficult to get hold of.  And your role as a good marketeer or a businessperson is really to make that somatic marker.  Or, as Socrates said once when he was teaching his students, “Whenever you want to teach them something important,” he said, “then I had to slap them on the chin.”  So he did, whenever he said something important.  And I’m sure if you and I were meeting up in person, and I slapped you on the chin when I said something important, you will never forget me.

Dan: I have to say, this is probably one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had on this show.

Martin: Thank you.

Dan: I think we could talk for hours about how the brain works, and branding.  This is just fascinating.  Just so our listeners know, I did not send Martin the questions ahead of time.  This is kind of a free-flowing conversation between two marketing friends, if you think about it.  Amazing, amazing insights.

Martin: Thank you.


Dan: For our listeners, if they want to find out more about you, or if they want to order your new book, what’s the best way to do that?

Martin: There are many different ways.  You can go to, and there, by the way, you can see a lot of great trailers about the book.  Of course, you can go to  I’m also at Twitter, @MartinLindstrom.  Or you can of course go to LinkedIn and search for my name.  Or, of course, if you’re in Canada, it’s, and in the U.S. and the rest of the world.  You can either go to Amazon or to my site.  I think it’s pretty easy to find my name.  Just look it up on Google.  Google it, right?

Dan: That’s right, just google it!  Thank you so much, Martin, for inspiring us today with a lot of amazing stories and your ideas.  And how we think, that’s just–I got a lot out of it myself.  I took a whole bunch of notes.  I appreciate it so much.  Thank you.

Martin: Pleasure.