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The Significance of the Mundane

This article begins with a tip of the hat to a scholarly publication called the Journal of Mundane Behavior. Unlike other publications, which herald important issues, this one trumpets everyday, but rarely noticed, behaviors. It sees what the rest of us overlook because that stuff is so, well, mundane (my dictionary defines ‘mundane’ as being ordinary or common).

For example, I just read an article in the Journal about beards and shaving, one that interests me because I’ve had a beard for almost as long as I’ve been able to shave. And while that subject may interest me, it doesn’t mean much in the great scheme of things.

Today, I’m interested in the connection between the mundane and communication. In this article we’ll explore how great strategies can emerge from observing not great, but everyday events. We’ll use our understanding of seemingly insignificant things and behaviors to come up with grand strategies.

Federal Express, for example, used to run humorous television ads that showed ordinary people, shipping clerks I suppose, and how scared they were that their shipments might not get to their destinations on time.

Clearly, a case of using the mundane to craft a great marketing strategy. That advertising strategy, coupled with a strong business strategy, led to one of the entrepreneurial success stories of the 20th century.

And that business strategy might not have been so successful without the advertising strategy. After all, most companies would have opted for commercials showing shiny cargo planes, pilots in crisp uniforms, or bright people figuring out cargo scheduling.

From that example, we might think of crafting our own communication strategies, based on the mundane.

One of the great difficulties with the mundane, of course, is that it’s harder to see and to grasp. After all, it’s the absence of something rather than its presence. The classic expression of this phenomenon may have been Sherlock Holmes’ remark about the dog that didn’t bark.

Having identified a mundane phenomenon, we’re next faced with the challenge of understanding its significance. If not a single customer calls with a complaint or compliment, what does it mean? If there haven’t been any resignations lately does it mean your employees are more loyal than they used to be? Or is it just a statistical blip?

And, one final issue: how will you explain the significance of the phenomenon to others? Will you explain it for what it is, or what it is not?

You may remember the Show About Nothing episode of the Seinfeld television series. George Costanza tries to explain to TV executives how a new show would be about nothing, while the executives look bewildered. And, switching quickly from art to life, a show about the mundane life of Jerry and friends became one of the most successful television series ever.

In summary, the common and ordinary things of life, the mundane, offer untapped opportunities to create great communication strategies.