The Original Renegade Marketer: Dr. Benjamin Franklin
If you could go back in time and meet one historical figure, who would it be? For Drew, the answer is obvious: Dr. Benjamin Franklin. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Drew. As a proud Franklin nut, he considers the man who sold a revolution to a king to be America’s first-ever marketer. That’s why it was a no-brainer when we discovered a special “time travel” button on Zoom—we just had to give Dr. Franklin a call.
For Renegade Thinker’s Unite’s 200th episode, Drew travels through time to catch up with Dr. Franklin. While covering Franklin’s life and accomplishments, they discuss the value of humor in marketing, how to lead courageously, and why relentless curiosity is key to success. Be sure to tune in for Franklin’s take on the topics of today in relation to events of the past, you won’t want to miss it!
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Why Benjamin Franklin is the original renegade marketer
- How Dr. Franklin successfully sold a revolution to a king
- How curiosity makes marketers courageous, artful, thoughtful, and scientific
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 200 on YouTube
- Drew’s newsletter: “How the Cool CATS Cut Through”
- Benjamin Franklin Portrayed by Bill Robling (American Historical Society)
- Drew’s MediaPost blog: “Declare Independence From Social Media Silliness”
- [0:27] Time Traveling with Zoom: Dr. Benjamin Franklin
- [2:01] Dr. Franklin on Global Pandemics
- [4:40] Anti-Racism Requires Continuous Education
- [9:06] How Curiosity Begets Courageous Action
- [12:49] How to Sell a Revolution to a King
- [17:11] Why Authenticity Attracts Customers
- [24:35] Why Humor is an Effective Communication Tool
- [28:49] Building Community: “The Junto” Social Network
- [31:55] Courageous Leaders Get Things Done
- [34:32] How Franklin Helped Make Data More Accessible
- [37:40] Testing and Learning: Electricity and the Lightning Rod
- [42:22] Experimentation is Not a One-Stop-Shop, It’s a Process
- [45:25] Dr. Franklin’s Common-Sense Marketing Advice
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Dr. Benjamin Franklin
[0:27] Time Traveling with Zoom: Dr. Benjamin Franklin“He's a skilled publicist, he practically invented content marketing, he started at least two social networks, and authored the first bestselling self-help book in America.” @drewneisser introduces #BenjaminFranklin Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! I am excited. I mean, you got to know how excited I am to celebrate episode 200 with you in a very special way with a very special guest. Just getting him on the show is an honor and a bit of a technical miracle given his innumerable accomplishments as an inventor, diplomat, scientist, writer, community organizer, and, perhaps the least known of his accomplishments, a world-class marketer.
He’s a skilled publicist, he practically invented content marketing, he started at least two social networks and authored the first bestselling self-help book in America. In fact, he was such a successful marketer of his printing business that he was able to retire comfortably at the age of 42. But on a far grander scale, this is the man who marketed a revolution to a king, without whose efforts, we don’t get the money, the weapons, the military expertise, the troops, and ultimately, the naval support we needed to defeat the British and win our independence.
Thanks to my friends at Zoom, I actually have a specially installed time travel button which has allowed me to be thrilled to welcome Dr. Benjamin Franklin to the show. Dr. Franklin, it is such an honor.
Benjamin Franklin: Fortunately, I have that same time travel button and I can come to see you.
[2:01] Dr. Franklin on Global Pandemics“Today's a good day for gout.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I have to ask, how are you feeling? Is your gout giving you any trouble these days?
Benjamin Franklin: Today’s a good day for gout. Yes. I have my foot propped up here.
Drew Neisser: Today is a good day. Speaking of health, we’re going through a global pandemic right now. You’ve been through a couple of these yourself, right?
Benjamin Franklin: Oh yes. Fortunately, my family stayed away from the fever of 1721 in Boston. Smallpox was a nasty one. So, yes, I’m not unfamiliar with that sort of thing.
Drew Neisser: One of the things that I really admire about you is your willingness to learn and change your opinion over time. When you were still in Boston as a kid working for your brother, his newspaper came out against the idea of vaccination—I think against Cotton Mather—for smallpox. Today, you would have been called an anti-vaxxer. What happened later in your life to change your opinion on that?
Benjamin Franklin: It was not exactly a vaccination. It was more of an inoculation. It was not easily calibrated or anything like that and there were some problems with it, but Cotton Mather was a wonderful man. By the way, do you know where he got the idea of the inoculation? It was from one of his black slaves from the Caribbean. They had slaves in Boston at that time. He had seen that done in the Caribbean and actually told Cotton Mather about it, so that’s something a lot of people don’t know about.
But yes, I suppose I became less skeptical about it. I’m still a little concerned about the fact that you didn’t always know exactly how much of it you were getting, but when I lost my four-year-old son to smallpox, it became very personal for me. It’s something that’s haunted me throughout my life. He had a bit of a cold. We delayed having him inoculated. He did contract it and succumb to smallpox. It certainly has stayed with me all my life.
[4:40] Anti-Racism Requires Continuous Education“We're not meant to be as we were when we came out of the womb. We were meant to soak up what we experience in life and process that.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Another thing that’s very topical right now is the issue of racism in the United States. 230 years ago, you were the only founding father arguing against slavery at the Constitutional Convention. You even wrote a satirical letter to an editor about an Algerian prince who defended white slavery and as a way of calling attention to the issue. Why did you feel the need to take on this cause so late in your life?
Benjamin Franklin: Don’t forget that even though I had agreed to the 20-year compromise in the Constitution, I did write a letter, at the behest of the Philadelphia Quakers, to the Congress to ask them to take out the issue of slavery. I kind of broke my agreement there, but it was a very important thing.
First of all, a lot of people don’t realize that another shame in my life was the fact that there was a time when I did hold people in slavery at this level of household slaves. What changed me were many things. First of all, one of my neighbors, Anthony Benezet, was a Quaker school for young Negro children, as we called them then, and he kept trying to persuade me to come to see the school.
I finally did a few times and I saw it and wrote that I saw that these young black children were as bright as white children when given the opportunity to be educated, and that certainly began to change me. Over the years, I tried to formulate what exactly that change was for me and for others. We were brought up at that time to think of these people as another species almost. Not fully human, if you will. I know it’s a brutal thing to say, but that’s the way it was.
It occurred to me that when you finally realize that someone else is like you, it becomes quite difficult to hold them in bondage. That’s the simplest way I can put it.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. And I think, again, it’s an example of you really coming to grips with something that you learned over your years. I think your position on Native Americans changed as well.
Benjamin Franklin: And Germans. I tried to open a couple of German-language newspapers in the German town section of Philadelphia. I suppose that colored my thinking a bit. But you know what, it occurred to me over the years and that we were meant to grow. We’re meant to change. We’re not meant to be as we were when we came out of the womb. We were meant to soak up what we experience in life and process that.
Drew Neisser: Well, I think it’s one of the remarkable aspects of your personal journey. You had two years of formal education and yet you were honored with a doctorate degree from so many places.
Benjamin Franklin: Six of them.
Drew Neisser: Six of them, yeah! But who’s counting? You never stopped educating yourself.
Benjamin Franklin: I tell this to young people and older people—I speak to a lot of senior groups as well: “You don’t have to stop learning after three o’clock or start at eight o’clock or whatever ungodly hour they’re sending children to school now.”
There is so much to educate us and one thing I have never ever been able to endure is boredom and inactivity, so even on my voyages back and forth from Europe, which was eight trips all together—four round trips—I was always occupied with something. It’s just the way I am, and I think that’s the way we’re meant to be.
[9:06] How Curiosity Begets Courageous Action“I had had a pretty good life, not realizing that I had so much to do and so much yet to accomplish.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I wish more folks shared your curiosity in a lifetime because it certainly keeps life interesting. Now, there’s an expression, Dr. Franklin, in modern times called “cool CATS.”
It wasn’t used in your lifetime. I know that for a fact, but you would have been one of them. I use the term today to describe particularly successful marketers, and CATS is an acronym that stands for Courageous, Artful, Thoughtful, and Scientific, all of which apply to you. I think it’d be a great framework for the rest of our conversation to be able to draw the parallel of why you ultimately were so successful as a marketer.
Let’s start with courage. There are so many moments of courage in your life, whether it was leaving home at 17, heading off to England shortly thereafter, standing silent before a belligerent British parliament in 1774, not to mention signing the Declaration of Independence. Where did all this courage come from?
Benjamin Franklin: Well, I don’t know, I guess I’ve never thought of it as courage, Drew. Part of that is that other “C,” curiosity. As far as leaving home, I think I began to deduce in Boston as a young man that Boston was this pretty tight city and I didn’t see a lot of room for growth there.
I thought about where would be best to go. I stopped in New York and New York was still pretty small down there at the tip of the island, so I went on to Philadelphia and that certainly—I suppose it took courage just not having any sort of a clue if you will.
As far as those trips back and forth across the ocean, I was duped by a politician to go to England the first time when I was 18. I should’ve thought that he was a politician when he started promising me things—later I learned that when a politician opens his mouth it’s best not to even listen.
I knew that Congress wanted me to go to Paris, for example, and even the colony sent me to London earlier. I knew that they would listen to me because I was probably the only American they’d heard of, and personally because of my published work in the field of electricity, so I accepted that. I knew that I could be more effective. I thought I’d be more effective than I was against the British but…
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about that. It’s so interesting. I appreciate your humility and I would say, in 1776, at the end of the year when you’re getting on that ship, you are a wanted man.
Benjamin Franklin: Oh I am. I made a new will because I knew that there was a price on my hand. There were privateers and British warships out there in the Atlantic and I knew the risks that I was taking, but again, I had had a pretty good life, not realizing that I had so much to do and so much yet to accomplish. I thought, “My goodness, I’m 70 years old.” I’ve never been able to stop.
[12:49] How to Sell a Revolution to a King“Nobody wants to bet on a horse who is losing.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I think about that moment when you’re heading to France, and you’re going there basically with your hat in your hand.
Benjamin Franklin: I’m trying to sell a rather faulty product here.
Drew Neisser: What made you think that you had a chance of actually being successful when you get on that ship?
Benjamin Franklin: I don’t know. Hubris, perhaps? I knew that France, like most European countries, lacked the wealth of natural resources and such that we had here. I knew there were things here in America. They had already lost. I think the other thing might be revenge. I thought, you know, they lost America 20 years before, maybe we can convince them that here’s a chance to get some of it back and also to get the goods that we had. There were factors that I thought perhaps that, for lack of a better word, I could sell.
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Drew Neisser: If you think about this as marketing, what do you think ultimately persuaded the court and the king to actually start to fund the revolution?
Benjamin Franklin: Well, I think that it was their self-interest, and this is what I think politics and marketing and diplomacy and everything else is based upon, self-interest. Their self-interest was, again, peaked enough for them to start giving us some money and some supplies. When we really came down to getting the support as far as troops, warships, and such, what really fueled that was that we actually won some battles over here.
General Washington to his great credit, even though he didn’t win a lot of battles early on, kept an army in the field because he lacked the vanity of, I believe, a lot of British generals. But I think Saratoga, Washington, Boston, these things obviously made a difference. Nobody wants to bet on a horse who is losing. The other hindrance was a very simple one—I was trying to persuade a king to overthrow another king. That could happen to him sometime.
[17:11] Why Authenticity Attracts Customers“I figured out fairly early on that it doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong as far as your argument’s concerned. Sometimes you have to go about things a different way.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: They send over Adams a couple of years later. In 1778, I believe, he arrives in Paris. You two had a very different approach to things. Talk about the difference.
Benjamin Franklin: Oh, we were different people. Even though we were both New Englanders, both from Boston, had a lot of similarities in that sense, but we looked at the world differently. First of all, John Adams is a man I have a deep respect for. We could not have done what we did without his fire, but we looked at things differently. He came over to Paris very specifically to do the right thing. He wanted to dress properly for court, which he did. He spoke French well and criticized mine. He went to Harvard and I went to the second grade, you know. I learned what I knew from books and not very well, but the French people loved me because they thought I was sincere.
Drew Neisser: Yes, you were charming and sincere and famous.
Benjamin Franklin: He dressed for court very properly when I dressed in my old brown linen suit and frequently wore my wool fur cap that I had gotten in Quebec on a failed mission to get them to join our cause. We operated differently. You probably know the story about when we slept together.
We were traveling to Staten Island. We had to share a room in New Brunswick, New Jersey and it turned out we also had to share a bed. That wasn’t uncommon at the time, but I was a great proponent of fresh air at the time. I wanted to leave the window open and John was complaining that we would catch our death. The irony of it is that—and I’m not ashamed to say it—I was the one who caught the cold.
Drew Neisser: So that was this one moment where he may have been right.
Benjamin Franklin: He was right many times, I’m sure, but I just, I believe sometimes you have to break some rules in order to accomplish what you want to do. There’s a proper way and maybe there’s an effective way, I don’t know.
Drew Neisser: Kind of a renegade, I think, is the way I would describe that. Breaking some rules. You show up in court and you were the first individual who had ever shown up in court who wasn’t in court attire. I want to imagine—this is Louie the 16th, this is Versailles.
Benjamin Franklin: I’m just a humble printmaker, where would I get court attire?
Drew Neisser: Exactly. Now I will remind you, you had shown up in court attire when you visited France much earlier. This is why I want to point out the artfulness of your approach to the court. You presented yourself as a symbol of the American wilderness and you weren’t threatening.
Benjamin Franklin: They thought that I was a Quaker.
Drew Neisser: But if you think about branding and what that is about, you know, if you go into court and you look like everybody else, you’re just that. But you walked in and you’re completely different. I want to share the fact that that picture, that image of you with the raccoon cap.
Benjamin Franklin: The fur was marten, just to be specific.
Drew Neisser: Thank you so much for that clarification. It was marten fur. The marten fur cap went viral, as they say today. That was photographed on everything! Not photographed, I mean, you were on China, you were on cups. Didn’t some women even style their hair, like call it the Franklinian?
Benjamin Franklin: People who’d never seen me, that’s what they thought I looked like. That’s why you see a lot of variation in those images.
Drew Neisser: People who had never seen you created those images. Well, anyway, you went viral. There was a sort of artfulness to it. I want to emphasize this from a marketing standpoint—you definitely set yourself up, but you also, John Adams walked into court and said, “Give me the money.”
Benjamin Franklin: It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and nobody’s there.
Drew Neisser: Right. He was a Puritan. He got up in the morning, he actually lived many of the “early to bed, early to rise” things that you had in your almanac.
Benjamin Franklin: He was quite disappointed that I didn’t.
Drew Neisser: He was. It was like, you’re not living by your own maxims. You were quite a fan of the Socratic method and I think that’s so interesting. In fact, it informed how you approached it. Were you able to apply that at all when you were arguing before the court?
Benjamin Franklin: I think somewhat. I would propose certain scenarios if you will. By the way, in thinking about this over the years I was greatly influenced more than I knew by the Quakers in Philadelphia, not only to change my views on slavery and such. Quakers have a system that they’ve always had from the 17th century called “queries” and it’s very similar to that.
I was never a Quaker, but I was a member, I was most closely aligned with the Quaker party in the state assembly when I was elected there. I would hear that it was instinctual for a Quaker to raise an argument that way rather than disputation. I was, again, influenced by many things around me. That’s important.
I wasn’t always that way. You’ll see in my autobiography that I decided as a young man—and I was disabused of disputation by some older wiser mentors—and I really figured out, fortunately, fairly early on, that it doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong as far as your argument’s concerned. Sometimes you have to go about things a different way.
[24:35] Why Humor is an Effective Communication Tool“Sometimes you get the point when it comes at you from an oblique angle. When it comes at you straight, sometimes you will just resist it.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I want to point out one other aspect that I have always admired in your approach to communication, in writing for example. You’re famous for writing satires and your wit that showed up in Poor Richard’s Almanac. Why do you think these artful approaches are so effective? They were so effective in your lifetime and are still effective.
Benjamin Franklin: Well, I read everything as a child, and one of the people I read was Jonathan Swift, a great, late 17th century, early 18th-century satirist. I saw how people responded to that. Sometimes you get the point when it comes at you from an oblique angle. When it comes at you straight, sometimes you will just resist it. I honestly think that when you see people are laughing at how you are depicted, perhaps there’s something there. I’ve seen it work and I’ve always been a bit mischievous. Speaking of that, I even had advice to the romantic column in my newspaper under an assumed name. I had a lot of different I used a lot of different names for those things.
Drew Neisser: You did. I could have started the show introducing you as “Silence Dogood,” but not too many of the audience would have actually known who that was. I am reminded of a couple of things. When you were on your second trip to England and you were arguing with the British about it. One suggestion that they still were doing was sending all their criminals to the US. You suggested sending the rattlesnakes of America over there. That didn’t go over well though, did it?
Benjamin Franklin: No, it didn’t.
Drew Neisser: There was another satire. Was it the King of Prussia? There was some story about the King of Prussia that you used and at some point, they were outraged that the King of Prussia was going to lay claim to England. You used that approach quite regularly.
Benjamin Franklin: Well, yes. I mean, just because you can do it, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t do the same thing to you. Otherwise, if I had just said, “That’s a ridiculous idea or you can’t do it,” they’d probably say just, “Well, actually yes we can.” Sometimes you have to go around the back.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, sometimes you have to be artful, using humor to show the silliness of a situation.
[28:49] Building Community: “The Junto” Social Network“We had to invent a city. We had no social space; we had no institutions.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I mentioned you started a couple of social networks. One was The Junto and the other, The American Philosopher Society. Let’s talk about The Junto. This wasn’t like posting on Facebook, I mean, members of The Junto had to do a lot of things.
Benjamin Franklin: It was very selective. There were 12 of us at the beginning, it was like an apostolic requirement there. But yes, I think the overriding purpose of that group was simply that we were young men of limited education, limited means at that time. We came to a city as young people. When I arrived here in 1723, this city was 40 years old, unlike Boston for example. The bigger problem was that our founder, William Penn, laid out wonderful plans for the city, but spent fewer than four years altogether in this country due to being a terrible businessman, being out of favor with the new regime, being in debtors prison, all sorts of things.
But anyway, we had to invent a city. We had no social space, we had no institutions. We wanted families, we wanted businesses here, we wanted a city that worked, and we were not wealthy enough to have membership in a private club or anything like that, or even in the assembly at that point.
We thought, “We need to start from ground up, and the best way to do it is to, again, use that Socratic method at times and other things. To raise questions, how do we do this?” We were very careful to engage people who were really in that mindset.
Drew Neisser: One of the questions that came up in every Junto meeting was, “Has anyone new arrived of note, of merit, that we could help in some way?” And I thought, what a thoughtful thing. It wasn’t just the 12 of you.
Benjamin Franklin: It wasn’t insular, no.
Drew Neisser: And that’s so interesting. You must have brought a lot of young men through. What a helping hand that must have been to those folks.
Benjamin Franklin: We also spun off the group into smaller groups, which we did also with the fire company by the way. We encouraged people to branch out and start other similar groups.
[31:55] Courageous Leaders Get Things Done“They weren’t even all my ideas, but I seemed to be the person that people decided to come to because they thought I could figure out a way to get it done.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Now, I want to talk a little bit about your leadership style in this thoughtfulness section because one of the challenges early on when you started thinking of all the things that could be done in Philadelphia, you ran against some people who said, “Oh, that Franklin. He just wants all the credit.” How did you manage to step back?
Benjamin Franklin: I didn’t even have all these ideas. People say, “Oh, you started this, you started that” and they weren’t even all my ideas, but I seemed to be the person that people decided to come to because they thought I could figure out a way to get it done. I think that’s curiosity and creativity.
You mentioned the Philosophical Society, and just to clarify that for people, it’s not about people sitting around talking about Plato and Aristotle. What you would call “science,” we called “natural philosophy.” The American Philosophical Society, we based it on the Royal Society in London. My friend John Bartram, who was a Philadelphia naturalist, the most prominent one in America. In fact, Linnaeus himself said that Bartram may have been one of the most prominent naturalists in the world—another self-taught farmer from the edge of Philadelphia.
He talked to me about it because he knew that I would have more contacts, I would have come up with a way of making it happen. We began to identify people who should be involved in it from all sorts of walks of scientific pursuits, even including things like botany and agriculture and all sorts of things. Again, people of merit. We needed to create an intellectual community in this country, which we did not have.
Drew Neisser: In the ensuing 250 years since you founded that, science has come under challenge in our modern era in a way that it hasn’t been in a long time. Folks are suddenly not wanting to believe in science. You certainly did.
Benjamin Franklin: Truth gets in the way of what people want, sometimes.
[34:32] How Franklin Helped Make Data More Accessible“A European who visited said that the library of Philadelphia made the farmers and tradesman as educated as the nobility in Europe, which we were quite pleased about.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: You also helped make a library happen.
Benjamin Franklin: We ran out of books to read. That’s the simple context.
Drew Neisser: There it is, you had a book club.
Benjamin Franklin: We would buy all the books we could afford and share the books and we finally decided that, in the long range, this new group of colonies at that time needed—Philadelphia specifically needed—a library.
Fortunately, I had the good fortune to engage as a young man with a mentor named James Logan, who was one of the wealthiest men in America. He had the largest personal library in America. He taught me many things. He changed my philosophical point of view. He was a brilliant man, but we went to him and said, “What do we need to do to start this library?”
He gave us some books, but he also told us which books to order from London, all these sorts of things. It wasn’t a free library; it was a subscription library with a very modest subscription. I read later an account of a European who visited and said that the library of Philadelphia has made the farmers and tradesman as educated as the nobility in Europe, which we were quite pleased about.
Drew Neisser: And ultimately, you ended up with 4,000 books in your own personal library.
Benjamin Franklin: I had to build another wing in my house when I was over 80 in order have a floor my library, another floor for my musical instruments, and all these sorts of things. But yes, I had a lot of books. You might say it was, I don’t know, it was sort of an avenue to the information. It was where you had to get the information.
Drew Neisser: It just occurred to me as I was thinking about you and your library. I’m imagining young Noah Webster visiting you and suggesting that the two redo the English alphabet. Talk about your philosophy about why you wanted to change the spelling and why you felt this could, if you will, democratize the language.
Benjamin Franklin: Well, people spelled things the way they wanted to anyway. If you look at writing from that time, people were using it and it made sense to me. I thought perhaps it would allow more people to be educated at least at some level. If this is what it sounds like, let’s spell it that way. Why should we just have more things to memorize? We’ve got other things to do.
[37:40] Testing and Learning: Electricity and the Lightning Rod“I like to say I tried to kill a turkey and almost cooked my goose.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: You can’t have a conversation with Dr. Franklin without talking about science. I am going to give you some context. What’s interesting in modern-day marketers, they can be courageous and come up with a brilliant strategy. They can be artful in how they communicate to their customers and prospects. They can be thoughtful in that they do things for their employees and their customers to keep them happy and loyal. But if they don’t have a little science, that’s not great. It’s test and learn and measurement.
You had no formal training as a scientist. When you retired at the ripe old age of 42, the pursuit of electricity was really like a hobby.
Benjamin Franklin: It was a parlor game for people. You know, make someone’s hair stand on end. There were a few serious people who I thought were going about it the wrong way. I always thought that if you’re going to conduct an experiment, it’s a good thing to be alive to talk about the results.
Drew Neisser: Well, speaking of that, you almost killed yourself at one point.
Benjamin Franklin: Yes, well, that wasn’t an experiment. That was trying to kill a turkey for Christmas. My young friend Philip Syng and I thought, well, we could kill this turkey with electricity, we might be able to cook it with electricity. As careful as I was with that whole kite experiment—I was extremely careful with that—I got a little careless, I suppose, and got a hold of wire that I shouldn’t have. My friends say that there was a loud cracking and a flash of light, none which I remember, and then I ended up across the room and was out for a couple of minutes. I like to say I tried to kill a turkey and almost cooked my goose.
Drew Neisser: There you go. Amazing. Everybody knows the kite thing, but I don’t think they’re aware that the terms positive and negative were things that you coined and recognized. Even the notion of the battery, you were the one who came up with the notion of that.
Benjamin Franklin: I also coined, as far as I know, the term “current” for the flow of electricity. Someone told me that I created or at least proved the concept of electricity flowing rather than just sort of hopping from point to point.
Drew Neisser: You figured out this notion of a lightning rod, and I read a lot about this particular event. In fact, there’s a whole book that just talks about the science of your discoveries. What shocked me or surprised me was how resistant a large group were, particularly the churches, because you were messing with God’s will.
Benjamin Franklin: I suppose that’s the way a lot of people looked at it.
Drew Neisser: I think the lightning rod was sort of a lightning rod issue at the time. To me, I looked at it and said, “Never underestimate group stupidity” because they could have protected their churches and a lot of churches burned down as a result of that.
Benjamin Franklin: Perhaps I thought that if God was going to kill somebody, there were many other ways and many other agents to accomplish that without light.
[42:22] Experimentation is Not a One-Stop-Shop, It’s a Process“Really creating a government unlike anything else that existed, that certainly is an experiment.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Behind all of your science was a relentless curiosity. No doubt about that. Obviously, the whole scientific part for me when I talk about that in the context of marketing, it’s not just that you want to measure what you’re doing. It’s that you’re constantly experimenting and learning. I think your whole life was a constant experiment and you participated in so many experiments, whether it was bringing Philadelphia to become a thriving city, to your scientific endeavors, to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin: Helping to create the first meaningful republic probably since the Roman republic—even though we based it in some ways on the British system—really creating a government unlike anything else that existed, that certainly is an experiment. Like any experiment, you’re not quite sure how it’s going to turn out.
Drew Neisser: Yes. And we’re still sort of wondering, right? I think you said something to the effect of, “It’s a republic. If you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin: Well, it was pretty tenuous certainly at the beginning. As time goes on, people will not realize how monumental it was to unite what were 13 separate countries with a great deal of individual power and diverse interests into one central republic. To me, and to many of us, it seemed necessary.
I perhaps had more experience with seeing the world up close, seeing, certainly, Europe and such, because I traveled. I knew, first of all, how vulnerable this country would be and how ripe for the picking we were once we gained our independence. We had a lot of things that many countries had their eye on, and we had no way of defending ourselves at that point. That’s just one of the main reasons we needed the Constitution. We didn’t have a standing army and we had no way of appropriating money for it. It was an experiment, but it was based on some pretty good intelligence.
[45:25] Dr. Franklin’s Common-Sense Marketing Advice“Well done is better than well said.” #BenjaminFranklin on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: A lot of the folks that are listening now are wondering if you have any advice as a marketer. These are folks who work at companies and are looking to grow their businesses and you certainly grew a business. Do you have any advice that you would give to modern marketers?
Benjamin Franklin: Well, I suppose you all are a pretty sophisticated bunch, so you probably have a lot of advice already. For example, going back to trying to sell the king of France on taking a chance on this product that we called “American Independence.” It’s wonderful to have a product or an idea that you think is wonderful, but obviously somebody has to want it, so have to appeal to them to see why they would want it.
Sometimes you have to be very creative in those approaches. I really don’t think that it’s a terribly sophisticated thing when you boil it down. First of all, it’s like writing. As a writer, I learned years ago that sometimes you fall in love with what you’ve written, and you get a little bit blind to any improvements there might be. Sometimes if you’re trying to sell something, you can’t get too much caught up in how wonderful it is and not listen to the points of view of other people about it. These are just common-sense things.
Drew Neisser: Well, thank you for that. I am particularly inspired by some words from Poor Richard’s Almanac which are: “Well done is better than well said.” In a world of marketers where you often spend a lot of time on the words, ultimately, it’s the actions. It’s the deeds that you do. Even in your example, we needed Saratoga, we needed a victory, an action to convince the king that maybe we were worth a bet.
Dr. Franklin, it has been a treat beyond treats for me to have you on the show. You are the original renegade marketer, so thank you so much for your time.
Benjamin Franklin: Well, thank you. Fortunately, I’m at a point in my life where I have a lot of time, but I’m still busy. I have been trying to retire for many, many years, but people keep coming by and wanting me to get involved in something else. I was ready to retire when I was asked to go to France. I was ready to retire when they asked me to be the President of the Council of Pennsylvania or when they asked me to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
But on the other hand, I always get pretty excited when there’s an interesting project and an interesting challenge, so it’s been my pleasure to engage with you today.
Drew Neisser: Alright, well thank you. And to all the listeners, “If you would be loved, love and be lovable.”