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The inner mind is a terrible thing to waste.

So believes Stan Gross, who makes his living probing and prodding consumers' inner or unconscious minds for the edification of advertisers and marketers. Only 8% of an ad's message is received by the conscious mind; the rest is worked and reworked deep within the recesses of the brain, where a product's positioning and repositioning takes shape.

Picture, if you will, the inner mind as a combination lock. So, Stan says, "one has to know what the particular stimuli are that are the `clicks' heard by the inner mind of the target market and then allow the target market to open the lock so it is their own `Aha!'-their own discovery, and so their own commitment."

Stan and his marketing consultancy, located in Haverford, Pa., have devised a way of getting people to describe the characteristics of a product as if it were a person.

To demonstrate, he asked me to name a product, any product, whether living or dead. I chose Burma-Shave as if it (he) was a person. I said his parents described him as witty and his cousins said he was dependable; his favorite book was "Gone With the Wind"; his favorite song was "Sitting On Top Of the World"; he reminds me of Jack Benny; he dresses casually at work; he wore a Santa Claus suit at a Halloween party; he'd most like to be like Robert Frost; his favorite holiday was Valentine's Day.

Out of this seeming mish-mash, Stan determined that I view Burma-Shave as a brand that's "simple, still gives a wonderful shave that emulates the closeness of family life in a bygone era." The brand symbolizes to me "emotional comfort and a connection to the soul of the family and hopefulness of life."

Based on my musings, Stan said there's a good-sized market out their for a revived Burma-Shave, a potential 15% to 20% of the wet-shaving segment "and if we got 5% we'd be doing pretty good." He added that Burma-Shave represents a "niche and cult brand for people who search for simplicity in their lives."

Stan says, "There's always a paradigm shift when you're working with the unconscious mind," so now I understand that my Norelco is what's standing between me and my quest for a less-complicated America. Shaving, the inner mind reveals, is a "powerful ritual," connected to the very soul of the family and to the "hopefulness of life."

It might stretch the limits of credibility that Stan can get a "marketing map" on how to position Burma-Shave from knowing that the product reminds me of Ozzie Nelson from "Ozzie & Harriet." But he says that "sample size is meaningless when we do the inner mind, and we also know about the collective unconscious from the work of Freud's disciple, Jung."

Because there is a paradigm shift involved in the process, Stan claims better than a 93% success rate over the 27 years he's been in business. In his most recent work for Du Pont, his company altered "the genetic core and the vision of the corporation through the inner mind of a number of target markets." And he's also completed the vision of McDonald's, where I have a feeling (although he wouldn't say), he found customers with upset and unfulfilled inner minds, warring with the McDonald's ad claims.

What I get out of Stan's work is that a marketer's message had better conform to what people think of the brand in their inner mind.

For instance, a pillow becomes not just a place to lay our weary heads, but a way to control our world.

"To me, this is language. It is like algebra is a language. Once the language of algebra was found, then the question became: What do we apply it to?" Stan asks.

As to how and where to apply the language of his own business, he says his inner mind is still open on that subject.

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