Showing up in times like these

Many people think about marketing as being about winning. As manipulating people into buying their product.

This has never been more wrong than today. In times like these, we learn how communicating with honesty and in a helpful and human way is what our audiences appreciate the most.

Don’t get me wrong. Sneaky marketing techniques still exist and thrive. They won’t go away. But what’s changed is that people are more sensitive towards the difference between those who have been honest and helpful and those who have been deceptive.

The fascinating part is this: If what you offer is truly helpful then the best strategy to make yourself seen and heard actually is to speak from your heart.

The frightening part is this: that includes showing up in the first place.

Surprisingly many people have quite good antennas for bullshitting. The success of the selfish marketer doesn’t stem from the fact that they have better marketing copy (often, they don’t) but much rather from the fact that they are willing to show up consistently and loud.

If your offer makes a difference, please show up. And then speak up from your heart. We need your voice and we need you.

The driver’s seat

Time’s serial. It just passes by.

When we read a book, we are in control of the pace with wich we process the information. We can slow down to read less in a given amount of time. We can also skip ahead or turn a few pages back to re-read some information that we need to refresh.

When listening to a speech we can‘t do any of that. We are not in the driver’s seat. The speaker is. If she’s driving too fast, we’ll miss the point. If she’s choosing a bumpy road, we‘re probably not going to enjoy the ride. If she’s driving too slow, we’re likely going to fall asleep.

As a speaker, being aware of that helps a lot in making the ride more enjoyable and satisfying for our audience. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone enjoys the same kind of ride. While some love the feeling of a sports car others prefer the feeling of a well-balanced limousine.

The loooooooong pause

Many people tend to believe that tension is created by holding back information and having people wait for the reveal. Casting shows love to do that (“The winner is … looooong paaaauuuuuse … the winner is … even looooooooooonnnggger paaaaaaaauuuuuuuuse …”).

Often, though, a much more satisfying experience of tension is created by the opposite approach. By providing information leaves your audience in awe and begging you to tell them more. When you manage to create tension precisely by the things you say then it’s not the performance but the information itself that creates the tension.

If that’s the case you’ll know that you really hit a nerve. Also, it’s the beginning of a conversation rather than the end. Instead of being satisfied by the piece of information they receive, audiences become curious by it. Instead of feeling relieved by the information, tension is built up by the information.

What is a piece of information that you could give your audience that makes them want to know more?

Do you mean what you say?

They often say things like: “We care for our customers”. Yet, when you interact with them you don’t feel like they actually do.

Others do care but don’t speak about it. Yet, as long as you don’t interact with them you will never know.

So, most customers will just default to choosing the former company simply because they don’t know what they’ll get from the latter. Which is a pity because it encourages the kind of marketing messages we all so dislike: messages that are only façade.

This is why it’s so important that you show up and speak up. Because we need you as an honest and trustworthy voice among the many bullshitting marketing messages. If you do care, find a way to make yourself seen and heard.

The 5 most important things are probably not as important as you think

If your service is anything but trivial there’s a lot you could tell us about it. I bet you could easily fill an hour speaking about fascinating details about the product.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that I, too, must understand all these details. Yet, when I don’t, what happens? Or if I just don’t care about the details? Then what happens? What if I remember only 4 out of the top 5 things I need to remember about your product?

A more useful approach is to think about the most important thing. And that thing could even be a feeling. Actually, more often than not people fall in love with a product not because of the details but because of how it makes them feel.

The fascinating part is this: If that most important thing really does make a difference for me, if I really do care about it improving a profound aspect of my life, then I will automatically dig deeper and I will want to know more.

That’s what matters: How does your product impact me? Rather than me having to learn something about you, things get much easier for you if you learn about me.

Contagious behavior

His employees immediately knew when Martin was onto something. It showed in his eyes, his voice, and his gestures. Not that it was a big difference. I’m not even sure, outsiders would have noticed. But for anyone knowing him for an extended period of time, it was pretty clear that a full steam ride was ahead.

And it was contagious. The enthusiasm spread. Soon after, the whole team was going full steam. Exchanging ideas. Pushing forward. Challenging common sense. Pursuing new lines of thoughts.

What Martin regularly manages to achieve with his team is what happens when you yourself believe in what you do. When you say what you mean and mean what you say. His team totally trusted in his judgement because he wouldn’t bullshit. He didn’t use superficial motivational language. He just communicated his vision in a way that provided people with the confidence that this is going to work – just like it did last time … and the time before that.

How can your people tell whether you actually believe in what you say? How can they tell that this is going to be a full steam ride rather than one more of these fancy ideas? How do they know that you yourself are fully committed to it?

It pays to share these feelings with your team.

What will they say …

… when you leave the room? When you’re not there to correct them? Or to explain what you actually meant to say? Or that this was not the point?

Yet, it’s exactly what they heard and what they made out of what they heard. If you want them to say it differently, then you’ll need to give them the words to do so. Use a clear structure that helps them see your point. Use metaphors and analogies they can relate to so they understand exactly what you mean. And use words they can easily memorize in simple language that have a meaning in their minds (as opposed to your mind).

You’ll never know what’s in their minds and there’s never going to be a guarantee that they understand it the way you intended it to, but you can always try harder to empathize.

It’s pronounced “creativity”, but it’s spelled “effort”.

When we see a brilliant headline that just nails it and puts in words what we feel in just the right way, we tend to attribute it to a burst of creativity. Especially when we ourselves struggle with this kind of eloquence. It seems that some people are just naturally born to find these words.

Yet, we often overlook the fact that a brilliant wording is usually not the result of the first attempt. Creativity means effort. It means to just not settle with the first idea, but to keep digging deeper and deeper until we find a wording that truly nails it.

David Ogilvy, probably the world’s most famous headline writer, was said to tirelessly come up with alternatives, sometimes more than a hundred, before he would even start to evaluate and choose one.

It’s a technique that I regularly use in my own work and I call it the Ogilvy method: Don’t settle with the first idea but keep the variations coming and coming.

If you make that a habit, you will find yourself looking behind the corners and taking unusual routes much more often – leading to much more creative results.

Cute and clever is a trap

Cute and clever is a trap that businesses easily fall into. It’s deceptive because it seems that this is what the others are doing as well. When you see these slick presentations that win the deal, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s the slickness that did the job.

Yet, more often than not that’s not the case. It’s clarity that wins in most cases. With clarity comes slickness. Not the other way around.

You can have beautiful words, gorgeous slides, and catchy titles. Yet, when clarity is missing, your audience will not buy into your story.

It’s like with special effects in a movie. A movie with great special effects might be fun to watch, but a movie with a great story beats the special effects every time. Of course, a great story that’s implemented brilliantly beats both.

For presentations, it’s the same. Clarity beats slickness. Clarity plus slickness beats both. The good news is that once you have clarity, it’s so much easier to find the slickness that you were looking for.

Someone’s got to suffer

The journalist and language teacher Wolf Schneider famously said: “Someone’s got to suffer, the writer or the reader.”

The same is true for speakers and audiences.

Either we let our audience do the hard work of understanding. Of getting the point. Of looking for what we mean.

Or we do the hard work to make it easy for our audience to understand. To get the point. To see and feel what we mean.

The good news is that as a communicator you get to choose.

Yet, depending on your choice it means that we need to go the extra mile to think and re-think of ways to come up with better metaphors, visualizations, and stories. With easier words and ways to interact with our audience. It means that we need to invest the time to practice until our story works. But it also means that it’s so much more likely to resonate with our audience.

How do you choose?

Spread the Word

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz