Showing up as a human

Companies speak to target groups. Humans do not.

And this makes all the difference between communication that builds a connection and one that doesn’t.

In a presentation, we may be speaking on behalf of our company and the audience may be part of our target audience. But that doesn’t mean we can’t treat the people in our audience as people.

Target groups don’t sit in an audience. People do.

Companies say “innovative” and “flexible.” Companies love cliché images. Companies hire marketing agencies to create glossy presentations and fancy slogans. They aim for larger than life stories that appeal to their target group – the masses, the average.

But humans are different. Humans are not masses or average but individuals. Humans prefer the tangible. The everyday language. Stories that are taken out of life as opposed to stories that are larger than life. When we narrate our story, rave about our product, or share a thoughtful insight, we can let ourselves shine through.

Humans prefer to have a conversation with other humans rather than being talked to by a company. When we show up for an audience, we may be speaking on behalf of our company. But we can still show up as a human being. If we don’t, the audience might as well watch an ad.

Tesla’s marketing

The easiest way to get people talking about your product is to start with a product that’s worth talking about.

That’s why, for example, the new Tesla Plaid S accelerates from 0—60 mph in less than 2 sec – or 1,99 sec to be more precise.

It’s the fastest acceleration for any production car ever sold. And it gets talked about a lot. It’s what spreads the word about Tesla’s updated Model S.

Tesla excels at this kind of marketing. It’s easy to overlook that this is by design: a clear focus on messages that spread.

Rather than mentioning the acceleration as one technical feature among a thousand other things that could be said about the car … rather than mentioning it as bullet point 3 on slide number 17, they started with the message and made it the key pass-along phrase: this is the fastest acceleration ever built in production cars. Even more: they designed the car so that it can accelerate that fast. The message is not an afterthought after the car was built. The car was built with the message in mind. It’s by design.

What’s worth talking about for your product? How can you make it the centrepiece of your communication so that it can spread because you made it super easy for your audience to pass it along? How can you build your product so that it becomes worth talking about?

All the things we’re not

Many companies are quite good at explaining what their product is not but not at all good at explaining what it is instead. When you push them they will keep reminding you that “no, this is not quite what we do.”

The problem with this is that we don’t have hooks in our brains for what a thing is not. There just isn’t a place for “not Netflix”, “not a streaming service”, or “not a film producer”.

Often, the effort that’s required to remind us of what you are not and why we got you wrong is better spent at understanding what we know already and what hooks we have already so that you can attach to these hooks.

Saying what you mean

Is actually quite easy: Just say it.

It’s amazing how much time we spend with looking for fancy ways of phrasing what we mean when the most powerful way of saying things is actually to just plainly say it.

Fancy is much overrated. Take one of the most famous advertising slogans of all time: “A thousand songs in your pocket”. There’s really nothing fancy about it. It’s just plain English.

But it’s concrete. It’s specific. It’s the result of asking “But what does it mean?” repeatedly until you’ve arrived at a plain English version of what “An MP3 player with a 5GB hard drive” actually means.

Relevance creates resonance. Fancy often misleads us away from relevance.

The stories we make

“I don’t tell stories.” the restaurant owner said, “so that’s not relevant to me.”

Which is half the truth. Because while he doesn’t tell stories, he surely makes stories.

By the name he chose for the restaurant. By the way he designed the interior. By the way, guests are greeted when they enter the restaurant. The way the tables are laid out. And the menu looks. What’s on the menu. What music is playing. By the smile on the waiters’ faces. And many more details … all of which turn into stories that his customers tell.

And it’s a lot of stories.

Even if we don’t tell stories, we still have a story by the things we make and the way we make them. Everything we do influences our story. And the stories that people tell about us.

Magic happens when we get conscious about it. When we see the story we make. When we understand and feel why our audience feels welcome at our place. Why they enjoy the interaction so much. Because then we can adjust the tiny details to make it even more enjoyable. To attach even better to what our customers love. And influence the stories our customers tell. Make them consistent. So that others recognise the stories’ origin.

What’s the story you make?

Using up trust

We tend to think about sales as a competition. About winning the pitch, making the sale, and getting the deal. And when we do get it, the deal is the end to the story, isn’t it? (A happy end for that matter!)

But what if you considered it to be the beginning of the story? The inciting incident of a story about a long-lasting relationship with a client …

Would that change the way that you approach your pitch? Your ad? Your conversation?

For many of my clients it does. Instead of using up trust to make a deal they shift to building trust to enter into a relationship. It immediately rules out hyperbole and favours the truth.

Telling a true story about the things that you care about is what builds trust. Investing the empathy to relate it to what matters to our audience is what creates resonance. And resonance has no end. There is no winning. The whole point is to keep resonating.

If only we could fix our customers

… so that they finally see what they are supposed to see and buy from us. Or cheer for us.

It can be super frustrating when we put so much effort into building our product and crafting our story and then some of our customers still don’t get it. Life would be so much easier if we didn’t have to improve ourselves but could just fix our customers, wouldn’t it?

Obviously, that’s not possible. But the thing that’s easily overlooked is that we get to choose our customers. We decide who we want to serve. And the answer to our problem might be as simple as focussing on those that do get us. A lot of frustration in sales and marketing stems from the desire to please everyone when, in fact, there’s already a tribe that strongly resonates with us.

It’s a waste of effort to try to persuade those that don’t want to be persuaded when we could spend that effort to much greater effect on serving those that are ready to come along (and possibly bring their friends).

Fixing a customer might not be possible but fixing our audience is.

The after show ad

YouTube shows ads before and during the video. Here’s a challenge for your next ad: Can you make it so relevant that people would still watch it if it was shown after the video?

YouTube puts the burden on the content creators. It requires the content to be so attractive that viewers are willing to endure ads, even crappy ones, to get to the content. YouTube will give viewers what they came for only after they’ve watched an ad (or two). They can’t get what they came for without watching the ads.

What if you turned that upside down and took the burden on you as an ad creator? What if you made your ad so relevant that viewers would still watch them even though they already got what they came for? Is your ad that good? Would people still watch it if it was shown after the video?

Looking from the other side

Quick, in one sentence: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see …

… the McDonald’s logo?
… the Red Cross logo?
… an iPhone?
… Donald Trump?
… Billie Eilish?
… your product?

We’re super quick with a short statement like “That’s fast food.”, “It’s super tasty”, “Unhealthy diet.”, “It reminds me of my childhood.” when we think about others but we struggle a lot when it’s about ourselves.

Suddenly it’s not that easy to leave this aspect out or that. Suddenly it’s super important to include this detail and that.

Yet, for our customers it’s not like that. For them, we’re the others. They are just as quick with their statements about us as we are about them. They just don’t care what we might think we can’t leave out. They will happily leave it out for us.

It’s better to do this job ourselves. What’s the core that we would like our audience to think of when they are reminded of us?

What to build

There are things that everybody needs but nobody wants.

And there are things that everybody wants but nobody needs.

Both might earn us a fortune but both are hard to find and it’s highly unlikely that the thing that we’re building is in one of these categories.

Then, there are things that are really cool but that nobody wants and nobody needs. In fact, there are lots of things in this category.

It’s much easier to find and build but super frustrating because it will rather burn a fortune than earn one.

But this might work: To build useful things that some people love because they need it and want it. And when we build that thing, all we need to do with our communication is to tell the truth.

What are you building?

Spread the Word

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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