Archive for the ‘Dialogue Marketing’ Category
We’re Walking Catalysts
There’s a point at the end of The Sixth Sense where everything suddenly shifted. One piece of information—one realization—and all the characters and their relationships went topsy-turvy. Then the story begged to be retold in this new light and the second time through I was on high alert, noting all the clues I missed the first time.
Our best interactions with our audiences can have this quality: holding attention until the reveal makes perfect sense, so much so that our audience says, “Duh. Of course. How did I miss that?” This is a great way to teach, but also very difficult to achieve. This kind of clever communication front-loads with just the right context and then delivers the missing key ingredient.
Our favorite products fit our lives in this way: how did we ever survive without the iPod or cell phone? Or the car? They make perfect sense in daily use. Well, now they make perfect sense. They didn’t always, that’s because a context grew up around the product that reinforced its use. We saw other people using it. And we found our ways changing in anticipation.
Products and ideas that demand something different of us don’t just happen. In fact, we resist them. Some kind of context must arise to reinforce the use of the product or adoption of the idea. That context is different for everyone, but usually starts with reason and proof points, but it doesn’t end there. Even the physician who claims to only be swayed by medical journals still has a soft spot for using the product her peers consider cutting edge. Emotion and relationship are big parts of why we use products and adopt ideas.
All this is to say that we constantly influence each other. Our words and our actions serve as catalysts—that missing ingredient that changes everything—often in ways that we never know. Most people don’t come back and say, “When you chose the salad instead of the chicken-fried steak, you changed my eating habits and my life.”
We don’t even realize how little observations add to big change.
Your Company’s Outside Voice Must Be Personal & Remarkable
I’ve been helping a few clients think about their outside voice. Blogging has its own peculiar set of requirements that set it apart from the tone of a brochure, say. Or from a corporate press release. That recurring blog voice is related to the messaging identity your company has established. That voice is also related to the design and tone of your corporate website, true, but it is not a one-to-one correspondence.
One primary difference: your blog voice must be personal.
A blog is not a scientific, peer-reviewed journal. It must not deteriorate into a selling monologue. And it is not constantly pointing to benefits and features (which quickly gets tiresome). It’s a different animal—a personal voice. It’s got to be a conversation that takes wide and narrow routes on the way to discussing what is remarkable. The best blogs are smart and timely and pull readers in by offering this personal perspective on things of mutual interest.
Just a bit of practice using the public voice helps clients see why their outside voice must be personal and have a personality behind it (not as redundant as it sounds). It doesn’t take many sample posts to show that customers and potential customers are intrigued by an inside track into the mind of that top voice. And that top voice can pull peripheral topics to the center of discussion to show how they relate, for instance. Or to show how certain a practice will move the industry forward.
Interestingly, outside voice has a way of trimming and freeing and impacting a company’s inside voice. Outside voice and inside voice are related—how could it be otherwise? What is remarkable (and thus worth blogging about) must also be remarkable on the inside of the company. The top voice blogging about what is remarkable in the industry must also pass the believability test for those inside the company. Because folks inside a company tune their BS meters to High the moment they walk in the door. Remaining personal and true is essential.
So…blogging the top voice is not an easy path. But that has always been the way of relationship-building with peers, employees, clients, customers and potential customers and even congregants. And relationship-building is worth the time and effort.
Louder Preaching is Not the Answer
It seems wrong to call it a national conversation when we mostly monologue at each other. And most of our monologues are meant only to reinforce the already-believers listening. Republican Paul Ryan’s recent string of verbal deceptions was a stunningly brazen example of half-facts delivered with full-on force—but both sides are equally guilty. That both Democrats and Republican play loose with facts is neither a surprise nor anything new. So it has always been: we persuade each other by twisting facts in our favor and choosing not to reveal the truths that would balance our cherry-picked facts.
It is natural (though not necessary) to become cynical about our national exchange of monologues. Recognizing that any speaker is likely persuading you with only half the relevant facts is probably not a bad strategy to adopt for the next three months—or the next 30 years. It is also easy to see how this strategy only accelerates skepticism about the official word of any authority. And so “Question Authority” returns as a relevant bumper sticker, several decades later. Or was it ever out of style?
How to Avoid Despair and Reject Cynicism
Remaining skeptical of facts presented as truth is a good starting point. And perhaps seeking a generous spirit that questions facts even while looking behind the facts to ask what broader point the monologist is making. But we must speak up and expect dialogue rather than more indoctrination.
More preaching will not do.
We work with tools. Tools work back.
It is not precisely true that our tools train us. More to the point: our tools sometimes wake dormant skills. Our tools help us exercise muscles we’ve not used so much: for instance, my running shoes help me exercise a different set of muscle than my bicycle typically requires. I know this because I have different pains after using each. An axe requires differing coordination skills than a hammer, which is also different from a ratchet.
Current social media tools exercise our collaboration muscles. From Facebook and Twitter we began to see that collaborating is fun. And we start to look forward to working together. It now feels good use those muscles and skills. It feels productive.
So when we require each other to sit silently in a long meeting, well, that doesn’t feel so good anymore. Or when we tell our employees or our congregation to go do this thing without asking for their input and experience—that just won’t fly anymore. And if we expect our customers to buy whatever we sell with no questions, well, that model has been dead for some time (the cult of Apple comes to mind as one exception).
David Straus in his practical and interesting How to Make Collaboration Work (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, 2002) rightly labels this a matter of human dignity:
People who are directly affected by an issue deserve to be able to express their opinions about it and have a hand in formulating a solution. (46)
How are the current tools changing the expectations of your client, customer or congregation?
People of faith can do better
Amy Bergquist’s powerful editorial (“This man shouldn’t get the last word on gay marriage”) in today’s StarTribune makes a strong argument about treating people as adults. Read the comments (59 as of 10:10am, 135 as of 2:50pm) and you’ll be reminded of what a lightning rod issue this is for our culture. Setting aside the lightning and the working parts of Christian conviction in a multi-religious nation for a moment, I believe Ms. Bergquist is exactly right about Frank Schuber/Schubert (The Strib printed his name both ways) methods:
By contrast, Schubert’s template is simple, yet has proven remarkably effective. He works stealthily, through churches and sympathetic groups for most of the race, waiting till the end, when he unleashes a blitz of television ads that often feature rosy-cheeked children bounding home to tell their parents they learned in school that “a prince can marry a prince.”
Running emotion-driven ads at the last minute does not give room to debate, discuss or even engage one’s mind. It’s all visceral. It’s all knee-jerk reaction—which is the point: We all know that every institution and cause, from the Axis to AIDS, has played on emotion to move people to action. We each tune out countless of these messages every day.
As a copywriter and a student of persuasion and a Christian, I question Mr. Schuber/Schubert’s tactics: while his ads may move the vote, they do not promote transformation. Transformation happens as people engage with an issue and think it through and talk it through (and pray it through). On a personal level, it is one-on-one conversation that makes things happen. The notion of ambush communication tactics may give short-term gains in Jerry Falwell’s culture wars while leaving the nation’s current inhabitant’s thumbing their fact-checkers as they walk away.
I know these tactics well as a copywriter. But anyone can see that advertising and marketing communications are moving away from the trick-you-into-buying mentality. The marketplace is much more conversational and becoming more so every day.
As a sometime faculty member at Northwestern College where Mr. Schuber/Schubert was interviewed weaving his emotional magic, I wonder if the faith community that supports the college can call for better, more mature, truly Christian communication. I doubt the college sanctioned Schuber/Schubert’s particular work, though clearly the marriage amendment would have a lot of support from the evangelical-minded folks aligned with Northwestern College. But I would challenge the community to find ways to engage people in conversation—sort of like Jesus and Paul did—rather than supporting more rapid-fire emotional outbursts.
Let’s grow up.
A talented strategic friend chatted with the vp of marketing at a medtech startup. What was the company looking for in their posted marketing hire? They just wanted someone to execute. Just execute? My friend was floored. You want to hire someone and not use their entire brain? You want to disengage the emotion that arises from thinking through a problem? You have such knowledge of the market, you’ve considered every angle, you know all there is about your target audience, you are so confident you don’t need anyone else thinking this through? Or—was the pressure so great to show results that they could not waste time on strategy. Either way, the entire conversation pointed out this was a company to avoid.
“Just execute” is corporate bully language for “Do it because I said so.” Nearly every human benefits from knowing the “what” and “why” behind an order. And even God entertained modifications to His plan while Moses verbally worked through the mission as they chatted around the burning bush.
Don’t misunderstand: there is absolutely a place for “just execute.” Stuff gotta get done. Yes. But long term, stuff gets done much more effectively when we enlist whole people to work with us. And that means bringing people along with us as we process our mission. Just say “No” to the smoky backroom where highly paid C-suiters work out the details and then send a courier with decrees out to the rank and file.
This authoritarian tendency looks even worse in a volunteer organization like a church. Because money is not a factor there—it’s all about feeding motivation. Avoiding rich conversations about “why” short circuits the process and makes whole people flee.
Whatever your position, do yourself and your organization a favor by helping people see the big picture. Helping them form and reform and personalize the big picture. Whether you are a manager, a volunteer coordinator, a pastor or lead worker on an assembly line. This is what leaders do.
And know this: Those who won’t share or budge on the big picture will not attract or retain talent. But they will find themselves starting from scratch again and again.
Image Credit: C-front
“I feel it is wrong to be treated as a consumer every place you go.” Gwenaëlle Gobé
Your invitation to a new way to persuade
As editor for Advertising Age’s Creativity, Ms. Iezzi has a daily, close-up view of the trends in the creative world and the people behind those trends. The surprise in the book comes with the affection Ms. Iezzi has for the discipline of copywriting and the practical nature for those seeking to grow in the discipline. It is readable, informative and filled with stories about advertising heroes and insights into current campaigns. I plan on using it as text in my next class on freelance writing.
Ms. Iezzi begins by framing the story of copywriting with a look at the ground-breaking work of legends like Bernbach, Ogilvy, Reeves and others back in the 1960s. Their work was fresh in relation to what was going on around them. Indeed that decades-old work formed the basis of many of our current communication trends. Ms. Iezzi uses the legends to reinforce the importance of storytelling, which these guys got right. Storytelling is the concept that best binds together The Idea Writers, as Ms. Iezzi issues a kind of challenge to today’s batch of copywriters to push into the new ways of communicating.
Two powerful notions emerge from The Idea Writers:
- Copywriting today is much more than only writing. Maybe writing was always more pure than writing. Today’s copywriters will sketch designs, draft scripts, work out the voices of a cartoon and a blog persona. They will pitch ideas because they are closest to the energy behind the idea and because organizations run much flatter. This book helps break through the silos that are already on their way down.
- Today’s copywriters help guide brand development following new methods of persuasion. In this new age, people buying stuff have unprecedented control of brand. Today’s copywriter recognizes the stories that honor the people doing the purchasing while smartly positioning the brand as a kind of conversation partner.
Ms. Iezzi’s book is the first copywriting book I’ve read that does justice to the emerging notion of the switch from corporate monologue to personal dialogue. The only lame part of the book came when she trotted out her personal list of tiresome cliché ad ideas. Her list of six included things we all instantly know, but to say those ideas will never work again seems like a challenge. The list also invalidates the notion that we beg, borrow and steal good ideas constantly—it’s just that those ideas are more or less recognizable in a different arena.