Once upon a time in corporate and industrial communications, there was a wise guru who helped tell the company just what to say using the power of flowery and poofy language that almost made the company’s rather poor behavior disappear. Sometimes called a “doctor” of spin, this individual made a good living on a mountain of half-truths and sometimes pure lies. That was then, people.
Today, we have a U.S. President who communicates using ALL CAPS on Twitter and THAT’s the channel where you’re gonna hear the news. Raw, hard and unfiltered like a rolled cigarette in an old Western. And if you lack the tolerance for the dead-honest truth, it’s gonna hit you like one as you double over coughing.
We are now (and have been for some time) in the anti-spin zone. Case in point, United Airlines, who has really been doing its best to unseat anyone else in the worst brand disasters of 2017 stories. After its security forcibly removed a paying passenger so that one of its employees could make a flight, its CEO, who PRWeek recently named “Communicator of the Year” said this —
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accomodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
Re-accommodate? Yeah, no. We all SAW the videos. That was nothing short of full-blown assault..with blood pouring down the victim at the end. There comes a time when you must use those awesome “Communicator of the Year” skills and actually communicate. Maybe something like:
“We were truly horrified to see this and Holy Good God this just isn’t us! Some people in Chicago clearly acted unilaterally and those people are going to be seeking new employment by the time I hit send on this.”
Ok, legal won’t let you send that — Then try to — Talk. Like. An. Actual. Person.
Here’s the lesson and moral of the story — Stop spinning things and just talk. When you try to sound all “professional” and “smooth” you can end up sounding like a cold, uncaring robot (like United did during the recent leggings scandal) and those probably aren’t the “optics” you’re gunning for. Just like company press releases that brag about having a “robust b2b end-to-end solution.” You don’t have one. And even if you did, NO ONE knows what that is or what it means to them. Business communications and business communicators need to take a hard lesson from President Donald J. Trump. Zero spin directly from him and it’s at least 50 percent likely to offend someone.
But…that’s where we are. That’s what we’re called to do. Hard to say whether it’s the evolution of de-evolution of communications as we know it, but it’s very real.
We humans LOVE to tell ourselves little stories. From the time we are very small, we learn about our world through them, entertain ourselves with them and literally create reality for ourselves using them. But are they really true? And if so, what makes them true. I mean, what are we if not the stories we tell ourselves?
Well, if you’re gonna talk about “true” then you’d better be prepared to talk about “the truth.” The latest neuroscience (yes, marketers need to study this) confirms that there is not one absolute truth to which everyone agrees, but instead there are things we see and believe to be true on an individual level. Also, our eyes tend to “project” as much as they “see,” which is why two people can see the same movie and come up with different reviews (refer to the gospel of RottenTomatoes.com to see this in action for yourself.)
Knowing this simple truth about truth makes your job as a marketer MUCH easier. If you’re trying to convince mothers of teenagers to get them into music lessons and you know some of the mothers in your target audience had some negative experiences with music in their own lives, your messaging can (and should) be different to those people and thus have a better shot at working. If you create messages to these mothers through your own eyes or some surface level messaging, you have a very good chance at missing them because it’s clear you don’t have the same issues they do. And it’s beyond simple empathy here — I’m talking about studying what you know about the target audience, really digging into it and really forming the right message that might have a chance at moving them. That, ladies and gentlemen is actual marketing — Moving people to action with the right messages, right product, right price, right timing and getting that behavior we’re seeking.
When you’re doing marketing for-real and not just sending stuff out and hoping for the best, you realize why great marketing is so critical to any organization’s success. With that, here are a few tips to help you get better at these marketing mind games.
- Put down your prism and try to see YOUR world through theirs
- Attract those you can attract, and it won’t be everybody. You cannot please everyone.
- Always work to build trust and strengthen relationships — weigh EVERY business decision this way.
- Mental movement is still success even if behavior doesn’t immediately follow. Marketing is about movement — sometimes it’s gradual
- Understand that we only know a fraction about how our brains really work and give yourself permission to keep learning and growing in your knowledge of this topic.
Marketing to the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Don’t punt and just talk about yourself (hint — they don’t care) or something that’s safe and cozy for you. Take a risk and really learn about your customers, then craft better messaging that will help them get connected with whatever product, service or idea you’re promoting. There are millions of marketing messages launched every single day. Why will YOURS matter?
(AUDIO) May the Best Brand Win on Entertalk Radio. Episode 44: Marketing Mindgames