Topic

Marketing

Communicating the change we want to make in the world.

Effective Marketing

When your attempts to share your ideas with the world aren't reaching enough people, it's tempting to simply yell louder.

But it's a noisy world, and turning up the volume doesn't necessarily make people want to listen to you more. Nobody likes being hustled.

If you've got something really great to share – something that solves a rational problem, appeals to people emotionally, or both – it's much easier to start by finding the kind of people it's for.

Ask them if you can share how they might be able to improve their life.

Then, once you have their attention, tell them the story about what you have to offer. If you focus on what already motivates them, you'll start to establish trust, because they'll feel empathized with and understood.

And once people lean in to what you have to say, there's no need to yell anymore.

Unobtrusive Bits of Whimsy

I recently finished a new website for my employer, a circus school. At the bottom, I included a little circus tent emoji to provide a visual coda to the footer, as well as a hidden Easter egg.

When you click on the tent, it sends confetti flying:

Repeated clicks on a circus tent emoji with confetti popping out of tent

Few people will discover this effect on their own (though it does appear elsewhere on the site when you take actions like subscribing to the mailing list).

But for those who do happen to stumble across it and click on the emoji, they'll be rewarded for their curiosity and engagement.

In a culture that places so much value on efficiency and cheapness, unobtrusive bits of whimsy like this are a way to show your audience that you did more than just the bare minimum.

They're a way of thanking people for their attention by showing them that you put care into your craft and are proud to sign your work.

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People Like Us

Marketer and author Seth Godin has a beautifully simple definition of culture:

"People like us do things like this."

So much of our world is shaped by our powerful drive to organize into groups and align our behavior with one another.

Sometimes when I'm talking to a new customer at the non-profit I work for just outside of Chicago, I ask them how they heard about us. My favorite answer?

"Oh, I live in Evanston."

I love this response, because it suggests that everyone in my employer's city has heard of us. It means that among certain social circles, people assume that you know about this organization.

People like us do things like this.

As a marketer, my job is to grow the number of people who see the work that we do as intrinsic to their community. To continue nudging the culture towards a world where "I live here" is synonymous with engaging with the work that we do.

Selling Pickaxes

Initial success doesn't guarantee future results.

Online mattress retailer Casper announced this week that it's being acquired by a private equity firm. The startup popularized direct-to-consumer mattresses in a box, went public at a $1.1 billion valuation, and then plummeted to around $575 million after its IPO.

Selling mattresses online is pretty easy (as of 2019 Casper had 175 competitors). But making a profit doing so is hard. In the third quarter this year, Casper lost a staggering $25.3 million, putting it in the majority of online mattress companies that have yet to make a profit.

Where's the money in the industry going? A big chunk of it is going to the online mattress reviewers, who receive free mattresses from companies to test. These sites typically receive around $50 for every referral they make that results in a purchase (and sometimes as much as $250).

Derek Hales, the creator of one of the most successful mattress review sites, Sleepopolis, apparently made $100,000 from just a single mattress company in 2016 through his referrals. He is more profitable than most of the mattress startups he's promoting.

In a crowded market, sometimes selling pickaxes to gold miners is a better strategy than actually mining for gold.

Emotional Appeals

Motivating people based on their existing wants (e.g. focusing on quarter-inch holes vs. quarter-inch drills) is effective not just on the individual level – it works at the societal level too.

In the first half of the 20th century, women smoking went from being seen as an improper activity to accepted and commonplace. What happened? Cigarette companies tied smoking to the feminist movement by presenting it as an act of independence (as well as a slimming alternative to candy).

This was, unfortunately, devastatingly effective: By the 1960s, one in three women smoked.

As the health risks became clearer, smoking declined just as quickly: It was no longer the cool thing to do in most social circles.

Appealing to people’s emotional side in this way is the most effective way to change our culture. In contrast, presenting only the rational benefits is an uphill battle.

For proof, look no further than the environmental movement’s failure to get individuals to adopt the sweeping lifestyle changes necessary to sustainably use fossil fuels for energy. We rationally understand that our actions have consequences, but it’s hard to use that to motivate people because each of us has such a small impact.

But what happens when environmentally friendlier options become status symbols? Consider how Tesla has made electric cars a fashionable alternative to traditional automobiles. By starting off in the luxury market, Tesla has established itself as a desirable brand. And as more and more people purchase its vehicles, it’s able to release increasingly affordable models thanks to the economy of scale.

In the not-too-distant future, battery-operated cars will be the standard. Not because most people have chosen them due to environmental concerns, but because they'll be the most socially desirable option.

Here’s to a more sustainable future.

Quarter-Inch Holes

Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt famously said, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!"

It's tempting to talk about the features of a product when marketing something, but concentrating on the change it will make in someone’s life is much more impactful.

The luggage startup Away, for example, sells suitcases in multiple different sizes. However, their comparison tool presents the differences between them in terms of the number of outfits you can carry with them, rather than their dimensions.

I don't want a suitcase, I want to get seven outfits to my destination.

Not everyone is a marketer, but everyone can add a more human touch to how they communicate the change they want others to make. Whether it's asking your boss to change a policy, or encouraging the city council to revise your community's zoning laws, focus on what already motivates them.

The impact it can have might surprise you.

Hat tip to Emily Heyward for the Away example, from her book Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love from Day One.

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