Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Golden Advice From An 18-Year-Old's Mouth - THIS Is Why Markets Are Conversations

Last week I came across an article that pounded into my head like a mallet shooting out of the screen. It was a transcript of a conversation between John Seely Brown, former chief scientist of Xerox, and Shannon O'Brien, a senior at a California high school.

Here's the article: The Future's So Bright...

The now-consultant and the gymnastics instructor talked about innovations, communications mediums like the blogosphere, and the future. The exchange is really something to see - a staunch business veteran and a not-quite college student, going back and forth about universal issues and their own perspectives.

And staying on the same level.

Mr. Brown was detailed, and Ms. O'Brien was thoughtful. Had I not read the profiles at the top of the article, I could have easily assumed this to be a conversation between two experienced professionals.

And in a way, it was.

I'll quote from Shannon's last paragraph to lead into why I find this article so valuable to anyone - ANYONE - who wants to be successful in marketing.

"In addition, may I just add, I am young, agreed, but 'way too young to realize this'? Well, that's a bunch of B.S. I guess I'm allowed to 'legally' be an adult but still not be treated like one. While I am obviously not in tune and updated on all the mysteries of the world around me, I'm not naive or ignorant, and I definitely know what it is like to talk to someone who is only 'half there.'"

While you're reading that again (because I want you to), let me go into what I'm on about.

This is an 18-year-old girl. She and the rest of her generation, in barely a couple years, will be commanding one of the largest demographics in our society. They have buying power. They have choice.

Most importantly, they have their own opinions.

Shannon talked about being allowed to 'legally be an adult, but not still not be treated like one.' Why does she make this distinction? My guess is that someone, through some medium (the media, marketing pieces, websites), talked to her like she was still a kid. My guess is that she read some copy that didn't respect her as an adult, with her own perspective and her own opinions about the world. This could have been years ago, or it could have been two days before this exchange happened.

The point is, that copy made such an impression on her that she brought it up again in a different setting.

It's part of her prevailing attitude now. Whatever company, whatever INDUSTRY made this mistake, they offended a potential customer. Who's now reiterated her prevailing attitude on

Where there's smoke...

People like Shannon are by no means isolated, or few in number. There is a huge number of teens growing up, having been deluged by marketing and communications that treated them like children. Or worse - like a number. Attitudes are common, but people are individuals. It is entirely possible to speak to an audience as one, but make them each feel as though you understand and respect their perspective and opinions. How do you do that?

You make it clear that you understand and respect their opinions in the copy you write.

Simple, perhaps. But so powerful it rides right over most everyone. Here, I'll give you an example as a conclusion. I wrote this whole post as if I was talking on behalf of Shannon, to a friend of mine. This friend is a marvelous salesman (far better than me, in fact). But he sometimes forgets that the people he's selling to...are people. I'm telling him how easy it is to boost his sales, if he remembers that marketing is really about respecting the people you're talking with.

They want to be respected. They want to be heard. Shannon wanted to be heard, and she was. Imagine how powerful an impact that was for her. Now imagine that powerful impact occurring in each and every one of your prospects. Because you took the time and made the effort to communicate with them as individuals.



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