I want to let you into a secret. But promise that you won’t tell anyone else, OK? Thanks.
Marketing your business isn’t actually that difficult. In fact, it’s pretty easy. It’s the snake-oil selling ‘gurus’, ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ out there that trick you into thinking that it’s difficult.
Contrary to what the charlatans tell you marketing a business isn’t about fluff, deception, manipulation, or even money. It’s not about dazzling websites, mega-budget videos, or interruptive marketing, or jargon, or buzzwords. It’s not even about content marketing, or social media.
It’s about the way we feel.
It’s about the way that we, as consumers, feel in response to stimuli. If the stimulation is positive – happiness, joy, pride, hope, etc. then we are predisposed to pay more attention to it. If, however, our reaction is negative – anger, hatred, regret and so on – well, you get the idea.
All of this comes from primeval times, when being able to quickly differentiate between things that are safe (e.g. an apple ) from things that are not (e.g. a saber-toothed tiger) had far bigger implications than whether you’ve wasted money buying the wrong brand of soap powder.
Fight or Flight Business Marketing
Coined by Walter Cannon, a physiologist from Harvard, the “Fight or Flight” response is a intuitive safeguard built into a primitive area of our brains (the hypothalamus, since you asked) designed to help prevent early Homo Sapiens from killing themselves off and making the species extinct before they had the chance to build pyramids, circumnavigate the globe, or design iPhones.
The process happens in a split-second, and is triggered based upon both obvious and subtle clues picked-up by our senses. When invoked, the Fight or Flight response puts us on Red Alert. It causes us to perceive almost anything as a potential threat. We trust nothing and no-one. It’s like we’ve all become TSA officers. In such a heightened state, we’re clearly not in the mood to buy your brand of fabric softener – no matter what it smells like.
OK, so smelling the bovine excrement while watching a bad TV ad isn’t going to make most people lose it and go postal. But every time a potential customer visits your website, speaks with your sales rep, or reads your Twitter update their brain is doing the same thing. They’re trying to figure out – in a split-second – whether your marketing is saying that you’re someone that they can trust, or someone who’s after their money.
“But We’re Good Guys! Anyone Can See That!”
Most business owners are oblivious to how their company is perceived. They think it’s obvious to everyone around how their product / service is better, how their customer service is better, and that customers who bought from the competition were clearly unaware of this.
But guess what? It wasn’t obvious to the customer. They were still trying to work out why your product cost more than the others. They were trying to navigate around your clunky website, looking at your amateurish logo, reading your ineffectual marketing collateral and speaking with your argumentative sales rep who seemed to be suffering from chronic halitosis.
You’re fighting a losing battle. By the time you give your pitch, Fight or Flight has kicked-in and you’re on a hiding to nothing. With luck you’ll be able to turn the situation around with your convincing presentation, client preparation and knock-em-dead product demo. But more likely than not you’ll be going back to the office wondering why they didn’t “get” what you’re about.
Keeping It Real
I’m not saying that the secret to effective business marketing is simply to be everyone’s buddy – although that certainly wouldn’t hurt. Presenting an approachable, genuine brand to prospects can only help create and nurture a feeling of trust and comfort.
It’s more about presenting everything that your customer sees in ways that underline reassurance. Actions and behaviors that present a rich and consistent experience, and that helps them understand (at a deep, almost subconscious level) that you’re unique among your competitors, and that your company is obviously their best choice. Not because that’s what you say. But because that’s how you behave.
So where does your company fit?
The sad fact is that the vast majority of companies aren’t very good at producing marketing experiences that pass the Fight or Flight test. I’ll go as far as to say that I’m betting that your company is one of them. That doesn’t mean that you’re not making money, growing and (as one “almost client” said to me today “we have no shortage of product interest”). It’s less about how many buy, as about how many walk away.
The fix is right in front of you: Talk to the ones that got away.
You need to take the corporate hat off and look with genuine objectivity. Sure, your existing customers are going to tell you that you’re great and the sun shines out of your tushy. But what about the prospects that you lost? What was it about their buying experience that made them go elsewhere?
Maybe your business is thriving. Maybe it’s struggling. Maybe it’s somewhere in between. But ten will get you five that you could better express your business value, using your customer’s own vocabulary, in ways that they find most emotionally assuring.