And a very Happy New etcetera and all that.
What did you get up to over Christmas? Myself, I decided to avoid work for a week or so.
I didn’t quite go the whole hog and turn my phone off for a week (as Tom did), but I did turn off Twitter notifications, email notifications, hid my calendar and avoided any talk of Google Analytics at the Christmas dinner table (luckily mother isn’t much of a fan).
However, like most of us disgusting addicts, I did get drawn in by Facebook once or twice. And it was while idly flicking through my feed, I began to notice a few shares of a certain Simon Sinek video, an interview about millennials in the workplace – the one below. You might have seen it already. If not, have a watch, it’s well worth 15 minutes of your time.
For those who don’t know Sinek, he is often quoted in marketing circles for his mantra: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, a phrase from a great TED talk he did a few years back. Watch that too.
The interesting thing about this latest video was, he was being shared by friends of mine with no interest in marketing whatsoever. Why was it being shared? I clicked, intrigued.
Firstly, Sinek is a fantastic speaker, and you could easily listen to him all day. But second, it tapped into what seems to be a slowly growing murmur of backlash against social media, exacerbated last year by fake news, Trump and Brexit and continuing into this year.
So, I’m going to use this first round-up of the year to pull out and discuss some of the key points raised by Sinek because, well, it’s my newsletter and I can do what I want because I’m an entitled millennial.
Actually, I feel a bit grubby using the phrase ‘millennial’. I’m not the first or only person to be frustrated by it, but it’s the most irrelevant description of a group of people since everything Donald Trump has ever said. For anyone who cares about targeting and segmentation, the word ‘millennial’ should sound like sandpaper.
Sinek starts the video by describes the ‘demographic’ as a group of people “born 1984 and after”. Present that to any marketer worth their salt as a customer persona and they will vomit on your shoes, and will be well within their rights to do so.
To think that a group of people who can be defined as having specific attributes based solely on age is not only reductionist, but also wrong. It’s like saying all 70s babies listened to Pink Floyd and dropped acid. Guess what? Some people born in the 70s were boring as sin and spent most of their time drinking tea and listening to Barry Manilow. Much like today.
The social filter
“We’re growing up in a Facebook, Instagram world – in other words we’re good at putting filters on things,” says Simon. “We’re good at showing people that life is A-mazing, even though I’m depressed.”
So, as he says, everyone sounds like they have it all figured out, but they haven’t. For business owners working with millennials (which is what the talk is loosely about), this means having empathy for a generation who have lower self esteem than any other in history.
For brands, this presents an interesting challenge. We talk about establishing ourselves as thought leaders and talking with authority. But the one thing too often missing, particularly in B2B, is a humanity. Openness is seen as weakness, and admitting you don’t necessarily have all the answers is a sure way to lose business.
But what if we were more honest? What if we showed that actually, we’re all learning as we go.
Authenticity is a brand that has full confidence in who it is, warts and all. This isn’t a new idea. The classic example is the Avis ‘We try harder’ advertising campaign from the 1970s, which played on the fact that they were the second largest hire car company in the US. “Come with us,” they said, “our lines are shorter.” Plenty of B2C businesses have taken on this strategy, but B2B seems reticent to follow suit.
Realness is impossible to fake, and as more people question this social filter, the companies who embrace honesty will hold the integrity. Unless you’re a bunch of annoying bell ends of course. In that case, fake it.
An emotional connection
The bulk of the interview, and the reason this has been shared so widely I suspect, is the revelations about the addictive nature of social media and the numbing effects of the dopamine it releases when we use it. This, he claims, leads teenagers to avoid deep and meaningful relationships and turn to social media rather than people in times of stress or anxiety.
I realise this is by no means the main point of his revelation, but it does highlight the challenge, both now and in the future, for brands to connect with customers. Brands and businesses need to ask the question: ‘Why would people care?’ or, more bluntly, ‘So what?’
And we have to be aware that, actually, people are not proactively looking for our content, and the content we send out on a regular basis is just one of thousands of bits of information that crosses our prospects’ paths on a daily basis.
Connection and engagement with our work comes at a premium. So you’d better make sure if you do encourage a click, the work is bloody good.
We have a responsibility as businesses and brands to really turn the screw on quality, hone in on the value that we provide, and use our specific expertise to make our readers care. To make people care, you have to know who they are, and what their key drivers are. Do some hardcore research. And once you know who they are, ask yourself: what is the content that only you could produce for them?
Once you’ve made an emotional connection with quality content, you need to use that to further build relationships. As we become more used to instant gratification – binge watching shows on Netflix, same-day delivery from Amazon, transient swipes on Tinder – a whole generation is missing out, as Sinek says, on the really great stuff in life. Building solid, trusting and loving relationships takes time and dedication.
“It’s the slow, steady consistency,” he tells us, talking about trust. “It doesn’t happen in an event, or a day”. And when he talks about allowing the mechanisms for innocuous moments to happen, he could just as easily be talking about marketing touchpoints (even though he’s trying to move the conversation away from the digital.)
The holy grail for is to produce enough consistent quality content to attract fans. What do fans look like? We’d suggest organic newsletter subscribers. A subscribe shows someone has chosen to commit themselves to hearing from you on a regular basis. The challenge then is to turn that into business.
We all, as marketers, businesses and individuals, have to be aware of our roles as content producers. Are we simply adding to the noise or starting conversations that are interesting, worthwhile and authentic?
If you’re just making noise, stop it.
That’s the end of our noise for this week. See you again next Friday.
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