Marketing to women begins after the sale

I wish I had said that. I found it in a great blog I just discovered by Holly Buchanan.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After reflecting on the Super Bowl ads this year, I was struck with how dumb so many of them were. One of the dumbest, by the way, was the Inferno video game ad… featuring a breathtakingly beautiful woman who seduces a would-be rescuer, who then swirls to the depths of the inferno to defend her. Guy bait. The original final tag, which probably got voted out by a couple of sensible women on the committee, was “Go to Hell.”

In my own comments on the Dodge Charger ad , I mentioned how insulting that whole spot was to women… and really to men as well. What, I’m supposed to feel henpecked because I eat healthy, shave, listen to my wife, or carry her lip balm (not that she’s ever asked me to). Give me a break. What I learned from living with 5 women (one wife and 4 intelligent, sensitive daughters) is that women want shared understanding. They like to express themselves, and they aren’t satisfied unless they feel heard. Here’s an example of the daily tutelage I gained:

or, native male stupidity on the female need for understanding

This is an iPhoto snapshot of a photo I keep framed  in my office. We were having our picture taken, and some direction I had offered to Lydia, my youngest had struck her as a tad insulting. Something like that. So Shelley, her bigger sister, is giving “that look” … “How could you be so insensitive, dad?” Meanwhile Emily, Becky, and Beth are saying to themselves, “He really IS from Mars, isn’t he?”

So back to Holly and her article on marketing to women. She points out that “women have a more deliberate decision-making process.” Boys are simple. Sex and cars. (please don’t flame me for exaggerating) 🙂  Women often want to know what we’re doing to make the world better. (please don’t flame me for stereotyping!) 🙂 But seriously, as Holly Buchanan points out, women are more risk averse, more cautious, I would say more practical and more empathetic. They are better at thinking through how this thing we’re considering would work for them, for their children, and yes, for the man of the house too. They’ll also consider its impact for good or ill on the neighbors. Women are wired for empathy, and men need a lifelong relationship with a woman or two to even start thinking that way.

While I could get in trouble for making impulsiveness a gender issue, my experience makes me think that it is. My gut says that men tend to go with either the high or low bidder out of ego-driven impulses. It follows the economic wiring of the guy: is he the type who is proud of how much he paid, or proud of how little he paid? Either way, it’s an ego thing. I’m sure some women have similar tendencies… but their reasons tend to be more complicated than simply the prestige of price or the satisfaction of savings. They want to know how it will wear, how versatile it is, whether there’s a place for it in the garage.

Shopping for me has always been something I prefer to do alone, rather than run the gauntlet of my wife and kids’ questioning of every buy. They are all terrific shoppers … value conscious, frugal, and with tremendous delayed-gratification instincts. They can thank me for that, of course… I’ve never provided enough for them to get to splurge. I’m the one who is much more likely to drown his sorrows in a shopping spree. Always had pretty much the camera I wanted or the computer I “needed”. And I suspect that I’m not the only guy in the forest who acts that way.

Another distinction I think Holly correctly makes is that women tend to value transparency more than men. She says, “One of the most important things that defines your brand in the eyes of women is how you handle mistakes and address concerns/objections.” An example from my business experience: when my first business failed after 9 years, the guy who was running it had not admitted any fault … and he wanted me to sign a non-compete before he would agree to buy the video assets at a discount.

It was weird, really. I hired him for fiscal management; he runs it into the ground without telling me. Yet he doesn’t trust me when I offer to let him buy the assets in a fire sale. Bottom line, I still trusted him; my wife and (female) bookkeeper did not. They saw that his lack of transparency was evidence of lack of trustworthiness on his part.

In hindsight I was suffering from a common male problem: I couldn’t admit that my judgment had been bad all along. By agreeing to his “deal”, and disregarding my wife’s correct intuition, I put our family through the greatest trial of all our lives … because sure enough, he defaulted on the purchase and other promises, and I was left with all the debt that had been run up under his management. It took me 7 long years to emerge solvent again.

But I did gain one thing: I learned to trust feminine intuition … the fair sex’s demand for transparency in all business dealings, and their nose for who to trust and who to walk away from.

And then there’s the issue of loyalty. As Holly points out, women are much more tuned to the faithfulness of a brand. The character behind the claims. I can’t improve on what she says:

Loyalty is a two-way street for women.    The best way for you to show your loyalty to her is in your behavior AFTER the sale.

I love my dentist for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that he genuinely cares.   I had some oral surgery – and that night he called me at 9 pm to see how I was doing.  Not an assistant -him – the owner of  the practice.   He was clearly at home, but wanted to check in on me.  We will be together until I”m in dentures.

My cleaning service calls once a month to ask specific questions about the performance of their employees and my satisfaction with the service.

My favorite clothing store regularly invites me to special nights open to loyal customers only where I get to enjoy a special reception, see the brand new styles and get a valued customer discount not available to the regular public.  Once, when I was in there, the clerk told me to hold off buying the blouse I wanted until the next day because it was going to go on sale for half-price.  How cool was that!

Degrees of empathy, impulsiveness, loyalty, feature-shopping rigor, desire for transparency. These are the major fault-lines where distinctions can be observed between men and women in the marketplace.

Best of the Pre-released Super Bowl spots – 1

I love this Hyundai Sonata ad… strong visuals and music that create a question that holds our attention until the payoff punch. And very well written, with a strong branding statement about quality.

Bad videos lack authenticity, relevance

This one just came across one of my linked-in groups… a really bad video done by a firm in London to promote something called “City Gateway”. I frankly don’t have any idea what they do or why it’s significant, but they obviously spent some money and wrote a script and thought they would get the word out through the video medium.

Directorially, it makes a number of mistakes which make it almost unwatchable.

First, there’s an arrow fetish which assumes the viewer is feeling informed or enlightened by the animated arrows. What are they? What do they mean?

Second there’s a bunch of “testimonials” that are obviously scripted… you can even see the double takes in people’s eyes that reveal they’re getting told what to say and when to say it. The words come out but the face says, “I’m just saying what they told me to say.” There is absolutely zero credibility in any of those statements, and no context for understanding them. In fact, most of them are unintelligible because the music is mixed way too loud and the words are not enunciated by the speakers.

Third, it feels like some sort of committee decided on the shoot list and the “interviewee” list. There is no story at all, no personality… just “OK, we got the Indian woman, check. We got the young guy, check.”

There can be no authenticity without personality… surprise … free expression of whatever folks believe and experience.

And even if there is authenticity, it’s useless unless the piece also rings the “so-what” bell — relevance — in the heart of the viewer. You can’t get me to care by playing a catchy piece of music or including words by people from my demographic group. It has to touch me as a listener with something that makes me empathize with the storytellers.

Good production values do not guarantee good videos. Stories that are authentic, and relevant to the viewer, are the only worthwhile test of good video communication. Everything else is fail video — and not the funny kind.

Still loving stills, but appreciating the authenticity of video

Stills remain my first love … I even called my company Still Images Inc. when I founded it. But eventually I changed the name to Kindig Omnimedia and then simply Ztories as I perceived that audiences are increasingly media agnostic. All the arrows in the quiver are just tools that serve the storytelling. Note: As I move to Seattle in November, I’ll create a new LLC called either Ztories  or Ztoryteller … which do you like better? Or do you dislike them both? 🙂

But there has been a major shift in the subliminal impact of each medium upon audiences. I got to thinking about this when I responded to a very thoughtful comment by David Patton of Waggener Edstrom on the value of stills in corporate communication, especially presentations.

It seems to me that the perceptions of what’s real or authentic have shifted.  At one time high-resolution stills felt real — photo-journalistic. Then video came to the corporate market, but cameras were clumsy, lots of light was needed, everything was shot with a zoom lens on a contrasty, light-hungry chip… and the end result was that in my view, video had a show-biz air about it, while slide shows felt much more realistic, and therefore much more credible. At least, that’s what I told my clients until they forced me to use video.

Today, with available-light video cameras in most people’s pockets, I would say that video feels as immediate and real as 35mm still pictures ever did. How many people do you know who even shoot with a still camera that big? Only pros and serious amateurs use today’s digital SLRs, and they get higher resolution than large-format (2-1/4 or 4×5) film cameras ever delivered. Most folks shoot with camcorders and tiny duoformat cameras & cell phones. When disgruntled voters rioted in Iran, that’s the kind of imagery that documented it. When we see the world through our friends’ eyes on Facebook, that is the technology formed our perceptions.

In the meantime, the quality of  still cameras has evolved from merely real to sublime. Amazing lenses, timelapse options, and image editing software have now electrified high-end photography with the mediated identity that video once claimed. In most cases, a quality still image can still arrest attention, while digital snapshots and endless hours of unedited video fill our hard drives with too many shots to sort, and too much video to watch. Unless what is unfolding in front of the camera is amazing or surprising — or unless there’s a very creative editorial approach — video may enjoy a claim on credibility but it has lost the fascination it once enjoyed simply because the pictures moved.

And then there’s the “Ken Burns effect”, which once breathed new life into high resolution stills by making them move. That, too, seems to now feel a little over-used and “low-budget”, just as the banal world of video has become. The effect is cool for conveying historical weight, elegance, and clarity of focus. But even Ken Burns uses high def video/film whenever he can.

Compare his use of stills at the beginning and end of this clip

[How Yosemite Got its Name – http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/watch-video/#642)%5D

with what he did here:

[The Indian Idea of Sacredness – http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/watch-video/#755%5D

When he has a choice, Ken is going to use the incredible realism of high definition video or film to tell his story.

And these days, with these cameras, I now prefer cinematic media for that kind of storytelling, as well.

It seems to me, on balance, that well-lit, stable high-def video ought to be the medium of choice whenever a company wants to convey gravitas and photo-realistic credibility; small video cameras with edgier movement and simpler storytelling and lower production values are the best way to deliver documentary style or photo-journalistic impressions.

For dramatic and persuasive storytelling, cinema is still the king of content, and gaining ground. It’s now the only thing (except their Facebook page) that most young people are willing to give their undivided attention to for hours at a time.

But for sheer artistic impact and the crystallization of imagination or reality, still images have regained a lofty place near the center of the visual pantheon.

When you want to tell an audio-visual story about historic events that involves more than dialog and action; when you want to capture the essence of an idea or person, or disturb viewers through visual storytelling, then still images are “still” a great way to go.

How to motivate with video 2: Six ways to inform the mind

Here are 6 tips on keeping our content informative … without preaching:

  1. Talk like you’ve been listening. Today we need the audience’s permission to present our movie.  So approach them with a listening attitude — a perceptible sensitivity to why they may be troubled, baffled, or bored.
  2. Acknowledge the barriers, their questions. This is really the first M of  motivation. All the arguments must solve their mysteries, uncover their secret treasures.
  3. Blow up your “talking points”. A boxer doesn’t go into the ring with a rehearsed choreography. The match evolves one punch at a time.  Let the argument incorporate their best defense of our best argument — not straw men. The most disappointing project I’ve ever been associated with involved a client who had a major PR problem, but chose to leave out the real nitty gritty issues for fear of upsetting the audience. Assess what your audience cares about, and talk frankly about “the elephant in the living room.”
  4. Enthusiasm, yes. Ridicule, no. Why do people like talk radio? I think it’s because they’re passionate about their message. Education tends to make people broad-minded … and less passionate. But appropriate emotion feels right. Use it, clearly and fairly. If you’re self-aware, you can avoid manipulating the audience.
  5. Understatement is more powerful than “power”. Use kind, understated approaches. And when it must deal a blow to their opinions, pull the punch if possible. Because in reality it’s not like boxing at all… it’s more like a first date or a 10th anniversary dinner with a spouse who has “issues”. We need to address the issues and yet we need to avoid offense: not PC, but not cocky either. The audience really is in the driver’s seat, and if we want to get to first base, demonstrate that we care, understand, and honor them.
  6. Gather strength from your opponents. Like I said, it’s really not a boxing match. It might, however, involve Tai Chi. In this gentler form of combat, you use the leverage created by your opponents moves, to bend his energy away from your hurt.

Contrary to popular opinion, the most important part of presenting is the intellectual.

Mad Man

Mad Man

There’s a myth that people don’t care about ideas. Yep, the Dullsville slums are huge and scary, but thankfully there’s a lot of enlightened folks around, too. While I hate the tactics of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk,  one thing that guys like Rush and Glenn Beck have proven is that there’s an enormous appetite for emotional talk about issues. Ideas can be entertaining.

So instead of cueing the violins and trying to schmooze our way toward persuasion, I have found that it’s really important to address the emotions behind the facts … and lay ideational groundwork in a systematic, transparent way.

Here are two examples of the intellectual part of a motivational presentation. The first excerpt is from a video shown to Ohio Wesleyan alumni. This section deals passionately with the challenges all colleges are facing. The premise comes straight from H.G. Wells:

The case we are making here is that alumni can be proud because of OWU’s commitment to serving a very needy world. While the claim is presented with emotion, I think it displays an attitude that the idea is more important than the institution. We’re not whipping up tribal loyalty, but issuing a call to arms for a moral principle.

The second excerpt is a simple sales video aimed at accounting teachers. Here, we use humor and surprise. But the fabric of the piece is a careful set of arguments based on the hot buttons that the audience told us they cared about. For example, they were unhappy with the old Glencoe software. In the first minute, the nerdy alter-ego jumps in with “Much Better Software”. It’s an informative presentation wrapped in an entertaining bundle. The substance of the product was authentically built in response to their requests.

In the next week I’ll write about the third M, Melding with the Heart… the emotional part of motivation.

Appreciating the Audience

The most important part of successful communication is to appreciate the audience. Hillman Curtis styles it, “Eat the Audience”. It means to know, to have empathy for. It also means to honor, or value their perspective, their biases, and their preferences. And it means to understand and have emotional intelligence regarding how our own perspectives as storytellers and filmmakers on behalf of a business or institution contrast with that of their audience. Perhaps it’s merely a gap in awareness or knowledge. The institution or company knows something the audience doesn’t know.

But more likely, there are subtle differences of viewpoint or experience. Or significant differences of values and beliefs, or the entire cultural point of reference. Whatever the source of the difference, it is the communicator’s task to do the bridge-building, and that means starting where the audience is, honoring their current place and viewpoint, and then providing a framework for movement that is acceptable and relevant to them. If they like the framework we have provided, they will choose to take a step toward us… we cannot and should not try to manipulate their response, either in terms of feelings or conclusions.

In this real-life example, I was tasked first with helping build a bridge to Ohio Wesleyan alumni. It is a given that the alumni love their school, and are interested in meeting its new President and expressing their views on how to best preserve the institution. The client had three communication objectives: reassure the audience that the school is effective in changing the lives of contemporary students; set out a vision of three aspirational objectives for the school; and build a shared emotional touchpoint for future fundraising conversations. It was not a fundraising video, per se; and it was used as part of a conversation, not a presentation in the more traditional sense.

This clip is the first minute of a 10-minute alumni video. I chose to begin with an iconic timelapse of the Ohio Wesleyan campus, accompanied by a student a capella version of a classic Madonna song, “Like a Prayer”. Since most of the alumni in the audience are Boomers, this song delivers a familiar and emotional memory touchpoint with their youth. The next images are static institutional affirmations by famous OWU alumni — Norman Vincent Peale, Branch Rickey — and a cornerstone quote from the Gospels. These paving stones, cornerstones and pillars become the visual framework for contemporary student expressions of what they appreciate about Ohio Wesleyan. These student expressions (rather than alumni testimonials) are vitally important, because unless the institution is effective in changing the lives of contemporary students, it will not be seen as a good investment by even the most loyal of alumni. Notice the third interviewee, Jesika Keener. She says that Ohio Wesleyan has become her home: a statement that surely resonates with the alumni audience. A slight editorial change to that comment makes a big difference as we repurpose the same creative elements for an entirely different audience — prospective students:

Though sharing the same basic interview and shooting budget, there are a number of important editorial differences between the two approaches … and these flow from an appreciation of each audience. Jesika now leads the interviews, but we leave out the home reference, because incoming freshmen are more interested in getting away from home than finding one. It’ll take them a couple of years before the college they pick, whatever it is, feels like home to them.

Then, the music: instead of a familiar piece performed by OWU students, I chose a very fresh song by up-and-coming artist Jamie K: Dare to Dream. Instead of making the institution the frame of reference, which is an emotional connection with alumni, I changed the editorial emphasis to “what I was looking for” … small school, diversity, specific subject areas, etc. Instead of quoting profs on what they like about the school, I let students share what they like about professors — especially the personal relationships with profs. No emotional connection with the school is assumed. All we wish to do here is to establish a credible testimony by students who may or may not resonate with the viewers. It’s up to each audience member to decide if they “fit” that authentic brand.

Finally, there’s a big difference in pacing. The Boomer piece has 21 cuts and 4 interview clips in the first minute, while the Millennial piece has 34 cuts and 10 interview bytes by 7 interviewees in about the same period of time.

It is an appreciation and honoring of the audience that leads to approaches that are authentic in both cases, but decidedly different because the audiences are different.

The Three M’s of Motivation – part 1: Cross the Moat

ICAA_2009_Huge.010As part of my ICAA presentation on “Using Video: When it’s powerful, when it’s not”, I first talked about how we think and what motivates us. To set it up I used a clip of a little boy who I had interviewed. I asked him, “If you could change the world, what would you change?” His reply melts your heart: “I would change my bad behaviors. Because I want to get out of here quick”.

For each of us, the world is experienced through the self, and even global concerns are felt through our personal pain and experience. So my point was that all we can ever expect from any audience is to view what we present through the prism of their personal experience, values, and pain.

Therefore when we approach any audience we wish to motivate, the first point we must realize is that there is a moat between us — a major chasm in most cases. To communicate effectively, we must cross that moat, and we cannot do that by asking the audience to build the bridge, to see our viewpoint. We must cross the divide ourselves. As an example I showed this short clip from a Cedarville admissions video I did a few years ago:

For prospective students to a conservative Christian college, it was important to show empathy toward those who may be getting family pressure to attend… and who are wondering whether they’ll learn to love a school that might not be their first choice. This sort of honest doubt is not often seen in college videos, where the conventional wisdom seems to say, “always put your best foot forward.”

Here’s another example from a video we produced for Limited Brands. In this case, a worker slips up a bit when he says he doesn’t care how much they take out of his pay for the United Way. Well, he doesn’t care as long as it’s not too much, right? This humorous slip, including his embarrassed question as to whether it will be edited out, adds a refreshing degree of candor and helps break the ice that is always in the back of our listener’s minds: what can I afford to give? Where does giving become unfair to my own family?

Again, we’re building a bridge to the audience’s side of the moat by acknowledging that we understand their concerns. We’re giving them permission to worry about their own needs, instead of adopting a tone that attempts to shame them into giving. Just before this point in the video, the Chairman, Les Wexner, has very congenially asked for “their fair share”, and promised that he and the leadership of the business are doing that. But it would be easy for an audience member to discount the example of a wealthy boss. It’s not so easy to discount the sacrifice of a fellow worker… which is why these kinds of bridge-building statements are so important to authenticity, and therefore to successful motivation.