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When it comes to marketing, it’s all about how we talk to each other. Author of Disruptive Marketing and Communications Designer at Microsoft Geoffrey Colon joined SEJ Executive Editor Kelsey Jones to speak about how communication and emotion affect marketing. Geoff and Kelsey also discuss the evolution of voice search and its impact on communicating with consumers.
How do you think communication skills drive better marketing?
Geoff: Communication is almost coming full circle again. If we look at ancient civilizations, they shared stories because they needed to survive or thrive. You wanted to tell someone how to make fire so that those people could survive.
We are social animals by design so we need people around us. That’s happening in marketing. I think we went through a period where it was one-way communication. You would talk, you would broadcast, you would amplify. Marketing really took this role of a narrative. We’re going to tell people what we want them to think, what we want them to believe. That’s coming full circle again, mainly due to the evolution of communication through technology. Everyone has a voice now and everyone can participate.
Kelsey: Yes, exactly. Today’s consumers are really savvy and they hate being talked at and being told what to do. I think, like you said, communication plays a role because now, we marketers need to have a conversation with our target audience instead of just talking at them.
Geoff: I think one of the interesting things is marketing has always thought of itself as: how do we persuade and influence our target consumer audience? There needs to be a pivot within marketing circles and within marketers themselves. It’s not just about persuading and influencing our customer segment, but also our company and our products.
If we think about what the role of a chief marketing officer was, it was to sit at the table and be the voice of the customer. The role has really changed to be this person who follows orders of a CEO. I think it has to get back to what it initially was about, which is being the voice of the customer and actually representing the customer within the boardroom. That’s a big pivot that I don’t think marketing is making quickly but needs to in order to keep up. It’s not just influencing customers, but influencing the products and the company itself based on what customers are asking for.
Kelsey: I have a good analogy. My husband’s department has this annual barbecue and I met a guy he works with who deejays on the side. We were talking about deejaying because I think it’s interesting how people manage to do that and how they control the crowd. I said, “Well, what’s your key tip for deejaying?” He said, “What you have to know in order to be a good deejay is to play the music that people want to hear. You don’t play the music that you want to listen to.”
I think that’s a perfect analogy for marketing. You need to give out information and content that your consumers want to see and hear, not what you think they want or what you would want.
Geoff: Yeah, you bring up a good analogy. You know, marketing can learn a lot from being a deejay. I was a deejay from 1990 until about 2006.
Kelsey: What was your deejay name?
Geoff: It’s the handle I use on almost all my social properties: DJ Geoff. I was a deejay when I got on social media and marketing so I just sort of stuck with it. The analogy you use is a great one because it really is about understanding an audience. You would not go into a room where people are expecting to hear a certain type of music and play something radically different.
You would play what they want to hear but then you would coerce them slowly into experimenting with other forms of music that they may or may not like. That’s how the human brain works and how emotions work. You can’t just drop what you believe everyone will enjoy. You have to have an idea, be able to read people, be able to read an audience.
Do you think marketing has evolved or will evolve past repeated exposures? For instance, if a beauty brand wanted me to buy a product, they could target me on email, social media, remarketing, target me in the store, mail me coupons. Do you think consumers are eventually going to rebel against that or has that happened already?
Geoff: I think we’re in the early stages. I think the reason we’re in the early stages is because people are starting to get a little more critical of, “Hey, this company has data on me and they’re using it in a way that’s uncomfortable.”
We are not really in an experiential age. I think we’re far from it, but I think what is happening is people are demanding more of that. They want to be part of something. They want to feel part of something. They just don’t want to be pushed on something. This is going to be difficult for those different silos that marketers live in, whether it’s email marketing, social media marketing, search marketing. You can’t think like that anymore. You have to think about what your customer thinks and feels, what they do in their life, how do you become a small part of their life rather than pushing another advertisement to them.
I think advertising is becoming less effective because it is one-way centric in a world where people feel like they have more power on how they’re communicated to.
How do you appeal to people’s curiosity and make that a win every time?
Geoff: I think people like emotional storytelling. Humor and feeling empowered are two areas. One other area we see in the psychology of sharing that I think we’re going to see more of, and this is unfortunate, is people share sentiment around anger. This is something brands have not tapped into.
I do see a lot of non-profits and political groups using this. But this could bleed into an area where some brands may say, “Hey, we’re going to do this as well.” Ben and Jerry, an ice cream brand, actually used a lot of this back in the ’90s when they said, “We don’t want GMOs in farming. We don’t want all these additives in our food supply. We have to do something about this.” They used almost an anger sentiment there, which is weird, if you think about it, for a brand like Ben and Jerry’s. But it worked. People were like, “I don’t want that in my body.” So, I think with some brands, they may be able to use that sentiment. I still think humor and a feeling of belonging are two sentiments that we’ll never get sick of because that’s just part of our biological DNA.
Kelsey: I think especially the feeling of belonging or feeling like you’re part of something else. I do think a lot of times that can be done well by brands.
What are your thoughts on voice search and how do you think we can wrap this idea of better communication into the strategies and tactics for voice search?
Geoff: We really have to dive deep into how people talk. People talk differently around generational divides. You have to think about what slang exists among people. You also have to think regarding different languages. Voice search will encompass not just English. Any language spoken will be involved. It’s going to require marketers to think more from a behavioral point of view.
To use a simple example: in the past, you would say ‘pizza lower East side Manhattan’ and find a search result. Now you have to think in latent terms: “Where is the best pizza on the lower East side in Manhattan?” But that still sounds robotic when I say it. You have to think about how you would say it to your friends in an office: “Hey, what’s the best pizza place nearby?” That is really where we are headed with marketing language. It’s going to be natural-language oriented. That can actually be exciting. I’d like to say no more robot speak. The more natural we can think and the more we can think like people, the better our marketing will be.
Is there any advice you would give marketers who want to increase their soft skills or their communication skills to help influence their own marketing experience and work with clients or their company?
Geoff: One of the things I talk about in the book is how to increase your emotional intelligence. How do you understand people’s frustrations? Because marketing, again, is understanding people’s frustrations, your customer’s frustrations, putting yourself in their point of view. I think one of the examples I used is travel as much as you can. This is important because if you can go to a foreign country where people speak different languages and have different customs, you are immersing yourself in their culture. That is what is required, I think, to improve or enhance your skills in the 21st century as a marketer.
Kelsey: I agree with traveling. Even if you can’t travel or you don’t get to as much as you can, have conversations with people. Start a podcast. Ask if anybody wants to meet for a virtual coffee date for 15 minutes to meet new people. That could be a cool way to get better experiences as well.
Geoff: Anything that allows you to talk to people who are different from you, I think, is a good soft skill because the world isn’t about group -think anymore. It’s not about putting the same people in the same room who think the same way. You’re not going to solve the greatest problems in the world that way. You’re going to solve those problems with an inclusive group. They speak different languages, they look different from each other, they have different melatonin in their skin. They sound and look different from one another. You put all those people together, and you get a beautiful solution for the problems we face in marketing as well as the world at large.
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